Nonprofit organizations organize art shows, and support veterans. They monitor drunk driving laws and protect children in dozens of ways. They assist the elderly and often crusade for change.

New Mexico nonprofit organizations frequently fill the gaps between government assistance and family support. But in a poor state, with limited resources to support them, nonprofit organizations frequently teeter on the brink of financial disaster.

“We realized there were a lot of non-profits that were not meeting the requirement to function in this state,” said Leslie Oakes, chair of the Accounting Department in Anderson School at the University of New Mexico. “There were huge grants for example from Kellogg going to nonprofits in some rural regions and there was no one there that could really help them. So they couldn’t get that grant renewed because they didn’t have the accounting to show that they had monitored the grant correctly.”

Oakes and one of her students getting a master’s degree in accounting, Janice Moen frequently talked about the problem and Moen moved to do something about it. When she graduated, Moen and Patrick Wilkins, chief financial officer of the United Way of Central New Mexico began teaching financial training classes for administrators and board members of nonprofit organizations through the United Way Center for Nonprofit Excellence.

“They walk into the training. They are all excited. They’ve got their coffee. They’ve got their muffins. They sit down. They are all happy. They don’t have to go to work today. They are doing the training. And then we start telling them here’s the things you need to do fiscally. Here’s your responsibility,” said Moen.

Wilkins picks up the story, “All of them were committed to understanding and then after about 15 minutes, they realized ‘Oh gosh, I’m the executive director and I’m responsible for fundraising and for doing the program and I also keep the checkbook. We are talking about all these regulations and how to file a 990 and proper bookkeeping and restrictions, and all the things that are unique to nonprofits. Janice was right. The color would go out of their faces. None of them were accountants and they thought they could come take this class and get some tips and tricks. Then they realized they didn’t know what they didn’t know.”

Moen realized it was going to take a lot more than a financial training class to actually help.

In 2011, she established a small nonprofit organization NonProfit Back Office Resources. Oakes and Anderson School Dean Craig White became board members along with Wilkins.

The tiny nonprofit quietly went to work. For a relatively small fee, NPBOR helps nonprofits set up a financial system or if the nonprofit prefers NPBOR sets up the systems and runs it for the nonprofit. They also work with the nonprofits to handle recovery after an embezzlement, or to set up a system that will prevent problems. They offer low cost access to software built especially for nonprofits with a grant from the McCune Foundation. And they help the nonprofits set up systems that prove to the big foundations that their money is being properly spent.

White sees NPBOR as an opportunity for student internships. “We saw an educational components where they would be supervised by Leslie or Janice and where they could be learning how to work with clients and doing something that is very helpful to the community and helps the students be more prepared,” he said. He is still exploring a way to work that into the Anderson School curriculum.  

Moen has experimented with interns. Her last intern now works for her full time. And the nonprofit is growing quickly as word spreads.

Life for any nonprofit organization these days is increasingly complex – financial requirements,  human resource rules, the need for information technology expertise make the old model of one executive director and several board members inadequate for even small nonprofits.

But they are an important part of the economy. Nationally, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics said nonprofits made up more than ten percent of the labor force in 2012.

Oakes says accounting students at UNM are very interested in the school’s nonprofit accounting class. “I taught a writing class last spring and I asked them, ‘what does it mean to be a professional in your community?’ We have students that come from the reservation, from little towns up north and they were talking about how being a professional means giving something back to your community. To be an honored person, who behaves respectfully and gives something back. I don’t think you would hear that from the usual accounting group in Milwaukee or Chicago or Dallas.”