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Talking with Steve Sugarman of International Humanities Center

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Welcome to OpEdNews, Steve. You run an organization called International Humanities Center. Can you take us behind the scenes?

It would be my honor, Joan. International Humanities Center (IHCenter) operates as a nonprofit fiscal sponsor. For those who may not be versed in fiscal sponsorship (FS), this is a means by which many start-up charitable endeavors get their feet wet, i.e., get up and running. For those projects that are just getting started, or have been operating for some time yet not with charitable status and want to take the next step, FS is often the answer.

The process of incorporating, obtaining nonprofit (NP) status from the IRS and dealing with the myriad of back-office complexities stops many promising organizations dead in their tracks. They simply do not have the time or expertise to deal with issues such as accounting, filings, merchant accounts, etc. This is where we, and other fiscal sponsors, come in. We are specifically equipped to handle the back-office aspects of running multiple projects, all of which are unified on one IRS filing and audit simultaneously. Fiscal sponsors do charge an overhead fee, yet this often is much lower than if the project took these services in-house. We provide major bang for the buck.

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The use of a fiscal sponsor also frees the project directors and their staff/volunteers from the very issues they do not want to deal with. No one -- and I do mean no one -- begins a charitable endeavor because they love the back-office tasks. People start organizations because they see a need in their community or the world for significant change. They see that there are children to feed, beaches to clean, animals that are suffering, communities that are suffering the ravages of civil unrest or a natural disaster, a broken electoral system that is badly in need of an overhaul. The possibilities are practically endless. The role of a fiscal sponsor is to vault these projects into action, rather than them having to wait months for IRS exemption, by which time many of the situations will have run their course.

IHCenter is a great organization. (I know this first-hand because i'm one of those little guys who is huddling under their umbrella.) How long has IHCenter been in existence and how has it grown over the years?

IHCenter has been in existence since 1998, yet it incarnated into its present format in Summer 2003. At that time, I left my post at another (similar) organization and moved over to IHCenter. It truly was a leap of faith, as IHCenter had only one project at the time, no staff, no budget and precious little money in the bank.

Since that time we have grown tremendously: last year we counted over 300 projects under our sponsorship, all of whom combined to bring in over $6 million in revenue. The growth has astonished all of us! In fact, we have grown so fast that a moratorium on new groups is in place. This is allowing us to thin the ranks by de-activating inactive projects, as well as overhaul our office systems.

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What this proves, this rapid growth of IHCenter, is that there is an unquenchable thirst among so many of our global citizenry. People are clamoring to make positive change. There has been so much misery, so much thievery, so much behind-the-scenes dealing amongst the powers-that-be, and people are tired of it. They want to make positive, lasting change. Many people have -- and are continuing to -- leave the corporate world to become activists. For some, this is a part-time endeavor; for most, it is a passion that consumes.

That is amazing! How many people make up the IHCenter staff? Can you give us an idea of the kinds of projects you serve? Also, how do people learn about you and the wonderful way you free small projects up from all the bureaucratic 'stuff' that can take up so much time and energy?

This is truly the astonishing part: the IHCenter staff currently consists of five full-time people and several part-timers. I am amongst the latter while still on a sabbatical of sorts. The going has been rough for the past year, as the economic meltdown caused revenues to dramatically drop. This is one of the primary reasons why two of us are working part-time on sabbatical, and the office has not been able to adequately ramp up with the hiring of more personnel. We work very hard for the projects that are sponsored, with minimal outside funding assistance and an ultra-low fiscal sponsorship fee.

The types of projects that are served are as diverse as the nonprofit community will allow. Our groups are digging water wells in India, building schoolhouses in several locations, providing disaster relief wherever/whenever we can, protecting the integrity of our American electoral system, providing healing for traumatized war veterans. The list is practically endless.

Actually, the best place to learn more is to visit IHCenter's website at An alphabetized listing of all projects can be found at People may be amazed at the breadth, depth and diversity of those groups that have incarnated under our stewardship.

The economic crisis has surely had all kinds of unforeseen and far reaching ramifications. How does IHCenter run with the top guys reduced to part-time? That must be so challenging. Can any small, non profit be a part of IHCenter? Could you ultimately house 500 or 1,000 of them under your umbrella?

This has been a challenge... and that is an understatement. Tough times call for tough decisions. The folks remaining full-time at IHCenter are highly qualified and dedicated. Those of us on sabbatical (myself, as Executive Director, and the Project Liaison) continue to work as much as possible unpaid. Yet the reality is that working without pay only lasts so long. So there is a juggling act between IHCenter responsibilities and finding other sources of income. I'm at that stage now.

The irony is that last Summer (2008), IHCenter was invited to submit a grant proposal that will provide three years of capacity building and infrastructure development. We were approved for this funding, right at the exact moment the economy backslid. The grant has been delayed ever since. We still hold out hope and vision that it will arrive. In this grant package, we forecast into the foreseeable future and estimated that we would be sponsoring in excess of 1,000 projects by 2012. We could absolutely handle this type of influx with appropriate staffing and infrastructure. At that point, we envisioned employing a small team of project liaisons to handle the requisite site visits and project oversight. Alas, without outside funding, this will never occur.

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That is a major bummer. One more reason to hope the economy recovers, and fast. Anything else would you like to tell our readers, Steve?

Nope. I think we've covered everything.

Well, I hope things turn around soon and that you finally get the promised funding that you so richly deserve. It'll be great when even more small grass roots organizations are able to benefit from your services, encouragement, and good will! Thanks for talking with me, Steve. Good luck to you and International Humanities Center.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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