Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation. District of Columbia


Faith Community Liaison: Pat Henry, Manager, Nonprofit and Faith-Based Relations, Office of Partnerships and Grants Services

Site Visit Dates: June 13 and 26, 2008

Site Context and Resources

The District of Columbia Office of Partnerships and Grant Services (OPGS, formerly the Office of Partnerships and Grants Development) is a gateway to the District government for nonprofit groups and faith-based and community organizations. The FCL position was established within OPGS in 1998 by Mayor Anthony Williams, who sought to move away from what many perceived as a quid pro quo relationship between DC politicians and churches (i.e., the city would deliver resources to those churches that delivered votes). Pat Henry was hired for the FCL position within it; the office and position are bureaucratic entities and were not established by executive order or statute. The District government is solidly Democratic, with a Democratic mayor (Adrian Fenty) and Democratic control of the City Council. About a third of the District budget comes from the federal government. The largest denominational groups in DC are Roman Catholic (27 percent) and Baptist (19 percent) (Kusmin, Mayer, and Keysar, 2001); the largest racial/ethnic groups are African-Americans (57 percent) and Whites (38 percent) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006).

At the time of the mayoral transition (from Williams to Fenty) in 2007, there was some uncertainty surrounding the future of District governments approach to faith-based and community-based initiatives. Ms. Henry, however, reports that her activities have not changed significantly under Fenty. In one noteworthy exception, the Mayors Office of Religious Affairs had, under Williams, hosted monthly meetings of an interfaith advisory board (in which Ms. Henry had participated); under Fenty, the group did not meet for over a year, but with the mayors appointment of an advisor for religious affairs, they recently resumed activities.

OPGS is part of the DC governments comprehensive approach to cultivating the nonprofit sector. OPGS offers an array of services, among which the FCL oversees a few key programs. The offices formal mission is to advance the Districts strategic priorities and to improve the quality of life for residents through (1) establishing partnerships between public and private, for-profit and nonprofit organizations, and (2) pursuing financial support and technical assistance from public and private sources. Ms. Henry views her own role as building the capacity of the nonprofit sector (especially small nonprofits); providing one-on-one assistance to such groups, in particular with respect to accessing funding; and building relationships and partnerships between DC government, the federal government, and FBCOs.

Ms. Henry reports to the OPGS Director, who reports directly to the Mayor. She does not have a staff dedicated exclusively to work with FBCOs, but she does receive assistance from OPGS staff members, including clerical support and support from the Grants Information Resource Center (GIRC), which provides technical assistance, access to computers and software, and information on grant opportunities to clients. The budget for Ms. Henrys work is integrated with the OPGS annual budget, making it difficult to distinguish the resources dedicated specifically to FCL initiatives. Resources aligned most closely with the FCL function are her salary and the costs of the Strengthening Partners Initiative (SPI, described more below) and the Annual Public-Private Partnership Conference. OPGS materials are distributed in all DC government offices and to City Council members; most DC agencies have a faith-based liaison of some sort, but the FCLs relationship with them is not formally established. Moreover, Ms. Henry reports that in recent years the resources available to District agencies for services targeted to FBOs have declined.

Prior to taking the FCL position, Ms. Henry had spent over 25 years in nonprofit and community organizations, doing similar work with small nonprofits. She reports that the relationships she developed in her earlier work with grassroots organizations have given her access to and an understanding of the FBCOs that she works with in her role at OPGS. Early in her tenure, she held focus groups to assess the needs of DCs FBCOs, and she emphasized the importance of listening to them and not stringing them along.

Key Activities to Further Implementation of Charitable Choice and the FBCI

Sector-Specific Activities

As noted above, Ms. Henrys primary focus is nonprofit capacity building. The centerpiece of these efforts is the SPI, a one-year comprehensive training program for leaders of emerging nonprofits and FBOs to strengthen their executive leadership skills and organizational capacity. The program is organized for annual cohorts of about 20 individuals, and is designed to support the participants management skills and help them gain greater access to grants and related resources. At the same time, the cohort structure serves to develop and support networks among nonprofit organizations. Earlier cohorts had fewer FBO representatives, but more recently participants come from both faith-based and community organizations.

Another major activity led by the FCL is the Annual Public-Private Partnership Conference, which focuses on issues around capacity and sustainability of nonprofits, including resource development, budgeting and financial management, and legal issues. The FCL describes the event as the areas premier conference for FBCOs; it is currently in its tenth year and it draws over 300 attendees each year. Among speakers at these yearly conferences are many representatives from federal agencies, including their Faith-Based Centers. Finally, Ms. Henry sends out a weekly Funding Alert, a newsletter on grant opportunities, which goes out to some 3,000 recipients.

Issue-Specific Activities

Ms. Henrys central issue-specific program is similar to SPI. The Effi Barry HIV/AIDS Capacity-Building Initiative is funded through the DC Department of Health (DOH) and administered in partnership with OPGS. DOH viewed the role of FBCOs as potentially important in addressing DCs HIV/AIDS crisis, which had been medicalized, in the words of one respondent, but needed also to be addressed as a social problem. At the same time, however, DOH recognized that many FBCOs did not have the capacity to handle public grants, so the Barry program is designed to address that problem. The program began as an initiative of the DOH director but is administered by Ms. Henry because of her capacity-building work with SPI and connections in the faith community.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Ms. Henry views both the SPI and the related Effi Barry program as hugely successful, both in terms of participants individual professional outcomes and the impact of the programs on DC communities. Her views were echoed by other respondents, one of whom was especially enthusiastic about the development of evidence-based interventions implemented by FBCOs, which is one of the focuses of the Barry program. A major challenge, however, is securing resources to hire high-quality trainers to work with participants in these programs (especially for SPI, since the Barry program receives greater funding from the DOH). An additional challenge noted by one respondent (and echoed in other sites) was the extremely low organizational capacity of many FBCOs. This respondent suggested that an alternative approach to partnering with diverse groups  less cumbersome than contracting and grants  would be helpful. Similarly, FBCO respondents reported that their experiences with public funding had been difficult, especially in terms of accounting and other record-keeping requirements.

Two related lessons emerged from the experiences of DC respondents. First, Ms. Henry cited the importance of listening to FBCOs to gauge their needs, not imposing responses on them. The FCL needs to reach out and engage organizations, according to Ms. Henry, but she also stressed that it is very important not to string them along if you cant meet their needs. A second lesson was cited by another DC respondent (and by individuals at other sites), who felt it was important to find alternative ways to allow low-capacity FBCOs to participate in providing social services beyond public grants and contracts, which they may be ill-equipped to handle, even with extensive technical assistance.

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