Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation. Key Findings and Implications


Both the FBCI and the FCLs formal role in advancing it have been emphasized in different ways and to substantially different degrees across the 50 states.

Thirty-six of the 50 states (and the District of Columbia) and some cities appear to have some formal FCL function (White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, 2008). The function is generally authorized by executive order (in 13 of the 36 states), by statute (in three of the 36), or by some other type of administrative action (in the remaining states). Just under half of the 36 states with formal FCLs house them in governors offices. Most of the rest locate them in state agencies. In three states, FCL functions are located in nonprofit organizations. FCLs perform their functions with a mix of full-time (in about half the states) and part-time positions, although FCLs often juggle responsibilities in addition to the FBCI. Several states appear to be moving the initiative forward without a formally designated FCL. In just over half of the 36 states with formal FCLs, the study team found evidence of a relatively high level of engagement or investment in the function or else progress in some aspect of Charitable Choice implementation.

In the eight study sites, the FCLs reflected a range of structures, histories, and resources devoted to the function (see Table ES.1). Among the case studies, one FCL function was established by statute, three by executive order, one by a combination of the two, and three by other administrative action. One could be considered a governor-centered model, two were nonprofit organizations, and in five studied sites the FCL function or office was embedded in a state agency. Several were established fairly early in the federal FBCI, while others came later, and several have taken different shapes over time. Finally, about half of the FCLs we studied had access to a significant level of resources, while the resources available to the others were more limited.

Table ES.1.
Context and Resources for Case Study FCLs Work
State Where Current FCL Housed Year Current FCL Entity Established How Established Type of Structure Staff and Resource Levelsa
AL Governors Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives 2004 Executive order Governor-centered Significant
DC Office of Partnership and Grants Services 1998 Administrative action Embedded in state agency Limited
FL Volunteer Florida Foundation 1996 Executive order, Statute Nonprofit organization Significant
IL Office of Strategic Planning, Department of Human Services 1996b Administrative action Embedded in state agency Limited
NJ New Jersey Office of Faith Based Initiatives, Department of State 2002c Executive order Embedded in state agency Significant
NM Governor Bill Richardsons Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives,
Department of Aging and Long-term Services
2005 Administrative action Embedded in state agency Limited
TX OneStar Foundation: Texas Center for Social Impactd 2004e Executive order Nonprofit organization Significant
VA Division of Community and Volunteer Services, Department of Social Services 2002f Statute Embedded in state agency Limited
a This includes at least one dedicated full-time staff person, a significant budget for the FCL function, and independent grant-making authority.
b Partners for Hope, the state program in which the informal FCL is housed, was established in 1996.
c A Faith-Based Initiative program was established in 1998.
d After the research teams site visit, OneStar underwent reorganization, revised its name to include the Texas Center for Social Impact, and revised its mission.
e A taskforce was established in 1996 and the resulting FBCI office was located in the Texas Workforce Commission until OneStar was established.
f A General Assembly taskforce was established in 1999 and led to enactment of the 2002 statute.

Study respondents generally saw the FBCI and Charitable Choice as entailing three major elements: (1) development of partnerships with and within the FBCO sector, especially with FBOs; (2) development of the capacity of FBCOs; and (3) education about Charitable Choice regulations and equal treatment principles.

The FCLs in all eight case-study sites focused on capacity building and various types of partnerships with both FBOs and CBOs, and all showed evidence of success. Some focused more strongly on education about and implementation of Charitable Choice regulations while others focused more on partnerships and capacity-building. This variation among states seemed to reflect the fact that the FBCI and the FCL functions were in different developmental stages in different sites, as well as differences among the sites in their legal and political contexts and their resources.

By the time of the study, the sites were focusing most on addressing pressing social problems, working with FBOs and CBOs as important partners. Outreach to newly eligible FBOs and a push for their greater inclusion in the work of government were sometimes secondary to this. Table ES.2 highlights the major emphases of the activities the FCLs in the study undertook at the time of the study.

Table ES.2.
Major Emphases of FCL Activities in Study Sites
State Conduct General Outreach and Provide Information to FBCOs Fund Public Partnerships with FBCOs Encourage Partnerships among FBCOs Provide Capacity- building Training/TA for FBCOs Educate FBOs about Charitable Choice Regulations Educate State/Local Agencies about Charitable Choice Regulations
DC X   X X    
FL X Xa X X X  
IL X   X X    
NJ X X X X    
NM X X X X    
a Limited to Compassion Florida CCF demonstration grant funds.

Particularly in those sites that have had the FCL function the longest, the focus appears to have evolved from an effort targeting FBOs and reducing barriers to partnering with them, to an effort with a broader emphasis on FBCOs, sometimes embracing the nonprofit sector as a whole.

While they stressed a continued welcome to FBOs, FCLs in these sites seemed to feel that a foundation for Charitable Choice implementation had to some extent already been built, and some also cited strategic decisions to widen reach to FBCOs and the broader nonprofit sector.

The FCLs in the study worked to facilitate partnerships of many types.

Some partnerships were funded contracts or grants with state agencies (including the FCL office itself) using state or federal funds, and some were unfunded partnerships or collaborations between public agencies and FBCOs. Many study sites also saw an important role for themselves in facilitating unfunded and even funded partnerships within the FBCO sector, and between FBCOs and other private organizations. This linking function was regarded as an important goal of several of the formal FCL-sponsored capacity-building programs that sought to help participants share ideas and resources and establish lasting relationships. Most said they made a particular effort to reach out to faith-based organizations to let them know about partnering opportunities of different types.

Capacity building was viewed as a key need, and considerable resources were invested in it.

All the FCLs considered capacity building to be essential for FBCOs, and many saw it as a necessary first step for the small FBOs that were a major focus of Charitable Choice; they invested considerable energy in helping to build this capacity. A wide range of respondents indicated that the FCLs had succeeded well in it. Some undertook comprehensive, multiphase programs that included training, technical assistance (TA), and small grants (aided by Compassion Capital Fund (CCF) demonstration grants in two sites). All offered individual workshops and/or one-on-one TA. In general, the FCLs and their staff and capacity-building partners reported that they worked in similar ways with FBOs and CBOs to develop their capacity, viewing their basic needs as largely more similar than different. But without basic organizational capacity, small FBOs, in particular, were viewed as potentially at risk of both unintentionally crossing church-state lines and failing to meet the financial or service requirements of government grants or contracts (though small CBOs, of course, could also face challenges meeting financial and service requirements). All FCLs worked with them through formal programs or individualized TA.

The FCLs differed in how and how much they focused on educating FBOs and state and local agencies about Charitable Choice regulations, for a range of reasons.

By the time of the study, about half the FCLs in the study sites  three early adopters and one recently established office with a clear mandate to implement Charitable Choice  explicitly emphasized educating FBOs and state or local agencies about Charitable Choice opportunities and requirements. The others appeared to lack the resources, sense of mission, and/or legal or political authority to place a strong emphasis on educating FBOs and state agencies about Charitable Choice, and saw other priorities as higher. Among those that focused on FBO education about Charitable Choice, methods such as presentations at capacity-building workshops, individualized TA, and written materials such as handbooks or information packets were cited as effective, as were referrals to federal or independent organizations resources. The sites currently emphasizing education of state or local agencies said they responded to agency requests for information, did their own presentations and brought in outside speakers or experts, met regularly with agency heads and staff, and/or worked to educate agency staff in the context of issue-focused or informal collaborations. No FCL offices systematically assessed either FBO or agency personnels understanding of Charitable Choice.

Several perceived risks associated with implementing Charitable Choice seemed to contribute to a cautious approach.

The legal ground underpinning Charitable Choice and the legally permissible practices allowed under it were viewed by many FCLs and FBCOs as somewhat unsettled and complex. The potential for lawsuits or other legal action, evolving federal guidance, and the possibility of court decisions further shaping the parameters of permissible activity appeared to encourage a cautious approach on the part of some FCLs working with small FBOs. Numerous respondents stressed that small FBOs with minimal resources were vulnerable to causing unintentional breaches in church-state separation, and several FCLs emphasized that they did not want to steer wrong any of the FBOs with which they worked. Some seemed to feel that they themselves had sufficient expertise to guide FBOs appropriately, but others stressed the need for these FBOs to consult legal counsel and/or federal or state funders if they were likely to tread into any of the gray areas of church-state law. Respondents stressed that major missteps by these FBOs were both bad for them and damaging to the faith-based initiative as a whole. More than one FCL also suggested that the incentives to FBOs to participate in funded government partnerships were limited, given the complex requirements and constrained funding, especially for the small, more faith-oriented ones newly eligible under Charitable Choice.

The different FCL structural models have been effective in the different study sites, but each had distinctive pluses and minuses. Resources and FCL experience mattered in all.

We saw three basic models of organizational structure among the eight sites we visited: FCLs within the governors office, FCLs embedded within state agencies, and FCLs in nonprofit entities. In some cases, a state began with one structure and evolved into another over time. In others, the structure has remained generally unchanged. The different models offered trade-offs in resources, authority, and perceived political neutrality, but they seem to have been used effectively within these sites particular contexts. In addition, each model had special implications for the sustainability of the FCL function.

The governor-centered model offered the obvious advantages of the strong support and authority of an influential politician, which could bring access both to FBCOs and state agencies, and could also bring resources. But this model also presented the inevitable challenge of political transition. FCLs operating within the governor-centered model acknowledged needing to plan explicitly for the transition from one governor to another, knowing that their agendas may vary. Term limits in one site made the FCL and other partners very conscious of the window of opportunity they had for implementing the initiative and planning for sustainability.

The embedded model can provide knowledge about and access to partnership opportunities within 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, however, may be that it lacks authority relative to other state agencies since an embedded FCL may be in a position to persuade but is typically not able to require cooperation of other staff in other agencies. It appears, however, that the function can be effectively situated within the bureaucracy if it is led by a dynamic, committed, and mission-driven individual who has the inclination, expertise, experience, and skill to use bureaucratic channels and relationships to good effect. Bringing money to the table for partnerships with other state agencies can also help gain their cooperation, according to one FCL. The sites using the embedded model are somewhat buffered from political volatility that might affect their sustainability, but they may not be in a position to benefit from an influential political champion who can fight for sustaining resources. The embedded model carries a heavy reliance on the strengths of the individual FCL and the relationships they have cultivated with both agencies and FBCOs. There may be limited institutional support beyond the power of the FCL him- or herself, leaving the function vulnerable if the person holding the position leaves.

The nonprofit model seems to bring 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 somewhat shield the FCL from the unpredictability associated with political transition. But at the same time, 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 can also be found in influential boards that can facilitate private fundraising. Some of the study respondents suggested that the nonprofit model (or some variation of it) might offer the greatest opportunity for sustainability over time.

Finally, staff and financial resources were important in all of these models. The range of activities and the ability to focus effectively on outreach, capacity building, and FBO and agency education were all associated with a sufficient level of funding and staff. But FCL and staff experience, knowledge, and relationships were able to contribute to significant achievements even with limited or inconsistent resources. In particular, a strong grassroots presence  with FCLs and their staff visible and responsive to FBCOs  was seen as essential to a credible and effective FCL function.

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