Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation: Practice Models from the States. FCL Organizational Structures and Resources


The FCL study identified three basic models of organizational structure among the eight sites  each with its own potential strengths and limitations.

In the governor-centered model, an FCL office or an individual liaison is located within the governors office. This model has the obvious advantage of the support and authority of an influential politician, facilitating access to state agencies and possibly to FBCOs, as well as to resources for the FCL function. As one respondent noted, People pay attention when the governors office comes to call. But this model also presents the inevitable challenge of political transition. One FCL and her staff operating within a governor-centered office observed that they needed to plan explicitly for the transition from one governor to another, knowing that their agendas may vary. Term limits made the FCL and her offices partners very conscious of the window of opportunity they had for implementing the initiative and planning for sustainability.

In the embedded model, the FCL is located within one state agency but has significant jurisdiction across agencies. The potential advantages include knowledge about and access to other state and/or local agencies, a relatively secure resource base, a level of perceived political neutrality, and sustainability over time. A potential drawback of the embedded model may be a relative lack of authority in relation to other state agencies. It appears, however, that the function can be effectively situated within the bureaucracy when it is led by a dynamic, committed, and mission-driven individual who has the experience and skill to use bureaucratic channels and relationships to good effect. In this model, the FCL and staff effectively hunker down within the agency to do the work in a relatively low-profile fashion. Bringing money to the table for partnerships with other state agencies can also help gain their cooperation, according to one embedded FCL. These liaisons may be somewhat buffered from the political volatility that can affect their sustainability. While they may not be in as strong a position to benefit from an influential political champion as those in the governor-centered model, some embedded FCLs have turned to their advisory boards for such support. This model appears to rely heavily on the strengths of the individual liaison and the relationships he or she has cultivated with agencies, FBCOs, and supporters. However, there may be limited institutional support, potentially leaving the function vulnerable if the incumbent FCL leaves.

Practice Model 1. Activating the Advisory Commission for Sustainability

The Executive Order signed in 2002 by New Jerseys then-Governor James McGreevey situated the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives (OFBI) within the Department of State and at the same time established a 23-member Advisory Commission on Faith-Based Initiatives, with the OFBI acting as staff to the commission. The diverse make-up of the commission and its members relationships to important constituencies around the state have provided the OFBI with access to the governor, legislators, state agencies, and other potential supporters. The commissions members include eight non-voting state agency heads; 15 voting members representing houses of worship, business, higher education, and other nongovernmental organizations, appointed by the governor; and a chair, also appointed by the governor. The formal roles of the commission are to advise the FCL on policy, to advocate for the OFBI on budget and other matters, and to review the OFBIs recommendations for grant awards for its requests for proposals. The commissions advocacy role has become particularly important in recent years since the departure of the previous secretary of state, who had been highly involved in the OFBI. Over time, the FCL has come to rely increasingly on the commission and its chair for advice and advocacy, as well as for their formal roles.

Finally, in the nonprofit model, FCLs and their staff are located in nonprofit entities or foundations. Potential advantages of this model are flexibility, relatively quick decision making, the ability to raise private funds, and a sense of shared identity with others in the nonprofit sector. Like the embedded model, the nonprofit model may also shield the FCL somewhat from the unpredictability associated with political transition. At the same time, though, nonprofit entities may lack direct access to state or local agencies, and their status may make it more difficult to reach important political players. In the two study sites with this structure, however, governors have been strong advocates, and support may also be found in influential boards that can facilitate political access and private fundraising. Logistical challenges, such as the need to use formal contracts when partnering with state agencies rather than more informal means such as memoranda of understanding, can also arise with this structure.

In some cases, a state began with one structure and evolved to another. In others, the structure has remained generally unchanged. The different models offer trade-offs in resources, authority, perceived political neutrality, and sustainability, but they seem to have been used effectively within the study sites particular contexts.

Practice Model 2. Sustainability Through Organizational Independence

The faith-based and community initiative in Florida is housed in the private, nonprofit Volunteer Florida Foundation (VFF). Floridas constitution has strict language limiting state funding of FBOs, and VFFs 501(c)(3) status allows the organization to raise private funds, which may be directed toward the activities of sectarian organizations. At the same time, as a quasi-independent nonprofit, the foundation can remain somewhat outside of the political sphere. Nevertheless, VFF was established to provide direct support to the Governors Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service, and having close ties to the governors office sends a message, in the words of one respondent, that the foundations initiatives have important political support. Because VFF is generally responsive to the governors office, however, the various initiatives under the foundations purview have been intentionally siloed to allow the organization the flexibility to direct resources toward successive governors differing agendas. In describing this structure, the VFF president used a metaphor of a train, with each governor adding some boxcars and removing others while the whole train continued to move along. Texas has pursued a somewhat similar approach in gaining organizational independence through establishment of the OneStar Foundation, although OneStar has largely integrated rather than siloed its program areas.

Sufficient funding and staff resources are essential in all structural models.

Financial resources and staff are, not surprisingly, vital in each FCL model. Some respondents noted the advantages of dedicated funding for the function  though preserving it seemed to require ongoing advocacy by the liaison or supporters of the office. In some states, financing from multiple sources supported the function, though this could be more challenging for FCLs to manage. Several liaisons suggested that having resources to make grants specifically related to the faith-based and community initiative allowed them to develop funded partnerships and provide financial or other assistance to FBCOs. One of the study sites (Florida) had a Compassion Capital Fund (CCF) demonstration grant at the time of the study and two (New Jersey and Texas) had state funds or access to federal funds through partnering state agencies to help advance the broad goals of the faith-based and community initiative. Others, however, indicated that they saw their role more strictly as partnership facilitator rather than direct funder. Adequate staff support was also identified as important. In four study sites, staff was dedicated to the FCL function, while in other sites, staff juggled this work with other duties. Two sites intentionally integrated the FCL function with other related work, such as AmeriCorps/state service commissions, volunteerism, and disaster response. The estimated number of full-time staff positions dedicated to the FCL function across the sites ranged from one to about nine.

The liaisons came to the FCL job from a range of backgrounds, including work in state agencies such as human services and volunteerism, FCL offices, FBCOs (including one pastor and an FCL who had specialized in capacity building at a community organization), and business. All the liaisons indicated that their backgrounds helped prepare them for their FCL role. Other key characteristics and skills of staff that respondents highlighted were (1) knowledge of the FBCO community and its needs, especially related to capacity building; (2) a deep understanding of bureaucracy, including how to build and maintain relationships with public agency staff; and (3) an understanding of policy and law related to both government programs and Charitable Choice and equal treatment. They also stressed: the ability to take what one respondent called a circuit rider approach, in which the FCL or his or her staff spend much of their time out in the field working closely with FBCOs and public agencies around the state; a high level of empathy for FBCOs mission and circumstances; and the ability to translate the language and culture of government to FBCOs and of FBCOs to government.

The legal authority to perform essential elements of the function  through statute or executive order  was viewed as important.

Having the FCL function codified in statute was seen by several respondents as particularly helpful, especially for sustaining liaison efforts. Executive orders, however, could also provide considerable authority, and some were quite specific in authorizing the FCL to implement Charitable Choice provisions or encouraging or requiring agencies to cooperate. Three study sites FCL functions were organizationally linked by executive order with the states AmeriCorps/service commissions, which appeared to provide some advantages in terms of resources and a shared sense of mission.

In some sites, state constitutional amendments placed legal limits on the use of state funds for sectarian organizations. While these so-called Blaine Amendments were often limited to prohibitions on funding for education or facilities and appeared not to affect the FCLs work, in at least one state (Florida), the amendment precluded funds from state sources from being used for partnerships with sectarian FBOs. Two liaisons noted the usefulness of having guidance from state legal officials, such as the state supreme court or attorney general, of the constitutional parameters around funded partnerships between public agencies and FBOs.

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