Tax credits: A nonprofit’s experience

The number $956,250 has been stuck in my head since late summer 2011, when Lakes Region Community Services was awarded tax credits from the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority to support our office relocation.Looking back, I realize now that I had no real idea what we were getting into or how proud I would feel about our agency and how far we have come in a relatively short period of time.LRCS has been serving individuals and families in the Lakes Region since 1975. While our primary focus is on serving individuals with developmental disabilities and/or acquired brain disorders and their families, LRCS also provides broad-based family support services for the community.In the course of almost 40 years, our work in Lakes Region communities has touched tens of thousands of individuals and families, helping to enhance the quality of life for some of our most vulnerable citizens.But prior to our involvement with tax credits, our fundraising outreach and expertise was quite limited — primarily, it was tied to grants, small annual appeals and limited sponsorships of small events.Knowing “we had to get there someday,” fundraising and donor outreach was always on my mind, it just did not rise to the top of what is always a long list.In the summer of 2009, LRCS was notified that we had to vacate our main offices located at the site of former State Prison and Laconia State School. Through a competitive bid process, LRCS was awarded a surplus vacated federal building in downtown Laconia. Knowing the impact a large and historic vacant building would have on the fabric of Laconia’s downtown, together with LRCS’ desire to become more a part of the downtown community, moving to this location seemed made to order.Before occupancy, LRCS was required to make renovations to bring the building up to state and local building codes as well as make modifications to meet accessibility standards. As a private nonprofit organization, we had always wanted to invest in energy-saving to reduce our annual operating costs. We were able to accomplish this through a combination of funding streams, including tax credits, Energy Enterprise Funds, a Community Development Block Grant, and funding from USDA/Rural Development.Change for the betterOf all the funding mechanisms that made this possible, the use of tax credits has been the most rewarding and fulfilling.Aside from the obvious contribution of significant dollars, which allows us to use our limited resources to support the individuals and families we serve, it has changed our relationship with the local business community, creating partnerships that did not exist previously, strengthening those that we had, and setting a course for future collaboration.As part of the tax credit donor recruitment process, we have stepped up and out to tell our story. As a result, the community knows more about LRCS and the impact of our programs and services than ever before. And with 29 current New Hampshire tax donors who range widely in size and businesses, our value to the community is evident.Tax credits have helped us to make the “ask,” and I honestly can say without this first step, we would not be on the course of expanding and continuing to grow our donor base and business partnerships. It has been quite challenging, yet a very rewarding experience.While at times it has been hard — really hard — this has changed me as a leader and the organization as a whole, all for the better. LRCS, our community and those we serve will reap these benefits for years to come.Meanwhile, LRCS has until March 31 to secure final pledge agreements for the remaining credits of $197,450. The donors do not have to make their donation until June 30, and then have up to five years to apply their tax credits to cover their New Hampshire business taxes.Christine Santaniello is executive director of Lakes Region Community Services. She can be reached at 603-524-8811.