Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation. FCL Characteristics

12/18/2008

A number of key FCL characteristics stood out as helpful in building public-FBCO partnerships, increasing capacity, and developing understanding of Charitable Choice law. These were:

A knowledge of the FBCO community and respect for the diverse faith groups represented in the state or localities. FCLs and their partners stressed the importance of the FCL  and staff  going out into the community, asking respectful questions, and listening closely, in order to build knowledge, relationships, and credibility. Respondents also noted the importance of trying to meet the particular needs of religious groups at major FCL events and activities. For example, at one site, staff said they provided time and space for Muslim prayer during their large events, avoided event scheduling that would run into the Jewish Sabbath, and offered food that met various faiths dietary restrictions. You arent always going to get it right, a staffer said, but it is important to try, suggesting that [you need to] swallow your pride and ask. Its better to ask than [to assume].

An intimate understanding of how government works, and the avenues for partnership within bureaucracy. Experience and strong relationships within government  not only formal government clout or authority  were seen as key by many respondents. The knowledge of who to go to and how decisions are really made matters, as does the ability to form strong relationships to actually take advantage of this knowledge. Related to this, respondents from several sites mentioned the usefulness of being able to translate between government employees and FBCOs respective ways of communicating.

A deep understanding of the law, both statutory and constitutional, and of federal and state policy related to Charitable Choice and the FBCI. This knowledge can help the FCL to address FBCO, agency, and public questions. While some FCLs tended to refer questions to outside legal experts or agency officials, possession of this knowledge seemed to contribute to a sense among FBCO and agency partners that the FCL had authority and expertise, enhancing his or her position.

Possession of  or the ability to cultivate  strong relationships. What might be called a high touch approach was universally identified as important by FCLs, FBCO, and agency respondents. Get out from behind the desk, stressed one FCL, a sentiment echoed by both FCLs and their partners, who also stressed the importance of a high level of responsiveness to and empathy for small FBCOs. One FBO respondent saw effectiveness as linked to what she called a circuit rider approach that entailed much time on the road with FBCOs around the state. Although political authority can be helpful, the FCL and/or office staff must be capable of taking a grassroots approach as well. Related to this, being seen as credible and fair was identified by multiple respondents as critical to positive relationships. One long-time FCL stressed that in his work, my word is my bond.

A knowledge of the capacity-building and technical assistance needs of small FBCOs, and how to meet them. Several FCLs emphasized that many of their states FBCOs have only minimal organizational capacity; helping them to be effective required the skills and empathy to help them build this capacity from the ground up. On the other side of the relationship, if FBCOs believe that the FCL office and its intermediaries or other TA partners understand their circumstances and needs and will provide something concretely useful to them, they are more likely to become and remain engaged. Several FBCO respondents indicated that they tried to maintain relationships with the FCL and staff even after the training sessions and grants ended, in part because they thought they could be useful resources in the future.

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