As budgets shrink, governments are increasing pressure on non-profit organizations to help with the work load. At the same time, those governments are making it harder for those organizations to operate effectively.
"There has been top national leadership support for voluntarism, but at the same time a clamp-down. There's a balance in the relationship between government and philanthropy. And there's tension between the two," said Mark Rosenman, founding director of the Center for Public Policy in Washington, D.C. Rosenman was the guest speaker at a Utah Nonprofits Association meeting Friday.For instance, the government slashed the budget for critical-needs housing for the homeless by 70 percent in the past decade, Rosenman said, while encouraging non-profit agencies to come up with that difference.
One hundred years ago, Rosenman said, "we understood the condition of each of us was tied to that of all of us; that our health as a community depended on our helping one another, from barn raising to the birthing of a child. . . . We now disagree on defining the exact terms of the social contract. What is minimum care for those of greater need?
"We've seen a retreat from responsibility. As a whole, the federal government is paying decreased attention to human needs. There's a shift in priorities that began under President Reagan and a decreased amount of money to fund human needs. There has been some small growth in individual philanthropy that has kept pace with inflation. But it cannot make up for cuts in government funding."
The richest 10 percent of Americans pay $96 billion less in taxes than they did 12 years ago. Those with lower incomes pay more. Overall, the national economy has lost about $67 billion in tax revenues.
"The argument has been that the money, which is being left in the private sector, will spur economic development. In reality, it hasn't. We find a decrease in the actual jobs that pay enough for people to live on. If you have a two-parent family of four where both adults work full time for minimum wage, that family lives below the poverty line," he said.
To survive, non-profit organizations need to form coalitions, like the Utah Nonprofits Association. Rosenman suggested that by banding together, they can form self-insured health trusts and use bulk purchasing opportunities, they can help individual non-profit organizations understand their relationship to other agencies more clearly and they can increase public understanding of the various agencies' goals.
Non-profit organization have "great vitality, commitment and creativity. Their resilience is staggering." Their weakness is the "need for non-profit organizations to compete with for-profit organizations for money because of moves by the federal government to transfer support for social programs from them to individuals."
Rosenman expects to see increasing tensions between non-profit organizations and businesses in the future as each tries to find its place and garner funds.