Dear Nonprofiteer: Cease fire, commence fundraising?

Dear Nonprofiteer:

I
so enjoy your blog’s national focus, but I’d also love to get your take
on the [Chicago] Cease Fire controversy as it raises a thorny issue for the NP
sector, namely, the role and weight that government funding should take
in starting up and sustaining intervention programs.  The Trib has just weighed in again in its editorial page. 

Cease Fire has few public detractors, even after a state audit
turned up problems.  And while I’m deeply and unapologetically in favor
of government funding for programs that care for the most vulnerable,
including inner-city kids in danger of being killed and maimed by guns
(it is a horror just to type those words) I’ve often wondered and
worried about Cease Fire, because of its years-long inability to
diversify its base of support.  This despite an epidemiological
approach that should attract foundations. 

Since we don’t live in a
Recovered-from-Reagan (and Gingrich) world, one where large-scale
funding of such programs is restored, is it Cease Fire’s obligation to
build a base that reflects current reality? 

Signed, Progressive Realist

Dear Realist:

As the Tribune link explains, Cease Fire is a community-based program that’s shown itself very effective in reducing gun violence in high-crime neighborhoods.  But it’s lost funding in the wake of state budget problems, and as a result has shrunk from 80-plus intervenors on the street to about 10.  Needless to say, its effectiveness has been reduced accordingly.

It’s absolutely true that government should pay for these services, but as you point out, Realist, it’s also the business of every nonprofit executive worth his/her salt to make sure not to hemorrhage 3/4 of the staff without figuring out how to raise some money elsewhere.  What’s striking about Cease Fire is its Board of Directors, which includes a few representatives of major corporations but (in the Nonprofiteer’s view) an over-representation of people from cooperating nonprofits.

Coalitions often wonder why they have such difficulty raising money, when the answer is simple: their Boards of Directors consist of people whose primary money-raising loyalty is elsewhere.  Without losing the benefit of cooperating partners’ expertise, such groups can only strengthen their Boards by adding people whose primary loyalty is to them–and that means concerned lay people ("lay" as opposed to "members of the relevant profession").  So if Cease Fire asked the Nonprofiteer, which it most certainly did not, she’d say "Restructure your Board now."   

She’d also ask whether the agency is too lean administratively.  Community-based groups like Cease Fire  have to be extra-cautious not to look "fat" lest they lose funding from people who think administrative costs are by definition wasteful.  But its Website lists only four staff people who aren’t on the front line; that’s a tiny group to manage any agency with state contracts and their attendant reporting requirements.  It may be the group gets relatively little foundation money because it expends insufficient time asking for it–though the Nonprofiteer generally thinks agencies spend too much time on that activity.

In an ideal world (to return to your original question), agencies would prove their worth with financial support from private sources and then turn those worthwhile programs over to the government to sustain.  (If this sounds like a pipe-dream to you, consider that this is the origin of public schools.)  But we live not merely in an un-ideal but in a positively retrograde world, where having a good idea and proving it are only the beginning.  A stronger Board and more aggressive attention to private fundraising would give Cease Fire assurance of a future–and, as nothing succeeds like success, would probably attract additional public funds.

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