The Incorruptible Watchdog,” Thibauld Nion

December 8, 2018; Tallahassee Democrat

In an open letter, Kelly Otte, a founder of the Oasis Center for Women and Girls in Tallahassee, and Alyce Lee Stansbury, a longtime fundraising consultant, call on the state’s incoming governor, Ron DeSantis, to create “an Office of Nonprofit Concerns or Governor’s Task Force on the Independent Sector or the Commission on Philanthropy & Nonprofits.”

Writing in the Tallahassee Democrat, Otte and Stansbury, citing Florida Nonprofit Alliance data, note that the sector employs over 534,000 workers, generates $26.6 billion in wages and $89.9 billion in total revenue. “The nonprofit sector is as big as the manufacturing and construction industries and yet is largely ignored as a significant contributor to the state’s economy and the quality of life for its citizens,” they add.

Instead, unlike some states, such as New York, that have more or less consistent regulation under a single state agency, regulation in Florida is split among multiple departments. “The Department of Agriculture, Department of Financial Services, and Department of State all have some role in the oversight or licensing of Florida nonprofits,” Otte and Stansbury note.

The result, Otte and Stansbury contend, is that regulation has been “primarily reactive and often predicated by the fraudulent actions of a few, rather than strategic, proactive and comprehensive.”

What might an Office of Nonprofit Concerns do? Otte and Stansbury lay out a few priority areas. Among these are the following:

  • Make recommendations regarding whether and under what conditions to promote registration of hybrid categories of business, such as low-profit limited liability corporations (L3Cs).
  • Establish government contracting rules. “Nonprofits,” Otte and Stansbury explain, “often have multiple contracts with state agencies that have different rules and procedures, sometimes one nonprofit to another. Timeliness of payments by state agencies has been a long-time problem.”
  • Establish common nonprofit regulations. According to Otte and Stansbury, “The laws regarding board governance are almost non-existent in Florida.”
  • Restore a state employee charitable giving campaign. As NPQ reported, the 38-year-old tradition died earlier this year. Otte and Stansbury acknowledge the program’s troubled past, culminating in the absurdity of an outside fundraising firm that kept an estimated 50 percent of funds raised for itself, but suggest that a concerted sector effort could put the program back on a sound footing, writing that they are “still flabbergasted at how the state went from facilitating millions of dollars of opportunity for employee charitable giving to almost nothing.”
  • Coordinate state government and nonprofit delivery of services.

Otte and Stansbury conclude that, “One of the biggest needs will be one of the most challenging. When working together to care for its most vulnerable citizens, the government and nonprofit sectors have an obligation to talk honestly about the costs of doing so. This requires a fair, financially feasible partnership that benefits both sectors… Multiple states and major US cities including Jacksonville and Miami-Dade have implemented philanthropic-government partnerships to inform public policy and strengthen the ability of all three sectors [private, public and nonprofit] to address pressing public problems, so we know it can be done.”

What Otte and Stansbury do not address is that the New York model is based in and anchored by the attorney general’s office, which has acted with zeal on that state’s issues concerning nonprofits.—Steve Dubb