BRADENTON -- Margo Belaga was surprised when she went to a chamber networking event and met people involved in nonprofits who complained that business people weren't taking an interest in their efforts.
"I started thinking differently about nonprofits," the insurance consultant said. "I thought if I started a group, spread the word about these organizations and people learned about them, maybe it would help."
So in December 2011, she formed Networking for Nonprofits and invited a small group of business people she knew to attend a monthly meeting where a speaker from a nonprofit was asked to talk about what the group did. She then scheduled tours of some of the organizations.
A little more than a year later, Belaga has found that blending business and nonprofits can be a win-win situation.
There have been 52 tours to facilities like Galvano One Stop Center and 15 monthly meetings held at area restaurants.
"It's a way for business people to network with nonprofits and find one they are passionate about and then become an ambassador for the organization," Belaga said. "We hope they will tell five to 10 people a week about the organization and in return 10 to 20 people in that nonprofit become aware of their business."
What has surprised Belaga and other business people involved in the group is how many nonprofits there are in Manatee County -- more than 2,000.
"What's amazing is that people in nonprofits don't know about each other," she said. "They are so
overworked, involved and committed they don't have time."
One example was a woman who formed Joining Our Youth, a nonprofit aimed at providing support for children aging out of foster care.
"She had been sitting at her kitchen table for six years trying to make it work," Belaga said. "And there are other groups out there that could have helped. It is frustrating that some of these organizations can't coordinate with each other."
Chet Harmon, owner of Harmon Accounting in Bradenton, is a regular member of the group and said it has helped him learn more about the community in which his 35-year-old business is located.
"It is amazing what we have and what isn't being utilized because there is no central agency," he said.
Being involved in Networking for Nonprofits might not bring direct benefits to his business, but that is not his prime motivator for being a part of the group, he said.
"Will it help my business? Probably not, but I'm doing it to help the community if I can," he said. "I know if I find people in need I have a resource to go to now."
Harmon thinks many businesses have altruistic concerns but the involvement isn't there.
"So many businesses are in a survival mode," he said.
Brian Brader, with One World Acupuncture in Bradenton, thinks Networking for Nonprofits "is one of the more helpful nonprofits from a business point of view."
"A good variety of people come each week," he said. "It's been beneficial. I had no idea we had all these nonprofits."
Brader has gotten clients from participating in the group and in return he has supported some of the charity events and fundraisers of the nonprofits by publicizing them.
Currently the group is meeting either the second or third Thursday of the month at noon in the Village of the Arts. This past week, Ed Straight with Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center brought birds to the Dancing Crane Gallery on 10th Avenue North to talk about the nonprofit's efforts in rehabilitating injured and orphaned wildlife for return to the wild.
Other nonprofits that have participated in sharing their mission with Networking for Nonprofit members include the Boys & Girls Club, Southeast Guide Dogs, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Meals on Wheels and the Salvation Army.
Twelve to 20 usually attend the monthly meeting, Belaga said, and about five to 12 will go on tours of nonprofits, held about three times a month.
"If it is something that strikes your fancy, you show up," Belaga said.
Another surprise for her has been realizing how much many nonprofits accomplish with few resources.
"Some work with basically nothing," she said.