We caught up with Gretchen Morse, Executive Director of United Way of Chittenden County and, we are happy to say, our closing speaker at the Vermont Nonprofit Conference 2011 on April 14th to ask her about how nonprofits can become more effective in these difficult times.
Vermont communities are under a lot of stress and Vermont’s nonprofits are expected to play a major role in meeting local needs with fewer resources. Is this a new situation?
State government in Vermont has a long tradition of working with non–profit organizations to provide direct services at the community level using state and federal dollars. The non-profit organizations leverage community resources both volunteer and financial to bring awareness to social, economic and environmental issues, to engage people in having a stake in future of their communities, and to assure responsiveness and accountability to the people they serve. In human services, some of the most critical services are necessary to prevent the need for more costly institutional care and are designated in state statute to accomplish specific goals.
The need for service delivery has not changed; in fact, it is needed more now then ever as we continue to struggle with the impact of economically stressful times. What is changing is the State’s commitment to leadership in planning and development, and sustainability of financial support to services as funds become more limited at the State and Federal government levels.
Besides more money to do the work, what can nonprofits do to ensure that they can meet community needs in a sustainable way?
“Business” is not usual, and although non-profits are not like business, they must become more business-like to compete for government funding as well as philanthropic dollars and other revenue. At the same time, it will be necessary for the legislature, state government and communities to be more intentional about its roles, responsibilities and expectations in a new social contract. They also need to answer the question: who will pay for it?
Non-profits can become more outcomes based in defining the value proposition of their work. It does not have to be complicated and the better the non-profit agency becomes in answering basic questions the more successful it will be: How much do we do? How well do we do it? Is Anyone better off?
What will it take to make this happen for individual organization and the sector at large?
We will see more opportunities for civic dialogue and community engagement on one hand, and more focus on mission and results with non-profits on the other to determine what are the most important outcomes and how we can use our limited resources more effectively to achieve them.