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Madison Nonprofits and Community Model Grace Under Fire?
January 1, 2010; The Cap Times | This story from Madison, Wisconsin does a wonderful job of summing up the accomplishments under stress of one city’s nonprofits in 2009 when they acted in concert with an appreciative community and with one another. This article contains a number of remarkable stories that may give you not only ideas but lots of inspiration. For instance, here is just one—“The especially tough city and county budgets this year prompted local nonprofit human services providers to try a different tack: Banding together under the banner of “United for Funding,” they argued that financial support of services now would prevent larger public costs later. The approach prevented the agencies from competing against each other before the County Board and City Council.”—Ruth McCambridge
Stimulus Strategy Assessed
December 27; Telegram and Gazette | Here are the two faces of the stimulus package: On the one hand, there is the problem of putting one-time stimulus funding into operations such as paying the salaries of current or new teachers, policeman, and human service workers. As Roberta Schaefer of the Research Bureau, asks, when using stimulus moneys for salaries “what are you going to do when you don’t have stimulus money? If (the stimulus) is just going to prop up existing institutions without making any changes in how they operate, it can’t be sustained. That’s a really big problem.” Speaking about the Worcester public schools, Schaefer said, “The school department got stimulus money that stemmed the tide for them [but] [n]ext year, because there will be no stimulus money, they’re facing a $26 million deficit without any way of funding it. The stimulus money, in effect, just delayed the inevitable.” And on the other hand, there have been stimulus uses such as the two grants received by the Great Brook Valley Health Center. They’ll use one for hiring new doctors and support staff who will generate enough revenues from patient visits to eventually sustain the salary costs, and the other for facility improvements that will create space for the new providers and for more patient visits. Similarly, at the Worcester Housing Authority, stimulus money went for roof repairs and other physical rehabilitation costs, which in the long run will stave off other costs in the future. It is a contrast between grant funds that lead to an abrupt funding cliff and stimulus funds that actually stimulate more sustainable activity. Of course, there are still problems. Community Builders, a nonprofit housing developer and manager, added 23 new positions as a result of its use of two stimulus funds, but counted 46 jobs created, that is, 23 jobs created twice. Stimulus is good, but for many organizations, the looming funding precipice will be a serious problem in the all too near future.—Rick Cohen
Social Media Predictions for the New Decade
January 1, 2010; Cause Global | 2010 will be another tough year economically for many start-ups and social advocacy groups, says Marcia Stepanek, author of the Cause Global, Social Media for Social Change blog. In her predictions for 2010 she also says that collaboration and consolidation will be this year’s “mega-trends.” Stepanek lists some of the ways these trends will show up in the weeks and months ahead: Divisions between traditional “giving” sectors will continue to fade, new ways to measure impact will emerge, micro-activism will proliferate, more small causes will be aggregated to achieve greater impact, co-working will go mainstream, and online swarms will gain clout. All of these trends obviously don’t suit every organization. We’re not necessarily the trendiest bunch, are we? It’s safe to say, though, that social media isn’t going away and this blog does a good job of looking at its potential for the sector.—Aaron Lester
Nonprofit Rental Fee Waivers Canceled
December 30, 2009; Winona Post | This story carries through on a theme we have been following for a while. In Winona, Minn., the city council has decided that its practice of waiving fees for nonprofits when they rent city properties will be discontinued. Again, this levying of fees and taxes is occurring all over the United States as localities are more cash strapped. In Winona, charging the rent for events is estimated to be worth $2,000 total in 2010.—Ruth McCambridge
California 2010 Census Numbers in Jeopardy?
January 1, 2010; New America Media | This article from New America Media suggests that, despite a major investment by California city and local foundations, a “widespread shortage of community-based organizations in the state’s poorest communities, which have historically been toughest to count, could spark (census) undercounts even in cities that appear best equipped to tackle census outreach”. Apparently this is due to relatively fewer nonprofits operating in some communities—an investigation by New America Media found “that in Bay View-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley, neighborhoods where the response rates to the 2000 Census were lowest and the need for outreach in 2010 is arguably greatest, there are disproportionately few nonprofits and very little capacity to do outreach.” In the city of San Francisco, according to this article, funding will be given to groups based outside of some of the city’s poorest communities and there is some worry that they will not be able to gain trust with residents as readily. The potential result? “A repeat of the 2000 census, when the city was undercounted by 100,000, resulting in a loss of more than $300 million in federal funding, according to a 2007 study.”—Ruth McCambridge
Does Service Learning Really Help?
January 3, 2010; New York Times | This article by the nation’s premier philanthropic reporter, Stephanie Strom of the New York Times, is one of the few to hint at questions about the benefits of community service, or, in this case, community service under the guise of “service learning.” Volunteerism is at the heart of the Obama Administration’s nonprofit sector agenda. Nearly every administration initiative targeted at nonprofits is predicated on the recruitment of stipended volunteers made available from the planned quadrupling of AmeriCorps and other programs from the Corporation for National and Community Service. This article points out some things that all but the diehard community service ideologues know: (1) it takes administration, management, and money to train and supervise community service participants, and without those resources, the experience may well be a bad one for the service-learners and a disaster for the overwhelmed host agency; (2) typically, the persons assigned to manage service learner volunteers is already someone in the nonprofit (or public) agency pretty well overloaded with responsibilities as it is, which places a considerable burden on overworked nonprofit staff; (3) lots of “service learning” positions look more like “plain community service” rather than community service connected to a learning curriculum; (4) organizations frequently complain that the service learners are given little guidance or preparation from their sponsoring schools or professors and do not have the time to devote to their service learning experience to make it really worthwhile; (5) sometimes the service-learners use their nonprofit hosts as “guinea pigs” for their research with little corresponding benefit to the host organizations themselves; and (6) despite the often widely discussed discussion of impacts and outcomes, some nonprofit host agencies suggest that the service learners might have good experiences themselves from their community placements, but leave little in the way of positive institutional change from their work. There are lessons in this article that the Obama Administration might want to heed as it proceeds with volunteerism-emphasizing programs such as its Social Innovation Fund.—Rick Cohen