Nonprofits tend to be focused, rightfully so, on their niche strengths. But sometimes, their business expertise needs a little extra help.
Enter InterSector, an initiative of the J. J. Keller Foundation launched in 2018 in partnership with U.S. Venture and Oshkosh Corp. InterSector’s mission is supporting Northeast Wisconsin nonprofits with skilled volunteering, consultant vetting and shared services.
“We can look at collaborative problem-solving from a place of scale and less fragmentation of services,” says Heidi Dusek, executive director of the J. J. Keller Foundation.
A few years ago, the foundation surveyed about 400 local nonprofit CEOs to identify their pain points. Dusek says interviews with the nonprofit leaders showed they wanted simple, affordable support for their back-office functions like human resources, finance, IT, legal issues and marketing.
“Operations is our catch-all,” she says. “Risk management also incorporates legal, insurance, safety. It’s all those things that are not necessarily customer facing.”
Serving nonprofits from Oshkosh to Green Bay, InterSector has worked with more than 50 nonprofits in its three years, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of East Central Wisconsin.
“At the time, BBBS was going through a merger with Best Friends of Neenah-Menasha. We were in the operational integration stage,” says Lindsay Fenlon, CEO of BBBS of East Central Wisconsin.
InterSector connected Fenlon with teams at Oshkosh Corp., which assisted in drafting employee policies, structure and handbooks. “It was incredible,” Fenlon says. “We never could have reproduced what they did; they saved us hours and hours of time.”
The Oshkosh partners spent about 150 hours on their project. “At no point did they treat us like we were a side project that wasn’t important. We got the professional expertise … and we didn’t have to pay … and we learned along the way,” Fenlon says.
Dusek says InterSector coordinates appropriate volunteers and their various expertise with the nonprofits. It acts as the intermediary between the teams, either finding volunteers or helping the nonprofit find affordable consulting services.
“Because of our relationships with U.S. Venture and Oshkosh Corp … we ask them to identify who their volunteers are,” Dusek says. “It’s on a case-by-case basis.”
In addition to volunteers, InterSector can serve as a consultant. A recent example was the high need for personal protective equipment during the pandemic. InterSector located, sourced and housed the PPE needed for multiple nonprofits, rather than each duplicating their efforts.
InterSector doesn’t charge for its services, Dusek says. Its model is supported through philanthropy, which is one of the missions of the J. J. Keller Foundation, a private family foundation created by late company founder John “Jack” Keller as a gift to his wife, Ethel.
“Most of (the foundation) operating budget is supporting nonprofits,” she says, adding that the foundation grants about $4 million a year to nonprofits.
In 2019, InterSector conducted a compensation and benefits study with the goal of assisting nonprofits in learning about salary benchmarks, health benefits and insights into equity and pay grades.
“There is not actually a great resource for comp and benefits in our area,” Dusek says. “I think it really gave some perspectives and empowered nonprofits to talk with their boards.”
And last year, when the world took a pause due to the pandemic, InterSector was impacted as well. Prior to COVID-19, the initiative was doing well, but during the shutdown, it detoured and offered an HR compliance webinar and other educational outreach programs.
Despite the pandemic, Dusek says InterSector will remain focused on helping nonprofits attain success and providing the assistance to get there.
“Part of the unique thing of our region is how we support our communities,” she says. “That’s something the Kellers would have been proud of.”
Dusek says Ethel used to say, “There are people in your backyard who need help; you just have to find them.”