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Nonprofit’s turnaround has brought it lots of attention

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Nonprofit: Young Playwrights’ Theater.

Location: Washington.

Number of staff: Six full-time; one part-time.

Annual budget: $635,ooo.

When David Snider inherited Young Playwrights’ Theater seven years ago, he knew he had to shake up an arts education organization that at the time was struggling with a budget deficit of $170,000.

“You either shrink or you grow,” Snider said.“One way to grow is innovation and collaboration.”

One of the first things he did was to change the operating culture of the six-person management team. He turned staff meetings into “roundtables” where the focus was to generate new ideas and where team members would take turns leading.

This terrified Nicole Jost who was just a junior staffer at the time.

“I was just expecting someone to tell me what to do,” said Jost, who is now a program manager. “But then I got excited to be able to have a voice and know that it mattered.”

It didn’t take long for new ideas to bubble up.

One was to create a fundraising contest in which the winner who recruited the most donors would have a play written about his or her life.

That, along with other fundraisers, raised $50,000 and increased the donor base by 300 percent.

Snider also sought to create a greater sense of community. So the group developed a volunteer program and recruited “community ambassadors,” including parents, religious leaders and teachers, to help with fundraising and other tasks.

By the end of his first year as executive director, Young Playwrights’ had turned its deficit into a $34,000 surplus and it has been operating in the black ever since.

Snider’s efforts did not go unrecognized. YPT won an arts award last year presented by the first lady and was picked as a finalist last month in a competition honoring excellence in nonprofit management run by the Center for Nonprofit Advancement.

Community of Hope, which provides services to the homeless and low income, won top honors. (The Washington Post was a sponsor.)

Young Playwrights’ Theater along with the other finalists recently shared their thoughts on best practices on a panel at the awards program where nearly 200 nonprofit leaders heard insights on how to negotiate better rates from banks and vendors, allocate a portion of the budget toward professional development and use volunteers to raise funds.

Snider, who is stepping down in July, said he was no stranger to managing arts organizations after starting his acting career in New York City and discovering a love for numbers and budgets through administrative positions at various arts organizations.

Snider keeps a color-coded board in the YPT offices showing how well the organization is doing financially, on projects and other measures.

He’s also turned board meetings into roundtables, where time is spent focusing on new initiatives instead of reporting on past progress. That material is now delivered to the board ahead of time. The board has more than tripled it fundraising and giving in the past two years to $30,000

“Having good practices and being a good steward of finances and contributions is absolutely vital if you’re going to provide high quality services,” said Brigitte Moore, deputy director.

© The Washington Post Company