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


Faith Community Liaison: Nancy Pope, Director, Governor Bill Richardson's Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives

Site Visit Dates: June 10-12, 2008

Site Context and Resources

Governor Bill Richardsons Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFBCI) was established in 2005, though not by executive order. While the office was originally conceived along the White House model (i.e., with strong links to the governor), it did not develop that way. After the first individual to hold the FCL position left (after just three months on the job), Governor Richardson (D) brought Nancy Pope on board. She originally worked to get an executive order issued and an advisory board formed, but over time felt that these efforts were distracting her from the OFBCI mission, and were perhaps unnecessary for realizing it. The composition of the advisory board had apparently been a sticking point, especially with the public agencies. While Ms. Pope reported that she was able to accomplish her goals for the office without the executive order or advisory board, the office may experience a relative lack of institutionalization, as well as low levels of authority vis-à-vis other state agencies. In July 2008, Ms. Pope resigned from the FCL position.

Although the FCL files reports to the governor, he was not her direct supervisor and he had relatively little involvement with the office since its early days. Originally, the position came under the direction of the five social service cabinet secretaries  Aging and Long-term Services; Children, Youth, and Families; Health; Education; and Human Services  and each agency contributed 20 percent of the funding for the office. According to Ms. Pope, the secretary of Aging had always been the most pro-active and involved of the agency heads with respect to the FCLs work, and after a year and a half, that department assumed full responsibility for the OFBCI, although the office retains the governors name.

Ms. Pope described the state as politically or ideologically divided, although the Democrats hold a majority of seats in both houses of the state legislature. While Governor Richardson established the OFBCI, one Republican legislator was mentioned by several respondents for his role in supporting New Mexican FBCOs access to federal funding opportunities, specifically by connecting them with a national intermediary organization that provided grant-writing assistance. The states largest faith community is Roman Catholic (about 40 percent of the population), and that church plays a significant role in the delivery of social services, via a variety organizations, large and small. The next largest group are those who self-identify as having no specific religious affiliation (18 percent). The state is ethnically diverse, with about 44 percent of its residents Hispanic and 10 percent Native American.

New Mexicos constitution specifically prohibits the use of state resources for sectarian education, and a 1999 opinion of the Attorney General explicitly extended the prohibition to a proposed education voucher program. The state also saw a Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) lawsuit go through the courts between 2005 and 2007. The suit centered on the states contracting with the Corrections Corporation of America, a private prison administration firm that included faith-based programming in its New Mexico sites. FFRF eventually dropped the case after a federal judge indicated he might dismiss it on the grounds that FFRF lacked standing. During this time, Ms. Pope followed the case and provided updates on its status to the governor, but she did not become involved in it. Some sensitivities around church-state separation appear to remain, however, and study respondents referred to the case on several occasions.

According to the OFBCI website, the offices primary goals are: (1) to improve human service delivery to New Mexicans most in need; (2) to support and build capacity of faith-based and nonprofit community organizations; and (3) to connect New Mexican nonprofit organizations to federal funding sources. Ms. Pope developed the OFBCI strategic plan through an initial needs assessment among FBCOs around the state. She used the term connecting office to describe her position more generally, noting that realizing the offices mission requires attention to both soft and hard issues  i.e., building personal relationships and trust, as well as facilitating contact between service organizations and public agencies.

The FCL is the only staff member of the OFBCI. Originally, when the office was under the five cabinet secretaries, the FCL reported to all of them and met regularly with all of them. When Aging assumed full responsibility for the office, formal ties to the other agencies were dissolved, though contact is ongoing around specific projects with some of the agencies. The office has few state resources, with an annual budget of about $100,000. Aside from the FCLs salary, the only resources are office space and operational support (the bulk of which goes to travel). Ms. Pope said she purposefully had no funds moving through her office, citing bureaucratic perceptions of competition for resources, as well as legal pitfalls associated with sectarian activities as reasons to avoid this. Ms. Pope described herself as creative at getting other groups to sponsor events and provide in-kind support to supplement state resources. A good example is a March 2007 conference she organized focused on accessing federal discretionary grants. The University of New Mexico allowed it to be held on campus, and provided food; the United Way handled registration for the event.

Indeed, Ms. Pope felt that her background in marketing (in which she holds a masters degree) and experience starting and running her own business (in investment banking) prepared her well for building the OFBCI, which she treated as a start-up. When she joined the office, Ms. Pope had been working as development director at an FBO, but she had extensive background in the private sector. In getting the office off the ground, she developed a two-year strategic plan, paying attention to marketing details, such as developing a logo and a brief narrative about the office for networking purposes. In assessing FBCO needs, the FCL traveled a great deal around the state and also developed an on-line survey, which is linked to the OFBCI homepage.

Key Activities to Further Implementation of Charitable Choice and the FBCI

Sector-Specific Activities

During her tenure as FCL, Ms. Pope focused heavily on general development of the nonprofit sector. As noted, she conducted initial and on-going assessment of FBCO needs and capacity both through an on-line survey and in-person outreach. After initial contacts, she entered detailed information on each nonprofit group into a database, which she used to conduct regular outreach and information sharing (e.g., around grant opportunities) via email and listserv. In addition to offering direct one-on-one consulting on her own, she collaborated a great deal with other capacity-building organizations like community foundations, the United Way, and the Center for Non-Profit Excellence, which have offices around the state. She also maintained a network of vetted consultants who were available for work on issues like organizational development, strategic planning, board development, and grant writing at reduced fees for FBCOs. Viewing the OFBCI as a connecting office, she worked explicitly to facilitate networking among nonprofits through mentoring, meetings, and other activities that encouraged groups to work together.

With respect to Charitable Choice regulations, Ms. Pope reported providing written materials, as well as in-person consultation. She also included information at the March 2007 Conference for Faith-Based and Community Organizations noted above. One session addressed the legal requirements that come with the receipt of government funds. In general, Ms. Pope felt that knowledge of Charitable Choice rules and equal treatment rules varied by organization (with larger groups typically having a clearer sense of the rules), but she viewed the promotion of such understanding as primarily the funding agencies responsibility. To the extent that a lack of information on Charitable Choice might affect FBCOs or agencies in New Mexico, Ms. Pope and other respondents felt that both kinds of groups probably err on the side of caution.

With respect to increasing partnerships, the March 2007 conference on federal discretionary funding was one of Ms. Popes most noteworthy activities. Such funds coming into New Mexico tripled the following year (from $8.2 to $28.6 million), which might be attributed, at least in part, to the conference. Co-sponsored with the University of New Mexico, the conference sought to inform FBCOs throughout New Mexico about available federal and state funding and partnership opportunities, and to assist them in expanding their services to those in need. White House OFBCI Director Jay Hein gave the keynote address and representatives from the federal Centers for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives at the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and Labor participated, leading technical assistance workshops. In addition to the session on legal requirements surrounding federal funds, topics included tips for writing successful grant applications and programs to strengthen rural communities. Over 350 people  including FBCO and agency representatives  attended the conference, and another 200 were on a waitlist.

Issue-Specific Activities

Ms. Popes greatest issue-specific involvement was concentrated on hunger. When New Mexico was again ranked first in the nation in food insecurity by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005, she was asked to lead strategic planning with the states Taskforce to End Hunger, which included members from key state agencies, as well as other public and private organizations. The FCLs work led to the elaboration of goals and strategies for what evolved into the New Mexico Plan to End Hunger. The collaborative effort eventually involved over 30 public and private organizations around the state, and the model allowed FBCOs to come as they are to offer their particular services to the mix of resources addressing hunger around the state. To the extent that Ms. Popes work involved educating agencies, it centered on helping them to recognize gaps in services and to identify FBCOs that might play a role in filling those gaps. The Plan to End Hunger also provides a good example of the OFBCIs connecting role, in that it allowed organizations with different areas of expertise and different levels of capacity to join the effort without having to reorient their activities to fit the initiative.

Successes, Challenges, and Lessons Learned

Ms. Pope identified her database/listserv as a major success, calling it the core of her work and citing it as key to the offices sustainability after her departure. She felt that the silos of FBOs, CBOs, United Way, grant-makers, and the University were becoming more porous, in part through her efforts. The March 2007 conference was also cited as hugely successful  as evidenced in the participation and the large increase in federal discretionary grants the state received the following year. Ms. Pope attributed this success to the fact that the conference focused on themes of practical use to participants, costs were low, and the event was very accessible. A challenge to the FCLs work cited by all New Mexico respondents was a kind of bureaucratic entrenchment that often frames the initiative within a sort of zero-sum competition for resources. Ms. Pope cited additional challenges in starting the office from scratch where simple things like telephones and systems supports were not in place. She also pointed to the need to stay on mission and not even look political as a challenge, noting that people have sometimes questioned her motives.

Several lessons emerged from New Mexico. First, two respondents felt that the FCL position requires more authority in order to deal effectively with state agencies, whom they cited as resistant to the FCLs work. One of these respondents suggested that the authority need not rest directly with the FCL, but rather, she suggested that it might suffice if non-agency funders in large collaborations (such as community foundations) were more involved in communication with public agencies, and if agencies, in turn, were responsible for being more proactive in communicating with the FCL and participating in decision making. A second lesson, cited by the FCL, was the need to assess FBCOs systematically  to do some marketing due diligence, in her words  by sizing up the needs, looking at and applying viable models, and developing and following a strategic plan, among other things.

Finally, Ms. Pope cited the importance of understanding the federal FBCI in tandem with the states initiative, in particular, paying attention to the history behind it in order to understand the roles of all those involved and the reactions that may arise. She felt that to be effective, an FCL must understand the politics around faith-based initiatives. At the same time, one must recognize that the focus of the federal initiative has evolved over time, and states should pay attention to this history.

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