Role of State Faith Community Liaisons in Charitable Choice Implementation. New Jersey


Faith Community Liaison: Edward LaPorte, Executive Director, New Jersey Office of Faith Based Initiatives, NJ Department of State

Site Visit Dates: April 10-11, 2008

Site Context and Resources

New Jerseys Office of Faith Based Initiatives (OFBI) was first established as a project of the state Department of Community Affairs under Governor Christine Todd Whitman (R) in 1998. The initiative initially was viewed by some as an effort to appeal politically to the states black churches (Roper, 2004). It was formalized in 2002 by Governor James McGreevey (D) through Executive Order #31 and moved into the Department of State. The executive order focused on faith-based community organizations, stressing their importance in meeting the fundamental needs of many New Jersey citizens and directing all agencies of the state government to cooperate fully with the OFBI. It also established a 23-member Advisory Commission on Faith-Based Initiatives, which has been an increasingly important resource for the FCL. The then-secretary of state (a member of the governors cabinet) was a strong champion of the office until her departure in 2006.

Governor Jon Corzine (D) took office in 2006 and as of spring 2008, New Jersey was governed by both a Democratic governor and legislature. New Jersey is a diverse state in terms of race-ethnicity and religion. Its population is 63 percent White, 15 percent Black, 7 percent Asian, and 16 percent Hispanic (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). Among the major faith groups, its residents are: Catholic (37 percent), Baptist (8 percent), Jewish (4 percent), and Mormon and Muslim (each 1 percent) (Kusmin, Mayer, and Keysar, 2001).

The state legal environment for Charitable Choice implementation is more constrained than in the other states participating in the study. The states constitution has been interpreted as requiring 501(c)(3) status for receipt of government funds and state law prohibits hiring based on religion. The political culture has also supported a constrained approach. Given these factors, controversy about church-state separation was never an issue, according to Edward LaPorte, director of the OFBI. Political party also does not seem to have played a significant role in support for the office.

The OFBI mission, according to its website, is: to develop relationships and strengthen partnerships with federal and state agencies, corporations, foundations, institutions of higher learning, and capacity-building training organizations in an effort to create greater access to funding and other resource opportunities for Faith Based and Community Based Organizations. The FCL described his offices major responsibilities as: improving access to funding and other partnering opportunities for FBCOs, providing technical assistance and training that will enhance the capacity of FBCOs to improve their day-to-day functioning, and serving informally as an advocate for FBCOs partnering with state or local agencies or other organizations. He says that nine of ten things he does involve one or more of these three responsibilities. Other staff noted the large amount of time they spend on the telephone describing the OFBIs work, referring callers to staff in other state offices or organizations, and responding to callers in other ways.

The OFBI director reports to the secretary of state who, in turn, reports to the governor. The office is housed in the NJ Department of State, and as of spring 2008, its dedicated full-time staff of four included the director, two program managers, and one training associate. Mr. LaPortes background includes employment in a number of FBCOs, including one focused on capacity building for minority organizations. His own work emphasized organizational development and technical assistance and he indicated that this experience has greatly informed his OFBI capacity-building work and helped him to build effective relationships with FBCOs. He joined the office in 1999 as a program manager and was appointed interim director in 2003 and director in 2004. Other staff previously worked with AmeriCorps, the Governors Office of Volunteerism, and in customer service. All have been with the office since at least 2004.

The offices resources have fluctuated over time. When first established, it had an annual $5 million budget for grant-making which was maintained for four years. By FY 2007, it had decreased to $1.5 million; for FY 2008 it was $2.5 million (in addition to funding tied to specific programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), on which the OFBI partners with other state agencies). The staff positions are funded through the Department of State and programmatic funding streams. A major source of institutional support has been the Advisory Commission on Faith Based Initiatives (ACFBI). The OFBI acts as staff to the ACFBI, whose 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 commissions make-up has provided the OFBI with access to the governor, legislators, and state agencies. Its work includes advising the director on policy, advocating for the OFBI on budget and other matters, and reviewing the OFBIs recommendations for grant awards for each RFP it issues.

OFBI staff noted the importance of reaching out and educating themselves about the rituals and requirements of different faiths, and attending services at different houses of worship, ideally aided by a guide from within the faith. They also noted that in all the OFBIs events and activities, they are careful to try to meet the particular needs of religious groups. For example, they provide time and space for Muslim prayer during their large events, try to avoid event scheduling that would run into the Jewish Sabbath, and offer food that meets various faiths dietary restrictions. One staff member noted that you arent always going to get it right but it is important to try, suggesting that [you need to] swallow your pride and ask, its better to ask than [to assume].

Key Activities to Further Implementation of Charitable Choice and the FBCI

Sector-Specific Activities

The OFBI strongly emphasizes outreach, partnerships, and capacity building within the FBCO sector. As a component of its broad outreach and education mission, it seeks to reach out to FBOs, educate them about partnership opportunities, and inform them of the legal rights and requirements entailed in Charitable Choice. OFBI staff, some public agency staff, and other respondents expressed the view that the states 501(c)(3) requirement, hiring restrictions, political culture, and other characteristics somewhat limited the need to emphasize the legal requirements of Charitable Choice since grantees within the state were already constrained in what they could do. Nonetheless, the opportunities and requirements entailed in Charitable Choice and equal treatment provisions are addressed to some extent in the OFBIs major events, aspects are covered in the Request for Proposal (RFP) orientation sessions for prospective applicants, and are the topic of inquiries to the office. The director noted that some organizations choose not to apply for grants when they learn about the requirements and limits on allowable religious activities and content.

The OFBI takes a range of approaches to its broad outreach and education of FBCOs. Since 2000, the office has sponsored three Expos, large statewide events attended by FBCOs and potential funders, including state and federal agencies. The Expos, the most recent of which was held in 2005, focus on education and training workshops, as well as partnership and networking opportunities. The OFBI has also used a Compassion Capital Fund-like model of grant-making since 2004, incorporating both capacity building and small grants that require FBCOs to partner with each other or public agencies. The model has three tracks: 1) Organizational Infrastructure Development (OID) grants to fledgling organizations with budgets under $150,000 to help them develop basic capacity; 2) grants to five intermediary organizations that assist FBCOs in their organizational development and partnering, and 3) grants for direct services by FBCOs focused on youth, homelessness, and other pressing issues. During lean budget years, the office funded only the direct service grants. The office estimates that approximately 70 percent of its grantees are self-identified FBOs and 30 percent are self-identified CBOs. These proportions have remained roughly steady over the past five years. Currently, the office funds about 65 grantees per year. The OFBI also offers a periodic training institute with workshops addressing issues such as financial reporting and grant-writing at introductory to advanced levels. Finally, the OFBI maintains an email notification list and a website, which includes a link to the White House OFBCI, as well as information about OFBI activities and staff.

Executive Order 31 directs state agencies to work with the OFBI. In recent years, the OFBI appears to have used largely informal means to reach out to and educate state and local agency staff about Charitable Choice and the opportunities for partnerships with FBOs, though the FCL noted that meetings were held with state agencies to discuss the requirements early in the initiative. The OFBI generally works with individual public agencies to cultivate partnerships that include participation by FBOs. Given the states legal constraints on Charitable Choice implementation, it may not be surprising that one agency staff member called the faith based initiative something of a misnomer, suggesting that there had not been radical change from their prior partnerships with FBOs and CBOs. The OFBIs goal of expanding and supporting state-FBCO partnerships seems to have met with some success; state DHS staff were very positive about the OFBIs capacity building and support of grantees, citing the offices excellent oversight very detailed monitoring; [they are] very clear on issues and problems, and how to get them [resolved]. 

The OFBI has worked with intermediaries since its establishment to supplement its services and to provide training and technical assistance to FBCOs. One, the New Jersey-based Center for Non-Profits, began working with the OFBI in 1998 and is still today. Another, a legal service organization called Pro Bono, receives a small amount of funding to provide legal advice to FBCOs referred by the OFBI. Other intermediary organizations have participated in differing ways over time, depending on the offices priorities and activities.

Issue-Specific Activities

While the OFBI places great emphasis on cross-cutting capacity building and organizational development, it has pursued a number of initiatives focused on specific social issues, often in partnership with state agencies. Currently, the OFBI also manages a post-TANF program, administering 25 grants with FBCOs who provide employment services to TANF recipients leaving the rolls, in partnership with the NJ Department of Human Services. As part of this project and its other work, the OFBI often acts as an ombudsman, negotiating between agencies and FBCOs when issues arise. Staff also systematically monitors these grantees, and requirements include site visits with desk audits and bi-annual reporting, as well as federally required monthly reports. As of the spring of 1998, the OFBI was also in the planning stages of partnership with the NJ Department of Corrections to administer and oversee a grant to an FBCO for a prisoner reentry program; the FBCO will provide post-release case management and support services to ex-offenders in Camden county. In addition, the office manages the small direct service grants noted above.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

A number of key successes were highlighted by OFBI staff, FBCOs, and other respondents. The OFBIs ombudsman role was cited by both FBCO and public partners as a major success, as were the strong and trusting relationships the FCL and his office have developed with FBCOs, state agencies, intermediaries, and other stakeholders. The value of the offices capacity-building activities and free consultant time  typically tailored to the specific developmental stage and needs of the organization  were also cited. Combining grants programs with training and technical assistance has allowed more organizations to participate in partnerships and has given emerging organizations important help. Several respondents cited the FCLs insistence that FBCOs the office funds collaborate with each other and with agencies as having had a great impact on increasing and improving partnerships.

In addition to needing to correct the widespread misconception that the FBCI would bring a big pot of new money, the major challenges noted were: inconsistent funding and staffing levels; decreased grantmaking funds, which resulted in both smaller and shorter term grants; growing demand among FBCOs for funding and assistance; and association of the initiative with the Republican Party at the federal level, which has sometimes made it difficult to educate state legislators (who often turn over and are majority Democratic) about the value of the initiative.

The FCL and other respondents cited several additional lessons learned. Having funds to give out for grants in partnership with state agencies is strategically important, since it provides an incentive to state agencies to collaborate with the OFBI and FBCOs, according to the FCL. Likewise, the FCL needs to work to establish strong partnerships with state agencies that may otherwise see the office as a competitor. The ombudsman/consultant relationship with FBCO grantees also can help build relationships with state agencies because  with the OFBIs hands-on assistance  it can improve the quality of the services their FBCO grantees provide.

Allowing the office to be strongly associated with a political official can be risky, the FCL suggested, recommending instead supporting sustainability by developing advocates who are not elected officials and will last over political transitions. A basic and sustainable level of resources  and flexibility in using them  are essential since social needs change and FBCOs and their needs evolve (in one respondents word, You cant do TA 101 over and over again). Finally, the FCL suggested that enacting a friends of the OFBCI structure in legislation could help the sustainability of and resources for the mission since such an entity could focus on more diversified funding sources, including private money.

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