Government entities have their various associations, business has its industry groups and now non-profit entities from throughout the state have a new umbrella organization to look after their interests.

The Utah Nonprofits Association will begin soliciting members in earnest next week and will sponsor its first statewide Executive Directors Roundtable on March 22 to launch what the fledgling group hopes will be an ongoing effort to bolster the strength and image of the state's non-profit sector through cost-saving programs, information sharing and public education.It's no small undertaking. UNA has the potential to represent more than 1,000 charitable non-profit organizations throughout the state, said spokeswoman Jeanie Lesh. She said the group intends to provide a network for the non-profit sector similar to that which chambers of commerce provide business.

Lesh said UNA will band together non-profit organizations for mutual support and to broaden public understanding of their role.

"This organization (UNA) is a major step forward for the non-profit sector in Utah," said Jerald Merrill, a founding board member and executive director of Utah Hospitality Ministry. "Our programs will bring substantial savings to non-profits from around the state."

Lesh said UNA will seek savings for charities on insurance and other services and will provide a forum for non-profits to explore common problems and share solutions. Services UNA seeks to provide include an unemployment insurance trust, workshops, a statewide newsletter, bulletins on available grants and contracts and statewide roundtable discussions.

Other services under consideration, said Lesh, include directors and officers liability insurance, employee health insurance, discounts on office supplies and professional services, assistance in achieving tax-exempt status, a directory of non-profit organizations and research/

education programs.

"With all the budget cuts over the last decade, all non-profits tend to face the same issues," said John Pinter, executive director of the Easter Seal Society of Utah and also a founding board member. "This is the kind of boost that our organizations need."

Other founding UNA members include Mental Health Association in Utah, Adapt Utah, A United Voice for Children, and the Homeless Children's Foundation.

Lesh said membership is open to all charitable, educational non-profit organizations in Utah. Annual dues range from $25 to $500 depending on the size of the applicant group's annual budget.

UNA is affiliated with the National Council of Nonprofit Associations, which Lesh said currently has members in 13 states. Lesh said members must provide some kind of charitable or educational service to qualify.

She cited churches, historical societies, support groups, mental-health groups, charitable foundations, museums and art organizations as typical potential members. All such groups will be receiving a brochure and signup card early next month, said Lesh.

The roots of UNA go back to January 1990, when a steering committee was founded at a statewide fund-rais-ing workshop in Salt Lake City that was organized by Barbara Toomer, a Utah woman active in helping the handicapped. She is among the group's founding board members.

Lesh said UNA has received grant support from the Union Institute, United Way of Greater Salt Lake, and the Episcopal Diocese of Utah.

The March 22 roundtable will feature Mark Rosenman, director of the Center for Public Policy at the Union Institute, Washington, D.C. For more information contact Lesh at 596-9012.