Leadership and Fundraising and Governance and Volunteers and Philanthropy

Not-for-profit Leadership Ventures calling it quits

June 4, 2010

An Indianapolis-based not-for-profit that trains board members of volunteer organizations will cease operations June 30.

In a letter to supporters sent Thursday, Leadership Ventures’ President Ruth Purcell-Jones and Board Chairman Lee Lewellen attributed the closing to declining revenue tied to the economic downturn. Both donations and client fees have fallen in recent years.

Leadership Ventures has been hit particularly hard, Purcell-Jones told IBJ, because of its status as what’s known in the industry as an “intermediary” that serves other not-for-profits.

“[Donors’] focus, for the most part, is on direct services to those that are in the most need,” she said. “So professional development is not something, at this moment, that is at the tops of most people's minds.”

The past few years have been difficult for the organization. Leadership Ventures ran a deficit of more than $303,000 in its last two fiscal years, according to the IRS Form 990 it filed in 2009.

Contributions dwindled from $141,085 in 2008 to $99,800 last year, and other revenue fell from $322,458 to $241,625 during the same period.

Leadership Ventures launched 12 years ago as a program of founder Katherine Tyler Scott. Originally called Trustee Leadership Development, it achieved official not-for-profit status in 2006. The organization has two employees, down from seven last year, according to the organization's 990.

A feasibility study done by Indianapolis-based consulting firm Achieve concluded that, while a need for not-for-profit training exists, the financial resources are lacking, Purcell-Jones and Lewellen said in their letter.

For intermediaries such as Leadership Ventures to be successful, especially in the difficult economic climate, they need to convey the value they contribute as clearly as they can, said Angela White, chief operating officer of Johnson Grossnickle and Associates in Greenwood.

Take for instance United Way of Central Indiana, she said.

“They’re not directly feeding the hungry, but they’re allocating funds to organizations that do,” White said, acknowledging that it also is a much larger organization. “What’s the value added for gifting to the intermediary? I think that’s the key.”

One of Leadership Ventures’ flagship events, the Board Chair Summit, now will be presented by Lacy Leadership Association, which agreed to assume ownership. The first summit, held in January, gave not-for-profit leaders the opportunity to come together to learn new practices and share ideas with one another.

Leadership Ventures has provided training for more than 30,000 not-for-profit board and staff members, Purcell-Jones said.

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