By Luke O’Neill
As a local nonprofit, the Charlestown Working Theater has long relied on the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) Mitigation Fund to help run its programs. Now, with the fund in its twilight years, the theater and other Charlestown nonprofits are bracing for the financial fallout.
But, at the same time, the CNC has a plan to help.
Over the past seven years the fund has meted out hundreds of thousands of dollars to Charlestown nonprofits. But as the funds evaporate, the nonprofits are looking ahead, wary of future funding, said Kristin Johnson, the theater’s co-director.
“It will hurt us,” she said of the loss of mitigation money. “If we don’t have that money to help us pay for productions then maybe we would have fewer classes.”
But Johnson and other community members remain upbeat – and strategic. She said nonprofits in general are continually facing and overcoming financial challenges.
“You can’t really plan for not having as much money as you have right now,” she said with a laugh.
“You do the best you can but it’s not like we take in a lot of extra money that we can put aside,” she said. “The reality is probably if we don’t find other funding sources we’ll have to make some cuts and we don’t look forward to it.”
Johnson said nonprofits are always looking to diversify their financial base and support structure. Even now with the mitigation fund, she said, the theater is always seeking new grant possibilities or community partnerships to bolster programs.
So perhaps the CNC’s forward-thinking plan can help.
According to Tom Cunha, council chairman, the council’s mitigation committee will introduce an idea to the full council “probably this year,” to hire professional fundraisers in the last year of the mitigation fund to help the nonprofits sustain themselves. The mitigation fund, which started in 2003, will be around for two more years.
In the final year of the fund, in addition to doling out the regular allotments to several nonprofits, the council would set aside a certain amount of money – “whatever we think is appropriate,” said Cunha – to hire fundraising consultants and grant writers. These fundraising specialists would then work with the nonprofits for a certain number of hours, Cunha said.
Cunha estimated that in the final year of the grant the council is still expected to give out between $50,000 and $60,000 to nonprofits, in addition to hiring the fundraisers.
The long-term benefit, said Cunha, is that some nonprofits could learn from other fundraisers and grant writers and have the opportunity to raise funds and search for grants on their own in the future.
“So we’re not just going to leave people high and dry,” said Cunha. “We’re going to help them. We don’t want to leave the people who’ve been counting on us.”
The mitigation fund, which originally totaled nearly $1 million, was created as part of an agreement among the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Massachusetts Highway Department and the neighborhood council.
The fund serves as mitigation to the Charlestown community for the development of City Square. Residential and commercial developers of City Square financed the fund, which is maintained by the BRA.
Charlestown is the only Boston neighborhood to have set up such a fund, according to Cunha. This year, the council has awarded a total of $105,000 spread out to 16 nonprofits. Cunha said there’s about $200,000 left in the fund.
According to Cunha, the mitigation fund makes up at least 35 to 40 percent of some nonprofits’ budgets – “that’s a concern for us,” he said.
“When the [mitigation] money dries up,” he said, “we don’t want an institution to dry on the vine.”
Over the years, Johnson, of the Charlestown Working Theater, estimated the theater has received roughly $50,000 from the fund. The theater’s typical yearly award, she said, has ranged between $5,000 and $8,000.
Johnson said the theater uses the mitigation money for youth productions, classes and other programming. It’s money well used – and appreciated.
“I think we’ll all miss it,” she said of the fund. “We’re really eternally grateful to have it.”