Monday, January 23, 2012

How New York City Helps Nonprofits Get More Bang For Their Buck

Billings-Burford, the head of NYC Service, discusses the courage and innovative spirit organizations must have to use volunteers to help expand their services.

In the face of a volatile economy, adaptation is key. Families, small businesses, and all levels of government must adjust to the ever-changing environment. Nonprofit organizations are no exception.

This post is part of a series on the future of service in America, in conjunction with Catchafire.
As resources become increasingly limited, the need for services provided by those organizations grows. However, often these limited resources also prevent nonprofits from maintaining the status quo of service delivery, and in response, organizations are forced to cut programs and focus staff energy on development work. But this can severely hamper innovation.

To avoid--or at least reduce--reliance on those usual models of dealing with limited resources, nonprofits must develop and implement bold, innovative adaptations. Such innovations require immense courage, but have the potential to both maintain an organization’s service delivery and foster a mentality of renewal desperately needed in the nonprofit sector.

Rosabeth M. Kanter of the Harvard Business School describes two types of courage: intellectual courage, required to challenge conventional wisdom, and moral courage, required to stand up for a principle rather than stand on the sidelines.

“”There are two types of courage: intellectual courage, required to challenge conventional wisdom, and moral courage, required to stand up for a principle.

In the years since our launch in 2009, NYC Service has witnessed the most success and added the most value to organizations that have demonstrated both of these types of courage by using volunteers in new and strategic ways.

Engaging volunteers in unprecedented roles is a central tenet of the NYC Service philosophy. The first to take this approach in municipal government, our ideas have certainly been met with resistance. But nearly three years later, our partnerships with City agencies have maintained or expanded the delivery of services to New Yorkers. Shape Up NYC, an initiative of the NYC Department of Parks & Recreation, recruits volunteer fitness instructors to teach free classes, attended by an average of 3,000 New Yorkers each week. This represents a 150% increase in attendees, an expanded capacity that would have been impossible without volunteers.

This new approach to volunteerism isn’t just happening in New York, it’s happening in cities around the country through the Cities of Service coalition. Thirty mayors have already hired a Chief Service Officer or launched a high-impact service plan, with more doing so each month. And it’s working. In May 2010, when Nashville experienced a flood of historic proportions with over $2.5 billion in damages, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean tapped citizens to power recovery efforts and to help prevent future flooding. Using volunteers, Nashville planted over 800 trees in strategic areas and built almost 100 rain gardens to help reduce the build-up of storm water. Similarly, nonprofits must tap volunteers to administer programs that may otherwise be cut.

“”Innovations challenge conventional wisdom and thus require intellectual courage. Their implementation almost always requires moral courage.

Skills-based volunteering is another example of using volunteers strategically. Individuals with industry-specific skills are an underutilized resource for nonprofits that need assistance in specific areas. Nonprofits like Catchafire and Npower specialize in recruiting and placing such volunteers, but nonprofit volunteer departments can build such a strategy into their operations. This matching model has proven successful; through Taproot’s Professional Services program, the Mentoring Partnership of New York was paired with volunteer website developers and graphic designers who updated the organization’s website and produced new marketing materials.

By definition, innovations challenge conventional wisdom and thus require intellectual courage. Their implementation almost always requires moral courage. As the economic recession continues, this courage will be required by even more organizations. Nonprofit leaders must identify new and untapped resources--we make the case here for volunteers, but there are surely others--to maintain and even increase the impact of their organizations.

Though volunteerism itself is not a new concept, using it as a serious strategy to meet critical community needs is still in an experimental phase. NYC Service has proven its effectiveness and encourages nonprofits across the board to pursue a similar approach.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Report: Upstate pays state less in taxes than it receives

Upstate New York pays the state less in taxes and other revenue than it receives back in state expenditures, according to a report from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government at the University at Albany.

About 24 percent of taxes and revenues collected by New York state in 2010 came from the upstate region, according to the report, titled “Giving and Getting.” But upstate New York received about 35 percent of state spending.

The Rockefeller Institute classified upstate New York as including 48 counties that are not part of the Capital Region, New York City, or the five-county downstate suburbs linked to New York City.

The Capital Region — made up of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady counties — also paid the state less than it received. It paid just below 4 percent of the state’s total taxes and receipts and received 7 percent of state spending.

Meanwhile, New York City and its downstate suburbs paid the state more than they received in expenditures.

New York City contributed more than 45 percent of all state taxes and revenues. It received about 40 percent of expenditures in return, according to the report.

Downstate suburbs in Nassau, Suffolk, Westchester, Rockland, and Putnam counties gave the state 24 percent or 27 percent of its taxes and revenues, depending on calculation methods used. Those areas took home around 18 percent of state funding, the Rockefeller Institute report found.

The report calculated receipts paid and expenditures received in each region using various methods — by place of residence and by place of work. Each method showed that upstate New York and the Capital Region received more than they paid, while New York City and its downstate suburbs paid more than they received.

Upstate New York would have lost between $8.1 billion and $9.3 billion if its share of state-funded expenditures matched the revenues it contributed, according to the Rockefeller Institute. The Capital Region would have lost about $2.7 billion.

New York City would have received an additional $4.1 billion to $6.1 billion in state funding if state expenditures matched revenues from the city, the report found. Downstate suburbs would have gained $4.6 billion to $7.9 billion.

The New York City–based Citizens Budget Commission, which describes itself as a nonprofit civic organization focused on changing the finances and services of New York City and New York state government, commissioned the report. It was supported by a grant from the New York Community Trust, a New York City–based community foundation with more than $1.9 billion in almost 2,000 individual charitable funds.