Nonprofits to council: Have a heart
Basically, the message from the nonprofits to the Grand Forks City Council, which is moving to cut $200,000 from nonprofit funding, is this: Tour our offices, see how we work, meet our poor clients and then see if you've got the nerve to make those cuts.
United Way president Pat Berger talked about the families with no food in the fridge and the home-bound seniors whose only human contact might be the guy that delivers their meals.
Earl Beal, a former United Way chairman, took another tack. He said nonprofits perform social services that the city would otherwise have to provide, that's why they get city money. In other words, they're not just a bunch of whiners screaming mad because they didn't get their entitlements.
I don't have first hand knowledge of how lean these agencies operate but something that Janell Regimbal, senior VP for youth services with Lutheran Social Services, said really struck me.
She described nonprofit funding as a "mosaic" made up of grants from various foundations and government offices. Every year, that mosaic shifts. One year a foundation might be generous and another year it might shift funding elsewhere. The same for government offices. "We don't know year to year if those programs are going to be even operational," she said, speaking specifically of three programs that she oversees.
If Beal is right and these social services are the obligation of government, what Regimbal describes appears to be a ludicrous way to fund them. I'm glad we don't fund the police department that way, most of it anyway.
The thing is, some of these programs appear to be the kind designed to nip public safety problems in the bud. Regimbal oversees a program called Healthy Families that help parents that weren't expecting to be parents and who's not quite ready to bear the burden. There's a risk of child abuse when this happens -- you know, frustrated dad who's too stupid to know you don't shake the baby when she cries -- so a little counseling could prevent a big tragedy. The two other programs help potential juvenile delinquents away from the path of professional thuggery and criminality (That's my flip wording, not theirs.).
But, wait, the funding issue gets more ludicrous.
Berger mentioned something about small, less well-known agencies not wanting to consolidate with the big ones for fear of losing their identity.
Isn't that kind of self-serving, I asked.
She replied that United Way allows donors to specify which agencies they will give money to so if an agency is obscure it wouldn't get money. I'm guessing this makes donors more willing to give money.
I said wasn't United Way founded as an umbrella fundraiser so that nonprofits didn't have to worry about fundraising?
Yes, she sighed, but it hasn't worked out that way completely.
I don't know. I can't blame the council for trying to help poor families keep their homes. That's where the $200,000 would come in to help the families pay for needed street repairs, which otherwise would lead to special assessments. But I hate to see the poorest of the poor lose services. Who's got a perspective? Is Grand Forks social services funding generous compared to other places or do we suck?
Update 3:34 p.m., 8/11/06: CulturePulse talks about nonprofits from the arts' perspective.