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Advocacy + Grantmaking = Power!

May 25, 2010
Terri Lee Freeman: Photo

Author: Terri Lee Freeman

It’s state budget planning season and the outlook for government revenues and spending looks very grim.  

Every jurisdiction in our region is being challenged by significantly lower revenues that are resulting in public budget deficits.  These deficits will have an impact on each of us.  Of greatest concern to me is how these budget shortfalls will affect the nonprofit organizations that make our community one that cares for and serves our neediest residents.  I’m concerned about the ability of the nonprofit organizations that The Community Foundation has invested in to provide the basic human services – food, shelter, healthcare, emergency financial assistance – to the increasing number of residents who need that level of help.  Our public safety net is already frayed and these probable budget cuts will punch a huge hole through what is left of that fraying fabric. 

While The Community Foundation will continue to provide funding to safety-net organizations through our Neighbors In Need Fund, we’ve found that supporting some level of advocacy can multiply the effect of direct service grantmaking.  I think that goes for individual donors’ giving as well.  Direct service grantmaking is very tangible.  We can count the pounds of food distributed, the number of shelter beds, mental health service hours provided, the amount of emergency funds   provided to prevent evictions or the counseling hours spent preventing foreclosures.  Funding advocacy, although less tangible,  is a long-term strategy.     

But what can the public sector do when it’s is faced with less money in the public coffers: cut spending, right?  Well, yes and no.  It’s a matter of taking a balanced approach to reducing the budget deficit by looking at both spending cuts and revenue- generating strategies.  And while spending cuts in this environment are inevitable, they should be done carefully and not on the backs of the poor or needy. The safety net must be preserved, and cutting critical services should never be an option.

There is an acute increase in demand for emergency services — more people have more need and are requiring the assistance of both our public and nonprofit service sectors.  We must work collectively and speak with a unified voice on those services deemed non-negotiable from a spending cut perspective, the operative word being “speak.”  Your personal advocacy is free and can impact where and how cuts are made as well as impact the strategy employed to create a balanced budget that preserves the safety net. Your voice can have a multiplier effect on your contributions.  As a concerned citizen who invests in community-based organizations, it is important to protect that investment, and advocacy helps us do just that. 

Most of our public officials want to hear from their constituents.  Your voice is powerful, but only if you let it be heard.  You can do that that by writing and calling them, Facebook”ing”, or tweeting, writing an op-ed in the newspaper, attending safety-net rallies and signing on to letters and campaigns. We need to give voice to those who need it most during good times and bad.  For more information about what you can do and the budget process in your jurisdiction, please visit http://www.thinktwicecampaign.org.

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