Red Cross, other nonprofits, come up short as CHSP grants are announced, appeals weighed limited dollars
August 7, 2014
From the Tallahassee Democrat's editorial page A01, August 7, 2014
By TaMaryn Waters
Reaction this week from nonprofit organizations to Community Human Service Partnership grants ran the gamut, as some were grateful while others bemoaned funding levels topped at $4.3 million.
A few will get no funding at all. Some are getting an increase compared to last year, while most of the 63 nonprofits representing 101 programs will get a portion or most of their requests for coveted CHSP grants.
For 18 years CHSP, created through annual city, county and United Way contributions, is where local nonprofits turned for money. Coordinators say the 2014-15 fiscal year began with a shortfall since $100,000 less was available compared to last year’s allocation. Overall funding dips — down $829,702 since 2009 — result in increasing competition for programs lumped into nine areas, all of which work with a limited pot of money.
The Shelter, with a slight bump from last year, received $403,210 — the largest chunk — for its main program serving the homeless and a clinic; Elder Care Services of the Big Bend was next with $339,300. Others, like Kids Incorporated and the Early Learning Coalition, were awarded more money this year compared to last year.
On the losing end with no program funding were Big Bend CrimeStoppers, Visions of Manhood and Hope House.
Funding was slashed for the Capital Area Chapter of the American Red Cross for a third straight year. It received no CHSP funding other than funds specifically designated by United Way donors.
Red Cross CEO Sharon Council Tyler, devastated and vexed by another year of disappointment, said the lack of funding means the agency’s disaster education for fire and weather safety will wane. She said $30,000 in cash assistance last year served 262 Leon County families displaced by fires who received food, hotel stays and toiletries.
Tyler said the agency’s budget must now focus on emergency services, noting the lack in CHSP funding appears to signal a perception that the agency’s house fire program, which wanted funding, is unnecessary.
“But who is going to be the first one on the scene pulling things together – it’s us,” said Tyler, hired in January after being executive director for two Red Cross chapters in Beamount, Texas. “This funding request says we are not relevant to the community.”
The Red Cross funding request fell under the basic needs team for programs addressing homelessness, poverty and food programs — all of which are considered high community priorities.
Nonprofits have an option to appeal award designations, which will be finalized in coming months. Appeal requests must be made by Monday and demonstrate documented evidence the request was inappropriately denied or reduced.
Tyler’s initial decision to appeal has eased since she learned no other agency has won an appeal.
“I’m not sure if our time would be better spent in looking for other resources and finding partners that will support us and believe in us,” Tyler said. “We’re weighing the pros and cons and we’re wondering if it’s worth our time.”
CrimeStoppers director Sharon Ofuani had hoped CHSP could revitalize the nonprofit’s youth program, currently available in middle and high schools but lacking exposure. She said money would have been useful in empowering students to help get weapons off school property since the program offers cash rewards for tips. Instead of being viewed as a human service agency, Ofuani believes the review team saw CrimeStoppers as a public safety program mixed in with human service demands.
“It’s important for people to feel safe as well as actually be safe,” Ofauni said. “I guarantee you can see the human-service element when they are victims of a crime or have some criminal activity that happens if it’s close to them.” Review teams are made up of residents, not staffers or officials, who decide which funds are given and how much. The case for funding varies and a lack of funding doesn’t always mean a program isn’t worthy of funds, said Pat Holliday, the city’s human services manager. “It’s not that simple,” Holliday said. But agencies like the Early Learning Coalition breathed a sigh of relief, because they remained whole or received more money. Matt Guse, the coalition’s executive director, said the increase means more struggling qualified Leon County families can get childcare assistance through the agency’s school readiness program, providing direct services for child care and assessment programs.
“Instead of simply providing childcare, we are now going to be able to make good use of the time that our childcare providers have with children by monitoring and assessing the developmental growth of children to help ensure children are ready to enter kindergarten,” Guse said. “We have a good story to tell,” he said. “We’re grateful and we’re just blessed.” While funding numbers caught attention, so did feedback given from citizen review teams, according to CHSP award summaries obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat.
Nonprofits praised for client testimonials, board involvement and thorough program and budget presentations include Big Bend Cares, Capital Medical Society Foundation, Capital City Youth Services and the Brehon Institute. The Boys’ Choir of Tallahassee, dinged last year for a host of issues, showed noticeable improvements, according to reports. Review teams were also candid about areas in need of improvement, particularly with demonstrating need for money, fundraising and financial stability. For example, Legal Aid Foundation’s presentation illuminating “significant financial challenges” was a red flag and Planned Parenthood for yet another year received a lackluster review; both agencies are funded only because of United Way donor designations.
Board diversity, an issue trumpeted by nonprofit experts, was another point made for several nonprofits. Those include the Boy Scouts (a concern that’s gone unresolved for six years), Imani Dance Program, The Shelter, Big Bend Hospice, the Alzheimer’s Project and the Early Learning Coalition.
Feedback is given, Holliday said, for the agencies to consider as they evolve. Repeat missteps for consecutive years were also noted for some nonprofits, which could sway future funding. “A lot of the feedback is not to say, ‘Hey, you’re not going to get any money now,’ but we’re trying to do it in a way that builds an organization,” said Holliday, noting some nonprofit leaders may take comments as personal criticism. “These are the things you can do to be better prepared, not just to apply for CHSP, but are some things you can do to strengthen your own programming.”