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‘Our economy won’t function without us’: R.I. nonprofit leader to direct sector support center

Nancy Wolanski has been tapped as the inaugural director of the new Nonprofit Resource Center, a hub for the nonprofit sector based at the United Way of Rhode Island

Nancy Wolanski is the inaugural director of the new Nonprofit Resource Center, a hub incubated by the United Way of Rhode Island.United Way of Rhode Island

The United Way of Rhode Island has tapped Nancy Wolanski its inaugural director of the new Nonprofit Resource Center, a hub designed to help serve Rhode Island’s entire nonprofit sector.

The NRC will have a particular focus on small and mid-size organizations, addressing both the emerging and systemic needs of the nonprofit sector. Wolanski said the NRC will partner with the public sector and funders to help develop needed resources, address funding inequities, and strengthen workforce pipelines.

Wolanski previously served as the executive director of the Grantmakers Council of Rhode Island.

Q: You’ve been on the committee that’s helped design the mission and programs of the Nonprofit Resource Center. During those listening sessions, what did you hear were the biggest issues the sector faced?


Wolanski: The biggest one is resources. During the pandemic, there was an influx of resources because the need was so high. According to a survey we recently conducted, about 60 percent of nonprofits in Rhode Island said the need is still higher than pre-pandemic levels but the resources are dried or are drying up.

The other obvious thing is the burnout of staff in the sector who have been dealing with those needs. Their jobs are incredibly stressful, but the pay isn’t adequate. In the last few years, we’re seeing an exodus of skilled, experienced people leaving the sector without a strategic pipeline to bring more people in.

Can you provide an overview of what the Nonprofit Resource Center is and how it will work?

The NRC hasn’t officially launched yet, but we’re looking to begin our first round of programs and services this fall. Our goal is to be responsive to the needs of the sector in ways that can be rolled out quickly, but also being focused on a longer-term vision of the sector. That falls into three buckets: supporting the people of the sector by helping individuals with their own careers through professional development work; strengthening organizations through financial resources and expertise sharing; and then helping build a more sustainable and equitable support system.


How much does state government rely on nonprofits?

If you look at different agencies within state government, almost every single one outsources critical services to nonprofits. And then they depend on them to continue carrying out those programs. The nonprofit sector is absolutely the service infrastructure for the state of Rhode Island.

This was also very much the case during the thick of the pandemic. The state wanted to do work to help people in the crisis, but it was not the state doing the work, it was outsourcing it to nonprofits.

So the state is often asking for nonprofits to step up. But is state government stepping up when nonprofits ask for necessary funding?

No. For example, when a construction company wants to bid on a project, they offer a cost breakdown to the state and they won’t take a contract unless the state is willing to pay for the entire scope of work. Nonprofits still usually take the work, even when the costs are higher compared to what the state is paying.

Nonprofits are not disposable vendors. You can’t just cannibalize them and then go on to the next one. But if the state wanted to provide these services for themselves, they would need to hire people at a much higher expense.


Alexa Gagosz can be reached at Follow her @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.