The Soapbox and Toolbox for New York State's Nonprofits

March 6, 2014

Despite the Silence, there is Opportunity...

I had hopes and expectations based on sources that the Governor would have taken the opportunity to lay out the need for a coherent public policy that would promote the economic, social, cultural and environmental value of nonprofits in our communities and the importance of a positive State-Nonprofit Sector partnership. This has been a tough regulatory, procurement and prompt payment year for nonprofits and some positive words from the Governor would have gone a long way.

To me, the silence on nonprofit issues during the address was deafening, especially when an overall policy framework was being set forth that can have relevance and a positive impact on our sector. (We did find out that nonprofit initiatives were mentioned briefly in the full "State of the State" booklet on page 172 here.)

Consider these few examples:

  • When heralding the tremendous growth in private sector jobs, no mention was made that this growth in the private sector included nonprofit jobs. In 2010, nonprofits jobs made up 18% of the entire private sector in the state representing 1.25 million workers and a payroll of $57 billion. The opportunity was there in his Address to recognize our tremendous and vibrant contributions to the economic fabric and recovery of our state and local communities.
  • When talking about the need for and plans to deregulate for-profit businesses so that they can grow and thrive, no mention was made of doing the same for nonprofits. Over-reaching and burdensome regulations and bureaucratic hurdles weakens our fiscal health and our job creating abilities, much less our mission work. The Governor through standardization of contracts, the Gateway Grants Initiative and signing of the Nonprofit Revitalization Act, has established a policy direction intended to alleviating unnecessary burdens. The opportunity was there to reinforce that intent. Like the for-profits, we need responsible deregulation in order to improve our business models and bottom lines.
  • When highlighting the successes of the Regional Economic Development Councils, no mention was made of the successful nonprofit led initiatives or the hundreds of thousand dollars of investments that have made in these projects by local organized philanthropy. Nonprofits bring creative ideas and resources to the private sector table and our efforts deserve recognition.
  • When emphasizing the importance to financially incentivize teachers to “pay them like professionals,” no mention was made of the wage deficit for our nonprofit workforce. For some reason, Sate contracts treat us as a “third sector” when it comes to compensation. Our professional workforce, despite its ever-increasing qualifications, high level of expertise and outstanding performance in the most difficult of circumstances, are paid much less than comparable public and for-profit employees. The policy and media obsession with the potential of excessive compensation among an elite few is a straw man argument that diverts attention from the overall reality of nonprofit workforce compensation. Like high performing teachers, a nonprofit policy is needed for government contracts that encourages and rewards professional excellence.

It is clear that the value and importance of our industry and work needs to be reflected in the State’s economic policy and that the many myths and misperceptions that exist need to be corrected. The Governor’s State of the State Address has laid out the ground work that now provides us with the context, economic principles and opportunity to educate policymakers about our business realities and our true impact on the state’s economy. Over the coming year and beyond, NYCON, with help from our members, is looking forward to improving the nonprofit partnership with the State of New York.

Doug Sauer, CEO
New York Council of Nonprofits
January 10th, 2014

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NYCON develops and promotes an effective and vibrant charitable nonprofit community throughout New York State.  We strengthen organizational capacity, act as an advocate and unifying voice, help to inform philanthropic giving, and conduct research and planning to demonstrate relevance and impact.