Historical Society certified by state center; should aid in fundraising

The Union County Historical Society recently achieved a milestone that drew little public attention but could dramatically increase the society and museum’s ability to attract much more substantial grants than in the past.

“We have become ‘Excellence in Action’ certified under the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits,” museum director Jill Smith said.

“Congratulation again on your accomplishment of being Excellence in Action certified,” Mississippi Center for Nonprofits Assistant Director of Finance and Operations Vanessa Green said in a letter to the organization. “It was a great pleasure to learn of all the wonderful things you and your team are doing. We are proud to have been a part of helping your agency to rise to an even higher level of service.”

Smith likened the certification to something like The Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. “It basically makes sure we really have our act together,” she said.

Getting certification came about mostly because of the proximity of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi, which has given the museum and society some grants already. “This is a program to assist people they give grants to or who are interested,” Smith said.

The process started this past October and Smith said it requires a tremendous amount of paperwork and detail.

An organization has to be able to account for minutes, by-laws, a code of ethics, certificate of intent, volunteer policies, a plan to maintain and keep records and other details only the most well-organized large corporation might be able to muster.

“These are things we never really had to look at before,” Smith said, but added the work done will make it easier for the next generations who take over operation of the society and museum.

All the paperwork requirements culminated in a peer review here May 23. “Three people came from Mississippi Nonprofits,” Smith said. “We have a two-page checklist to follow.”

One of the unexpected bonuses of the process was the development of a technology plan, Smith said. “When we started I could remember all the passwords, et cetera, but not now,” she said.

Betsey Hamilton took most of the responsibility for establishing by-laws and they had the added benefit of help from Jan Eastman who, although retired from the CREATE Foundation, is still a consultation and deals with this type of material all the time.

All the work paid off.

“We were the first ones they had done that were 100 percent,” Smith said. “Everything they asked for, we had, and like they wanted.”

It took three to four months to get all the plans and records and other papers together, but now the organization is ready to meet the criteria of almost any major grant provider.

“We had to do a three-year plan,” Smith said. “Our board did three or four lengthy sessions two years ago so we had part of that behind us.”

The society will be visited by Mississippi Nonprofit representatives in three years for re-certification but Smith is not worried.

And now that the society is certified they can go for “the bigger money.”

Toyota has been giving them some money, mostly for programming, but they also give at a much higher level, Smith said, and the historical society is now eligible for that. Wal-Mart also has a much higher grant level than is usually seen and National Endowment and government grants should be more likely as well.

“If anybody has any doubts about how we are managed day-to-day, this should answer it,” Smith said. “We have done our best to be accountable.”

For more information on the Excellence in Action program, contact the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, 201 W Capitol Street, Suite 700, Jackson, MS 39201, phone 601-968-0061 or go to www.msnonprofits.org