The Soapbox and Toolbox for New York State's Nonprofits

March 6, 2014

Where is the love?

I just read an article in the Nonprofit Times by Thomas McLauglin entitled “Government Loves You”, in which the author attempts to make the argument as to how much government trusts and relies on our sector. Ironically, last week at our Camp Finance conference and before I read the artlice, I asked the audience during the panel on state government relations “Are we feeling the love yet?

The response back was surprisingly strong. Views were stated that the State of New York may be “intentionally” trying to put some nonprofits, particularly the smaller ones, “out of business.” Folks expressed the feeling of being continuously “assaulted” by critical rhetoric, seemingly endless confusing, unnecessary and costly regulations that create more "gotcha hoops to jump through", and financially strangled by chronic late contracts and payments.

My initial response to the audience was that I did not believe this was all part of an intentional effort. I went on to explain that policymakers, state agencies and regulators are not as knowledgeable as they think they are as to how we truly operate and the impact of their actions. They tend to see us through the lens of government's needs to regulate and control, not our need to serve mission. I observed that the State often views us as "extensions" of government rather than as private sector organizations that may partner with government. This view is evident by the constant push for us to function more like government; making us more inefficiently bureaucratic, compliance and CYA oriented; slow to adjust to market forces; and resistive to change and innovation. The one exception is that we are suppose to do the job cheaper by compensating our workforce significantly less than state employees; so much for all diverted attention to excessive compensation of a few executives.

The other contributing factor to the problem that was acknowledged in the discussion was the fact that we have 3 elected officials – the Governor, Comptroller and AG, all doing their own regulatory and procurement thing to our sector. There is no common or coordinated policy framework among them regarding our sector, ittle constructive communcation, and lots of finger pointing when it comes to late contracts and payments. Nonprofits end up being the collateral damage of all this..

I realized in the panel discussion that I needed to backtrack some on saying there was no intentionality by acknowledging that many state agencies are looking to reduce the overall number of contracts that they manage, given their own shrunken workforce, and that there is the intention to use rate pressures to force “scale” to be achieved among Medicaid-funded providers.

There is no question that community-based nonprofits are feeling beleaguered, used, not heard, and financially strapped. The frustration and anxiety amongst our ranks is rising greatly over our sustainability to impact mission. It is getting harder and harder in this environment for us to attract and inspire an under-paid and unappreciated workforce. The same is true for volunteer board leaders who are expected to invest their time, talents and wealth in matters of compliance rather than mission while assuming increased personal liability risks.

I, like my colleagues in New York, am not yet “feeling the love” that McLaughlin believes is there.

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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.