“Giving Back: Your Guide to Charitable Opportunities in the Berkshires” is surfacing in coffee shops, doctors’ offices and myriad local gathering places across Berkshire County, putting the Nonprofit Center of the Berkshires and its founder and executive director, Liana Toscanini, in the limelight at a particularly auspicious time of year. The inaugural edition of the giving guide, a 128-page directory, features nonprofits by category, profiles of nonprofits, and articles geared towards donor and nonprofit organizations. “People are finding it really interesting reading,” says Toscanini whose project came off the presses at the start of November to provide not only some much needed election distraction, but also to harness the spirit of the season.
Giving Tuesday, founded in 2012 by New York’s 92nd Street Y in partnership with the United Nations Foundation, is celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving. Not only does Giving Tuesday, celebrated this year on November 29th, serve to kick off the charitable season, but it also balances the widely recognized Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday shopping events that signal the start of the holiday shopping season.
Toscanini, whose mission at the NPC is to facilitate growth for charitable organizations through shared resources, affordable products and services, and creative collaborations saw a gap and chose to address it, something she has gained the reputation for doing in her more than 20 years as a local businesswoman and volunteer. “People want to be involved, but they have no idea how to do it,” she explains, hence the idea behind her giving guide, a publication targeted to the individual who might support any of the County’s more than 900 nonprofits by donating funds or volunteering time. The impetus behind this project? The three queries she found herself consistently fielding from community members: I’d like to volunteer. What’s a good nonprofit to get involved with? I want to make a donation. Which organizations would you recommend? I wish I could just write one check and someone would make sure it goes to those organizations that need it most.
The giving guide is a reference book, according to Toscanini. It contains 60 profiles of local nonprofits, each wildly different, and covers the gamut from big to small, North County to South County, venerable to new. Its strength lies in the uniformity it employs in presenting each nonprofit; each profile, compiled using a web-designed template, includes a mission, programs and offerings, ways to support and fast facts . In addition, for anyone who missed the NPC’s dogged calls for submission, all nonprofits are listed for free in the back of the guide, by category. More than 980 nonprofits are reflected in all.
This publication gives a good picture of the nonprofit sector in Berkshire County and provides, “immediate impact as a start up organization.” The latter was key for Toscanini who, in her first six months in business, chose to tackle projects that would create the, “most amount of impact for a one-person shop.” In short, “this book is out doing the job all over Berkshire County that I can’t do on my own,” Toscanini says with a chuckle. For smaller organizations, this has proven to be a great opportunity to get in front of people. In the absence of fundraising and marketing, the giving guide serves as a major promotional piece, particularly for smaller nonprofits.
It is widely understood that nonprofits rely on monetary donations and volunteers to sustain their work; the role of community engagement, and the importance of finding ambassadors for nonprofits, is one of Toscanini’s pegs. Known locally for her uncanny ability to make connections, Toscanini’s guide is tailored both “for those who have been living here and others who are just getting to know the community events and volunteer opportunities.” As a result, the targeted audience is far greater than potential donors; the bulk of her work, and that of the giving guide, lies in the basic nonprofit philosophy that engagement leads to growth.
Toscanini was adamant that there be “no barriers like cost– [since] NPC is all about low cost, due to who she is serving.” Toscanini dismissed the idea of distributing the guide for sale pretty quickly–she is, after all, a marketing person. Advertisers and sponsors subsidized the cost so the community can have it for free. For a first time publication, there was risk involved in production and printing. “But the community needed something like this,” she says, which is why this project came quickly on the heels of her setting up shop.
Founded by Toscanini in the spring of 2016, the NPC is a member-based organization facilitating connections and providing products tailored to the needs of the nonprofit sector. When asked what is next, Toscanini is quick to state, “more events that put nonprofits in the same room.” Just on the heels of a wildly successful workshop series, Toscanini is good at “identifying holes” and filling them. Some of her ideas include round table discussions, a nonprofit expo and other opportunities for simply convening. Any opportunity for networking and Toscanini is on it; she notes the importance of camaraderie and bonding as integral for individuals involved in nonprofits who might work independently or with small staffs. And Toscanini says it best: she is working hard to help those involved in the nonprofit world to, “feel connected and supported” while continuing to provide “more opportunity to exchange information [and] to share.” For more information, contact the NPC at firstname.lastname@example.org.