After 15 years of helping nonprofit organizations in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties realize their full potential, the Nonprofit Support Center has come to the realization that its own mission is financially unsustainable. By June 30, the facility will close its doors for good, an apparent victim of the prolonged economic downturn.

Ben Romo, co-president of the Nonprofit Support Center’s board of directors, told Noozhawk on Friday that the decision wasn’t an easy one for directors, who concluded earlier this month that it was time to close.

The recession has hit the nonprofit sector hard and Romo said the Goleta-based NCS has tried to avoid competing for increasingly scarce dollars with the organizations it serves.

The Nonprofit Support Center, 5638 Hollister Ave., Suite 200, was founded as a Santa Barbara Foundation initiative in 1996 to provide local nonprofit groups with training, roundtable discussions, a resource library, consulting and technical support services — for a small annual fee. From there on, the Santa Barbara Foundation has been the center’s biggest donor.

According to Romo, the center has about 400 dues-paying annual members. The dues have never covered the operating costs, however, and the center is heavily subsidized by members of the Foundation Roundtable of Santa Barbara, including the Hutton Parker Foundation and the Orfalea Foundations.

“I really feel that every nonprofit has a responsibility to look at its core mission,” said Romo, director of community education and special projects at the Santa Barbara County Education Office.

“… The very important question at this point in our history is whether our organization is capable of meeting that mission. And perhaps that mission is met better by others.”

Romo said the board has considered closing since the beginning of the year and has plans to carry out the shutdown in a financially responsible way. Members will even get their dues returned, he said. The center’s Web site was down for two days last week but is now back online.

“It’s been our business to talk about the best practices in the nonprofit sector,” Romo said. “As nonprofits struggle in a time of real economic challenges, more and more organizations should be focusing on, and at least asking the question and beginning the conversation, whether it is time for them to shut down.”

Board co-president Ernesto Paredes, executive director of Easy Lift Transportation, said he is proud of what the Nonprofit Support Center has accomplished.

“The NSC was established at a much-needed transition for nonprofits and very successfully filled a community need,” he told Noozhawk. “As with most things, the community has evolved and the advancements in technology has also changed the needs and expectations from what nonprofits need to do their good work better.

“Our closure opens the door of opportunity for another organization or group to organically allow for a new model for service delivery. Ultimately, I see the community as the real winners from this decision.”

Erik Talkin, executive director of the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, an NSC client, said he, too, thinks the time is right for a new transition.

“Santa Barbara has a vibrant nonprofit community and deserves a support system that gives us a voice,” he said. “We don’t necessarily need a bricks-and-mortar organization. It could be a powerful and easy-to-use online resource to let us match our needs and opportunities with each other.

“The Foodbank works with a network of 270 member nonprofit organizations countywide — and that is just in the area of nutrition! There are so many nonprofit entities that we need a way that the ecosystem can more effectively share overhead costs and administration. Going forward, this represents an area of huge opportunity.”

Several organizations are already providing similar support services in the region. The Fund for Santa Barbara offers training and technical support and Just Communities has been providing training and resources. The Santa Barbara-based Courage to Lead initiative, SBCC’s Continuing Education program and Fielding Graduate University also have support programs in place and others in development.

“This decision was not done in haste,” Paredes said. “I’m thankful for all of the community and individual support for the Nonprofit Support Center over the years. The quality of staff has always been of the highest caliber.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.