Under an umbrella: Wiscasset groups form nonprofit

Thu, 05/14/2020 - 8:45am

A closed door is now wide open, Lucia Droby said. Four groups that help draw people to downtown Wiscasset have an umbrella, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, Wiscasset Creative Alliance.

The Carriage House Gardens owner has had to clear hurdles sometimes in organizing Wiscasset Art Walk and Wiscasset Holiday Marketfest. Neither was incorporated or a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit, so donations weren’t tax-deductible; and to seek a grant or open an account, she needed an organization to sponsor it. “So there was just a series of these inconveniences, any one of which was fine and there was always a way of working with it, but it just felt like it was one right after the other.”

Then when Friends of Wiscasset Village started, “here we are with yet another new community initiative that would be running into the same problem,” Droby recalled.

And one grant program was open only to 501 (c)(3)’s; being a sponsored applicant wouldn’t do, she said. “So that just completely eliminated us (from applying).” But that and the need for a fiscal sponsor for others are no longer issues, Droby said. “Now we can apply for anything,” as the alliance, to help fund the programs, she said.

A year and a half ago, Droby took a workshop on starting nonprofits in Maine and then researched umbrella nonprofits – ones that serve multiple groups. Last June, Wiscasset Creative Alliance became incorporated with the state – a step toward 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status. And in late April, Droby learned the Internal Revenue Service has granted it.

The alliance is an umbrella nonprofit for Wiscasset Museum in the Streets, Wiscasset Art Walk, Friends of Wiscasset Village and Wiscasset Holiday Marketfest. Droby and others involved said it can help the groups raise funds, and become more efficient.

“We are so blessed in Wiscasset to have these wonderful people” who put their time and expertise into those smaller groups, Wiscasset MITS’ Peg Konitzky, Historic New England’s Wiscasset site manager, said. The alliance can channel Droby’s and others’ knowledge, for all the groups’ benefit, she said. For example, when someone leaves a group, the alliance could help that group find the next person to take on that work, Konitzky said. 

“I’m tickled pink,” fellow longtime Wiscasset MITS member Ed Kavanagh said about the alliance and the chance for the groups to share ideas with one another. One idea led to a recent Wiscasset MITS fund drive that raised enough for some new brochures and holders and to pay for its app for a year, Kavanagh said.

Droby was pleased the pandemic didn’t delay the IRS’ decision. But the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the annual meeting, she said. The alliance’s bylaws call for an annual meeting in March, April, or May. Due to pandemic precautions, the first annual one will be a virtual meeting later this month, not a gathering that might have helped with recruitment, as first hoped, she said.
It also would have been board members’ first time together as a 501 (c)(3), Droby added. “We just can’t do that face to face obviously, so we’ll have to almost just do it as a pro forma thing” to make the deadline, she said. 

The president of the alliance’s board of directors, Will Truesdell, is working to do the meeting on Zoom. Droby has been the energy and mastermind behind the alliance, Truesdell said. He got involved in it as a Friends of Wiscasset Village member. He recalled her proposing the alliance to Friends. “And we all loved the idea ... for the sake of coming together and utilizing the strengths of each group but under a larger umbrella especially (with a) nonprofit status and organizing more effectively, raising more money for each group, and being more effective in the long run.” 

As president, Truesdell brings three decades’ experience working for the New England region of a national ministry, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, including numerous leadership roles, he said. “And I care.” Truesdell shares other interviewees’ optimism for Wiscasset, his home of 19 years.

He cited the downtown decorating last Christmas: “The value of this town is not a budget, it’s the people. And I think if we put our heads together, we can find creative solutions (and) what I’ve found is when that happens, things move and then suddenly the money shows up.” 

The four groups of the alliance each involve creativity or creative solutions, so creative went in the alliance’s name, he said.

A fellow Friends member, BIRCH co-owner Brad Sevaldson, is also taking part. He commented via email: “Having the Creative Alliance gives all four groups the strength and respect as well as the financial support that is necessary to accomplish our goals. The Friends of Wiscasset Village is made up of primarily local residents that understand the importance of making the downtown the vibrant area that it needs to be to support our primary industry of tourism. This group is working on events and the continuing beautification of our streetscape, all of which need funding.”
Consultants will be helping the alliance’s board define the donation process and other pieces, Droby said.