By: Guest Blogger, Gabriel Germanow, Women’s Initiative Fellow
A recent column in the San Francisco Chronicle advised interim Mayor Ed Lee to slash city funding for non-profit organizations. San Francisco is facing a projected $380 million budget deficit for 2011, so fixing the budget is necessarily one of Mr. Lee’s primary concerns. However, cutting funding for non-profit organizations is not the way to improve the efficiency of city government.
The author of the SF Chronicle column, C.W. Nevius, suggests that Mr. Lee cut funding for non-profits because “many of the programs provide overlapping services, aren't required to prove they are making an impact, and don't always need to account for how they've spent the city's money.” What Mr. Nevius neglects to recognize is the important role non-profit organizations play in society.
Non-profits provide tremendous value in this day and age. As a third branch of society – uniquely different from government and business – non-profit civil society helps to fill many of the gaps (and the people who fall through them) not explicitly addressed by government or business activity. Non-profits provide important social services for the hungry and homeless; they protect the environment from negative impacts; they build community; and they foster and promote social justice.
Moreover, civil society is a crucial partner in San Francisco’s efforts to improve city life. Non-profits help complement the services provided by government, in many cases channeling or directing public funding to those who need it most. It is arguable, in fact, that the work of government and civil society are both improved by mutual collaboration. Cutting non-profits from the city’s budget, then, would, only serve to impede important work being done to better our local community.
Women’s Initiative is one organization whose funding might be threatened by cutting non-profits from the city budget. Over the past 22 years, Women’s Initiative has served more than 20,000 women and built their entrepreneurial capacity to overcome economic and social barriers through comprehensive business training and support.
This organization, like so many others, offers important services to an under-served segment of the population.
Though a $380 million city budget deficit is nothing to sneer at, simply cutting non-profit funding is not the way to go. Rather, like Mr. Nevius later states, San Francisco ought to put better systems in place to help non-profits improve reporting and accountability on their finances, management and outcomes. Demanding increased accountability would actually do non-profits an important service and would force organizations not meeting their mission to think hard about how they can improve their work.
Though San Francisco faces many challenges, non-profit organizations play a crucial role in helping better the city. They deserve our ongoing attention and support.