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Nonprofits are counting on state leaders to step up

Vibrant, thriving communities attract businesses that provide good-paying, stable jobs. And good-paying, stable jobs are the bedrock of vibrant, thriving communities. It’s a full circle, and like any place else, Delaware won’t have one without the other.

But closing that circle requires another ingredient: a healthy nonprofit sector. Community-based nonprofits close the gap between public and private sector spending by addressing social problems that can damage or even destroy vibrant communities.

Poverty, crime, homelessness, hunger, lack of education, unemployment, and other social issues do not fix themselves. These problems require collaboration, a focused strategy, and adequate public and private resources.

Delaware’s nonprofit community is a powerful agent of change, contributing significantly to the quality of life in our state. And while nonprofits can’t turn miracles, nearly all of them can make every dollar do the work of two, or even three.

They raise those dollars in two fundamental ways: by soliciting funds from individuals, foundations, and other private sources, and through government contracts and grants. It’s a delicate balance and, when that balance is upset, the community pays the price.

When Dover held back millions in state Grant-In-Aid resources in 2018, the impact was profound.

Many Delaware nonprofits were forced to reduce service hours, lay off staff, and in some cases, eliminate essential programming. At a time when the rest of the country was witnessing an economic resurgence and a revitalized nonprofit sector, Delaware’s nonprofits were forced into retreat.

Recently released results from the Nonprofit Finance Fund indicate that, in 2017, 38 percent of Delaware nonprofits reduced staff levels, compared with 16% nationally. This corresponds to a Delaware Alliance for Nonprofit Advancement survey conducted in late 2017, when nonprofits reported that, due to reductions in the state’s Grant-In-Aid funding, they were forced to eliminate jobs or reduce work hours and client services.

As a result, more than 2,700 Delawareans did not receive necessary social services.

Of course, these individuals do not disappear when the Grant-In-Aid funding disappears, nor do their needs. Society pays the bill in the form of aggravated social problems that eat away at the quality of life in our state. And as that quality of life deteriorates, so do the prospects for a vibrant, thriving community that attracts businesses and good-paying, stable jobs. It is indeed a full circle.

Fully reinstating Grant-In-Aid dollars this year to support nonprofit initiatives in Delaware would be a smart decision for lawmakers. Doing so will drive investments in our communities that will pay dividends now and for years to come.

And once they’ve restored Grant-In-Aid funding this year, we encourage lawmakers to go one step further. We suggest an improved Grant-In-Aid funding process that links Grant-In-Aid awards to measurable outcomes.

We also suggest that new nonprofits taking innovative approaches to long-standing social problems be included in the mix of agencies considered for support. And we ask that the state form a task group comprised of nonprofits, foundations, and government to evaluate how the Grant-In-Aid process can be improved to deliver on these suggestions so that this revised process might be launched by June 2019.

We are committed to collaborating with the legislature to address this situation.

Vibrant, thriving communities that attract businesses that provide good-paying, stable jobs do not just happen. Creating these communities requires cooperation between the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The nonprofit community is ready to do its part, as we always have.