Fiscal sponsorship is a process where a number of worthy community projects can exist under a single nonprofit umbrella, removing the pressure to found and maintain an independent nonprofit in order to do good work in the community. This strategy can be especially effective in rural areas.
Community Enrichment for Klickitat County (CEKC, pronounced “Seek”) was formed by a group of local leaders who came together during the Horizons leadership program of WSU Extension from 2006-2008. Horizons was a two-year deep dive into community leadership that trained new leaders and surfaced community assets and goals in nine high-poverty communities in Klickitat County. (Horizons was active in other rural communities in Washington with other great results as well!) At the end of project, the communities wanted to pursue their goals but lacked an umbrella organization to accept and administer grant funding. CEKC was born to ensure that great community-led projects like extending broadband in Glenwood, caring for seniors in Trout Lake and a community garden for Wishram could move forward. They have now expanded to serve neighboring Skamania County as well.
In prior years, local schools and fire departments might hold and manage funds for worthy community projects, but this was no longer allowed in most cases. All-volunteer groups needed a stable, trusted partner to manage their money. CEKC pulled together a founding board with representation from many communities throughout Klickitat County (Skamania County joined later). CEKC manages over 21 projects that provide an estimated six-figures worth of services, information and direct community support in Klickitat and Skamania County.
It has been instrumental in securing financing needed to bridge organizations between a grant or contract award and actual receipt of the funds. New groups are welcome to seek to affiliate through a transparent process outlined on their website. Projects are charged a very low 5% administrative fee. Further, they provide educational workshops which travel around the two counties on key topics like grant-writing, emergency preparedness and financial stewardship.
- Partners are crucial! Umpqua Bank has been an important partner in setting up systems so that projects can manage their funds in a dedicated bank account. This allows CEKC leaders to have visibility over all transactions so that they can provide appropriate oversight. Other key partners include Klickitat County Economic Development and Skamania County Economic Development Council. They recognize the value of CEKC’s work to support thriving communities, attend all CEKC’s meetings and support their events. CEKC is an active member of all three chambers of commerce in their area, and stay connected as members of Washington Nonprofits as well.
- Keep a positive attitude. CEKC’s board philosophy is “If there is a way we can do it, we are going to try.” In service to projects they support, they have gotten creative to make big things happen. As a result, millions of dollars have been invested in community projects in their region.
- Volunteers are powerful. CEKC’s board made a commitment early on that they didn’t want to hire staff or own property. They were born out of volunteer spirit and want to keep it simple. Projects can use independent contractors to accomplish their goals. A few people have made a tremendous difference over the past 10 years. Brian Wanless, who recently passed away, was a tireless advocate and key player in keeping CEKC strong and active—what an amazing legacy!
- Pick the right leaders. CEKC chooses its board members very carefully to ensure they share the vision and are connected and respected in their communities. This connectedness means that “CEKC has tentacles everywhere” and is regarded as an organization with deep and wide community knowledge. CEKC also recommends including both older and younger board members.
- Think ahead about leadership transition. Document your procedures (especially financial procedures). A new person stepping in may need a “cookbook” to follow.
How did they do it?
CEKC grew out of an intensive leadership development effort. This meant that the founding board had leadership training and a shared vision fostered by several years of community listening and learning. “People don’t need to think alike, but they need a common goal.” Because this work supports economic development, they receive operating funding from the Washington State Department of Commerce. CEKC’s fundraising needs are modest because so much of their work is volunteer-driven.
Who else does fiscal sponsorship in Washington state?
A few other organizations have been founded with a similar vision to support community projects that may not want or need to found an independent nonprofit organization. Here are a few that we are aware of. If you know of others, please let us know so we can add them to our list.
- Shunpike – technical assistance and fiscal sponsorship for arts groups across Washington
- CascadiaNow! – a social movement organization focused on sustainability for the Cascadia bioregion
- Columbia County Community Network (ComNet) – focused on youth development projects in Columbia County
- RVC – Operations support for community-based organizations led by and serving people of color in the Seattle area
Community Enrichment for Klickitat County’s mission is: To enrich community services and engage in activities that strengthen the social and economic well being of Klickitat and Skamania County residents. They have been a Washington Nonprofits member since 2018.