Washington has its trade associations and Washington has its nonprofit groups and now, thanks to James Kalish and friends, Washington has a trade association for nonprofit.
"I know some nonprofits people shy away from that term, but I don't have any problems with it," said Kalish, director and chief do-gooder of an umbrella group called the Washington Council of Agencies. Founded 18 months ago by Kalish and a handful of agency directors, the WCA exists, Kalish explained, "to allow the nonprofits a forum to get things done together. There are as many as 300 nonprofits in this city, and it's rhetoric, but it really is easier if we work together."
The WCA comprises about 65 agencies whose members pay dues of $25 to $300, depending on budget size. It also provides services and counseling help that the usually cash-poor operations could not afford otherwise. Among direct services offered are: an insurance program for agency employes; a modest computer service to help with mailing lists; a resource sharing program, and a 35 percent discount on office supplies.
The WCA office also maintains a number of crucial listings of job openings, accountants, lawyers, managers, artists and other technicians willing to work with nonprofits; and of inflation-fighting bartering arrangements, for example, photocopying for a share of some other group's paper clip bounty.
Perhaps more importantly, the group -- which has a $45,000 a year budget -- tries to act as an advocate for the chronically underfunded and, Kalish believes, underappreciated nonprofit groups. Although agencies provide help for the most difficult and intractable problems, he said, they are often unable to persuade city officials to return their phone calls, much less pay their bills on time.
"We beg and borrow, and shuffle and sit. It's very demeaning to continuallybeg for money, our salaries are continually low and people won't return our phone calls," said Kalish, who supports two sons on an annual salary of $12,000. "I mean, one guy said to me, 'Can we quit, can we strike, what can we do?' And we're not taken very seriously. (Mayor) Marion Barry, (Planning Director) Jim Gibson, they all came out of nonprofit situations and yet they've learned to take the nonprofits for granted."
As an introductory step, the WSC will be holding a nonprofit agency fair at its makeshift office at the Church of Pilgrims, 2201 P St. NW, Feb. 4 from 1 to 5 p.m. Kalish, the four other staff members -- two of whom are unpaid college interns -- and lawyers, accountants and other "resource persons" will be available to offer advice and direction, as well as to solicit new members.
"I'm not a union organizer," the 45-year-old organizer said, "but the nonprofits are being organized even if they don't know it."