Brokering a Constructive Dialogue on the State Budget

Thursday, September 29, 2011


3575000735_6ba08467d9_m[1] Members of the foundation and nonprofit community left a meeting last week with representatives from the Governor’s office and the General Assembly with a better understanding of how far the state has come with its Budgeting for Results project – and how far they have to go. Donors Forum assembled key members of the foundation and nonprofit community, national experts, and representatives from the Governor’s Office and the General Assembly at the MacArthur Foundation last week to address the challenges, opportunities, and impact BFR - the state's new approach to outcomes based budgeting - will have on the nonprofit community.

“Our goal with BFR is to be better stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars.  To get the highest return on investment for each dollar spent, we need to know what works for every program – and we need help.”  said John Kamis, Senior Advisor to the Governor, conveying the state’s vision and addressing the real challenges that lie ahead. He was joined by Senator Dan Kotowski, who shared his vision with the assembled group of a process that “takes the politics out of budgeting.  BFR represents historic change for Illinois that will require external partnership and support to aid with administrative and technical capacity given our ambitious timeframe.” 

While prioritizing funding for programs that can demonstrate effectiveness is a laudable goal, Layla Suleiman Gonzalez from the Illinois Department of Human Services reminded the group how much of a paradigm shift this is for Illinois. “DHS is committed to moving towards performance contracting, but we still have a ways to go.  Particularly in the human services field where results are not easily quantifiable, connecting funding to positive, demonstrable results is difficult.” 

But the difficulty of performance measurement offers an opportunity for foundations to enter the process. Gary VanLandingham, Director of the Results First project at The Pew Center on the States presented one way for foundations to help relieve some of the State’s burden.

“The foundation community is far ahead of government in results measurement,” he said. “For philanthropy, connecting funding to effectiveness is practically a no-brainer so it will be critical for foundations to lend their expertise and where possible, their financial support in that arena.”

Echoing VanLandingham, Tracie Hall from The Boeing Company urged the group to think creatively about how the foundation community and government could work together to “reduce administrative burdens on service providers by creating more seamless data collection and reporting systems.”

But John Bouman, from the Shriver Center, cautioned for discipline as these conversations continue.  He urged those gathered around the table to be mindful of the two very different areas where BFR will play out and address the unique issues each of those will demand on their own terms.  First, there is the decision making around agency allocations that will have very distinct winners and losers.  The other half of BFR will involve the evolving relationship between nonprofit service providers and the state agencies.  While related, Bouman suggested that these conversations should not be conflated.

 As BFR takes root in Illinois, the nonprofit and foundation community should be a part of the process.  Senator Heather Steans summarized these opportunities, which include:

  • Nonprofits can attend and weigh in at the public Budgeting for Results Commission meetings or the Human Services Commission public hearings;
  • Foundations can serve as a neutral bridge between state agencies and nonprofit service providers;
  • Foundations can provide assistance to the state through support for infrastructure and technical capacity;
  • Nonprofits and foundations can help spread the word.  Share insight and information with your own networks.

Moving forward with BFR, it is clear there are significant challenges in store but despite that, Donors Forum, with its nonprofit and foundation partners, will work with the state to inform a common strategy, communicate progress and challenges, and assist with leveraging available resources and expertise to ensure BFR works for Illinois.

Head over to the Donors Forum website for meeting notes and presentations from Senator Kotowksi and John Kamis.