County supervisors have put off making major changes to the way the they doles out grant funding to charities after a finance committee proposal drew sharp concern from the nonprofit community.
The new model would have created a more mathematical approach for deciding which nonprofits receive county funds and in what amount, but the idea sent shockwaves through Loudoun’s nonprofit community with some of the dramatic changes it would entail. It would have nixed county funding to eight nonprofits that in the past have reliably expected county money, while multiplying the funding to some other nonprofits—all with only a few days until the new fiscal year begins in July.
Among the organizations that worried about the changes: The Arc of Loudoun at Paxton Campus, which stood to get 11 times the funding it would get under the old model, up to $60,000. The organization’s executive director, Melissa Heifetz, was one of 25 nonprofit executives who signed onto a letter from the Loudoun Human Services Network, an organization of Loudoun nonprofits.
Jennifer Alves, who works at Paxton Campus, said the organization was “grateful to be recommended for these funds,” and pointed out the work the organization does with law enforcement and people with disabilities.
“We also stand with our fellow nonprofit community members to respectfully request that the grant process be reevaluated,” Alves said. “It appears that organizations that provide life-sustaining work were unfunded. With thousands of people relying on services provided by those nonprofits now and in the future, it is necessary that they continue to receive funding.”
“The provision of services requires resources,” said HealthWorks for Northern Virginia CEO Carol Jameson. “Taking an organization from partnership with the county through county funding, to zero funding, especially with just one week before the fiscal year, is going to have a major, potentially destabilizing impact.”
Compared to the old system, HealthWorks would have been awarded $11,102 less under the new funding model.
And Good Shepard Alliance, which works to prevent homelessness and which some supervisors have praised from the dais, would have seen its funding halved compared to the old model, to $34,917.
“We’re not just some nonprofit,” protested Good Shepard Alliance Executive Director Vickie Koth, pointing out that the charity was one of the first organizations tackling the problem of homelessness in the county. “We have been an integral part of this county and of homeless services.”
Facing that outpouring of concern, supervisors instead decided to stick with last year’s system, which this year awarded HealthWorks $189,000 and the Good Shepard Alliance $69,869. Paxton Campus, as a first-time awardee, can only receive $5,000 under the current system.
Supervisors said they would wait until the county completes ongoing nonprofit needs assessment, conducted along with and financed in part by the Claude Moore Foundation, before making drastic changes. County budget staff say that report should be ready in December.
Supervisors have been grappling with ways to depoliticize the grant process in the county by setting up a formula and getting their hands out of it.
“Every time we make the changes, it doesn’t matter what it is, there’s going to be some that make out better and some that don’t make out better,” said board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn).
“I think part of the issue that we keep running into is that formulas and algorithms aren’t always the solutions to things, and they miss a lot of qualitative things,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run).
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said he has “some philosophical pain” with using tax money to support nonprofits, except where those nonprofits provide services in the county.
“Where I kind of have that line is the type of services that I believe that the county would be providing anyway, or should be providing, and the fact that we have many nonprofits doing that type of work and doing it well,” he said.
Some nonprofit executives, however, pointed out that the county’s funding for nonprofits has not kept up with its growth.
“Our core safety net agencies serve our residents with fantastic nonprofit efficiency,” said Amy Owen, executive director of the Community Foundation for Loudoun and Fauquier Counties. “They deserve commensurate investment from the county.”
The county will this year award $1,076,469 to 32 nonprofits, a 1.6 percent increase over last year’s total dollar figure.
‘There Has to Be More Money’
Nicole Acosta, vice chairwoman of the Loudoun Human Services Network and Executive Director of the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, said it’s good that the board avoided a destabilizing decision—but said the nonprofit network had intentionally avoided taking a position on the old system.
“At the end of the day, there’s just not enough money in that pot to adequately fund some of the safety net services,” Acosta said. “So [the current system], while it doesn’t destabilize important nonprofits which provide those core services, there were also nonprofits in that first model that have been sorely underfunded, considering the scale of their work, for years.”
The Loudoun Human Services Network has called for a Human Services Advisory Committee, an “on-going, public-private partnership to provide formal recommendations regarding nonprofit grant process, address human service needs in Loudoun, and identify annual priorities.” It would include representatives both nonprofits and county government.
“We really, really believe that if there was a more formal process for reviewing and making recommendations, that we could do something better,” Acosta said. “We don’t have that solution.”
And county dollars have an outsized impact on fundraising for nonprofits. Acosta said the county shouldn’t be any nonprofit’s majority source of funding, but having local government support is critical.
“Most other kinds of state and federal grants you would apply for always want to see if you’re receiving local funds,” Acosta said. “In a way, that’s sort of your organization’s stamp of approval from your local government that what you’re doing is valuable and respected in your community, and private funders also want to see that your local government has invested in you too.”