On the Money: Sustaining Island Nonprofits

Peter Temple’s pitch is simple: “If you’ve made an investment in the Vineyard because you like it and enjoy it here, philanthropy is important to protecting that investment.” Peter is the executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Donors Collaborative (MVDC), a group formed by philanthropists in 2003 to educate themselves and other potential donors, and to increase Island nonprofits’ capacity to do good. The MVDC is funded by its board and doesn’t solicit funds for itself or specific nonprofits; its charge is to encourage charitable giving and help organizations put that giving to good use.

The need for philanthropy is both huge and easily overlooked. Nonprofit spending accounts for more than 13 percent of the Island’s gross domestic product, a percentage larger than even the Vineyard’s municipal sector. And with the combination of the economic downturn and governments at all levels cutting programs, the need for increased philanthropy on the Island, and everywhere else, is greater than ever. Peter offers a litany of depressing statistics about the Vineyard: an off-season unemployment rate of more than 13 percent, median incomes 27 percent lower than the state average, a cost of living 12 percent higher than in Boston, an affordable housing shortage on an island with more houses than year-round residents, development pressure straining the Vineyard’s natural resources, and high and rising levels of depression, substance abuse, and domestic violence.

In addition to educating people about the need for philanthropy, the MVDC provides a directory of nonprofits and volunteer opportunities that help tackle pressing needs on the Island, so potential donors and volunteers, whom Peter often refers to as “investors,” can find the causes they believe in most passionately. Or they can give to the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard, which gives grants to a broad range of community groups, and provides scholarships to Island students.

For the staffers of Island nonprofits, the MVDC provides technical support, advice, and workshops to help improve their abilities to provide needed services, which is especially important when more and more causes are competing for the same pool of supporters. “Donors are looking more and more to where the money is going,” says Peter. “What are the results?...How many meals are provided? How many acres conserved? Vineyard nonprofits have had to learn how to answer these questions, and to look at their budgets in the same way.

“No matter what you love about the Vineyard, nonprofits are involved in providing it, protecting it, or making it possible,” Peter continues. “Go to our website [] and find a nonprofit that’s doing something to protect what you love about the Vineyard.”

Q: Why are there so many nonprofits on the Island?

A: Peter often gets this question from donors. The simple answer: There are many issues needing attention, largely as a consequence of population growth. Twenty years ago, housing was still affordable; now we have a great need in that area. Farming was a way of life for centuries; now with development displacing farmland, the Island Grown Initiative fills an important niche. “Also, because we’re on an island, we can’t share with neighboring communities,” Peter says. The Vineyard needs to have its own hospital, its own YMCA, its own everything. “They’re all here in our little community.”