On January 25th, nonprofits from across the state convened in Montpelier for Nonprofit Legislative Day. Thank you to the 45+ nonprofit leaders and supporters who turned out to connect, raise nonprofit voices, and inform lawmakers about the issues impacting our sector.
Before heading over to the State House, organizations met up at the Unitarian Church of Montpelier for our morning sessions. After networking over coffee and pastries, the Common Good Vermont (CGVT)/United Way of Northwest Vermont (UWNWVT) team kicked things off.
First, UWNWVT CEO Jesse Bridges spoke to the importance of nonprofit advocacy and educating lawmakers about the vital role our sector plays in supporting, and strengthening, communities. He also called attention to one of our priorities for the sector – state grant and contract reform. To demonstrate the urgency around this issue, Jesse asked those in the room to raise their hands if they received state funding through grants and contracts. Most raised their hands. He then asked them to keep their hands raised if payments for services had been delayed…One month? Two months? Three months? Six months? By the time he reach six months, at least a third of the hands were still up.
As organizations in the room were recognizing that they were not alone in their struggles, others were at the State House providing committee testimony, explaining to lawmakers the impact of these challenges on their work and those they serve. To listen to testimony, follow the committee links below.
In House Human Services, Linda Johnson of Prevent Child Abuse Vermont shared how delayed payments and the reimbursement model forced her organization to borrow money, costing them over $10,000 in interest, to cover expenses up front. “It turned us into beggars,” she explained.
Over in Senate Economic Development, Belan Antensaye of the Vermont Health Equity Initiative and Weiwei Wang of the Vermont Professionals of Color Network shared about their own experience with the reimbursement model. Their partnership with the State to address racial disparities related to Covid-19 was successful in terms of impact, but it was not without challenges. After signing the agreement, they found they needed to cover upfront costs out of their own pockets, and even seek additional funding, to respond to urgent community needs while waiting for State funds to arrive 3-4 months later. Belan spoke about the reimbursement model “as being one of the significant barriers to successful progress, for not only BIPOC organizations like ours, but rural organizations and rural municipalities, as well as any other small organizations that can’t take on the load.”
In House Commerce and Economic Development, several organizations shared about their work and addressed needs at the intersection of workforce development, community building and nonprofit-government partnership. Shabnam Nolan of King Street Center posed to the Committee: “What role does our nonprofit community play in building our future workforce and how can they be part of the solution? If you can keep this at the forefront as you decide where to make state investments, then I guarantee that you won’t just be looking at responding to these statewide challenges, you’ll actually be preventing them and their impact on our youth.” Jordan Posner of Champlain Islanders Developing Essential Resources explained the benefits of governments working with nonprofits, especially for local communities. He shares that “…the cost of doing business just keeps increasing while government and grant funding is far too often flat. Just at little CIDER, we have raised our wages 23% over the past three years to keep up, have seen our insurance costs increase 20% each year, and our overall budget has risen by 25%. With all of that being said, CIDER remains efficient and competitive. For our services provided on behalf of our local supervisory unions, our costs are 75 cents of every dollar of our closest competitor, allowing the district to save money while keeping money in our local communities.” Stephanie Skenyon of Vermont Granite Museum called attention to the creative sector’s needs, particularly post-covid, stating that “Now more than ever cultural, educational and historical nonprofit institutions representing and serving Vermont communities need your help. A study completed by Candid of philanthropy estimated that between 18 and 38% of nonprofit institutions will be forced to close their doors…this study concluded that Vermont will lose more cultural, educational and historical nonprofit institutions than any other state or region in this country with the sole exception of Washington D.C.” Weiwei Wang of Vermont Professionals of Color Network shared about their work supporting Vermont’s PoC community, stressing the need for safe and affordable housing, as well as additional flood recovery funds.
Back at the Unitarian Church, Common Good Vermont staff members Lisa Grefe and Martin Hahn (re)introduced organizations to our team and shared about Common Good Vermont’s work supporting the sector through our ladder of services. Emma Paradis provided an overview of key bills impacting Vermont nonprofits and our priorities for the sector, including grant and contract reform and workforce development. Patti Komline of DRM (CGVT’s lobbying team) followed up to elaborate on our work addressing grant and contracting challenges by providing details about H. 140, An act relating to requirements for State-funded grants. As introduced, the bill would already make improvements to the grant and contracting process, but Common Good Vermont alongside Vermont nonprofits hope the House Government Operations Committee will move it forward with the amendments they are considering in Draft 1.4. This draft includes our language to create a working group to address grant and contracting challenges, as well as an amendment that aims to solve issues with delayed payments.
After a brief break, we welcomed our State Grant and Contract Accountability panelists to the stage:
- Helena Van Voorst, Executive Director, United Way of Addison County
- Jordan Posner, Executive Director, CIDER
- Mark Redmond, Executive Director, Spectrum Youth Services
- Kreig Pinkham, Executive Director, Elevate Youth Services
Our panel articulated the challenges experienced by many nonprofits, including those in the room. Helena, with the perspective of an intermediary organization, explained “We’re hearing from organizations again and again that they don’t have capacity to apply for state grants even though it’s something the community needs.” Mark put the bigger picture into local context, sharing from his own experience that “We’re in the middle of a substance use crisis and an intensive in patient treatment program was just shut down,” and “Our warming shelter should have been open by now. It’s freezing in Burlington. We can’t open because we don’t have the staff.” Kreig stressed that if grant and contracting challenges aren’t fixed soon, there consequences will be severe: “In five years some of us won’t be here. We are that close to collapse.”
The panel clearly resonated with the room and generated a passionate, and emotional, discussion around these issues that are weighing heavily on nonprofits and those they serve. After recognizing our shared experiences, participants were eager to get to know each other better, prompting a spontaneous round of introductions. There was a real sense of community, and unity, that many have been missing.
Taking the new energy and solidarity generated from the morning activities, nonprofits headed to the State House for the afternoon.
After cheesing for a photo of (most of) the group, nonprofits spent the afternoon talking with policymakers and observing committee meetings. While unfortunately committees didn’t have a lot on their agendas that afternoon relevant to nonprofits, the time was still worthwhile, giving folks a chance to experience the innerworkings of the State House and the legislative process.
Common Good Vermont spent most of the day tabling in the Card Room and had a great time sharing about our work and raising the profile of our sector while engaging with legislators. Thank you to all our hardworking senators and representatives who stopped by!
Finally, for the cherry on top, we ended the day with an ice cream social!
Thank you to all who made Nonprofit Legislative Day 2024 a success, including our sponsor, Action Circles. We are excited to build on this experience to make Nonprofit Legislative Day 2025 even more impactful – hope to see you there!