National nonprofits leader rallies Oklahoma groups as they face sequestration, budget cuts

The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits recently hosted its national leader, who encouraged them to unite and speak up as the economy and the government encroach on their ability to serve.
by Lillie-Beth Brinkman Published: March 23, 2013
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Torri Christian, state advocacy and public policy manager for the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma and the Community Food Bank of Eastern Oklahoma, said after hearing Delaney, the food banks plan to try to do a better job of connecting with nonprofit agencies as a whole.

The food banks' biggest concern is to make sure they keep the programs in place to feed the hungry, but Christian said they also realize the importance of “being problem solvers in our community” beyond their mission.

“Because we (nonprofits) often operate as single private entities, we don't realize that we do represent a major voice in government,” she said.

Other threats, sequestration

Delaney said while federal, state and local nonprofits provide about $100 billion worth of government services each year through contracts, the government agencies at all levels often fail to pay full costs, change agreements midstream or pay late — 63 percent of Oklahoma nonprofits reported such problems in a recent survey, he said.

The nonprofit sector is fragmented, fragile and frustrated, he said, as government at all levels seeks to remove tax incentives for donors to support them and tinkers with agencies' independence to do their work. At the same time, the government is asking nonprofits to do more work with fewer resources.

“You're dealing with society's most critical, taxing, challenging problems, and you all are closest to the solutions,” Delaney said. “Yet you all are not invited to the policy table to help form what those solutions can be.”

Delaney said cutting funding for senior meals, mental health services, housing assistance, aid to Women, Infants and Children (WIC) programs, etc., has a ripple effect: As people face more cuts, they need more services.

Delaney compared the effects of the forced budget cuts from sequestration, which went into effect March 1, to a tsunami. “The earthquake has already hit underground. It happened March 1. ... Those thundering waves are coming our way.”

In the middle of his PowerPoint presentation, Delaney inserted a slide depicting a peaceful, sunshiny nature scene to break up the bad news.

“I feel bad when I go out and speak and share, and I wish that I could go out and have an entire show about sunshine and how wonderful things are,” he said.

But the sunshine will only come after a “long slog” by nonprofit groups to stay on top of the overall issues affecting them and not just their own silos, Delaney said.

He also urged nonprofits and lawmakers to focus on meeting community needs instead of whether the nation should punish or protect the wealthy and their ability to give under charitable giving incentives.

“For every dollar given, that's a dollar into the community,” he said.

by Lillie-Beth Brinkman
Lillie-Beth Brinkman is a Content Marketing Manager for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce. She was previously an assistant editor of The Oklahoman
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