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DC One City Fund Makes Its Entrance

Yesterday, DC Mayor Vincent Gray held a briefing at the Wilson Building about the One City Fund, a new initiative led by the DC Mayor’s Office, in partnership with many key nonprofit sector actors in the Washington area. The One City Fund is a new nonprofit funding mechanism in the FY2014 budget, and the briefing introduced the fund to the general public and nonprofit community. The current proposal makes available $15 million for nonprofits serving DC residents, through a competitive application process facilitated by the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region. The Fund will stand independent from government funding through other city departments, and aims to eliminate and replace earmarked nonprofit funding. (An important caveat: all information on the Fund is still preliminary, as the DC City Council has yet to approve it.)

Funding priorities for the One City Fund align with key goals of the DC One City Action Plan: growing and diversifying the DC economy; educating and preparing residents for the emerging new economy; improving the quality of life for DC residents; and increasing the city’s sustainability. Aside from these goals, priority funding areas for the Fund will include education, job training, homelessness, health, services for seniors, arts, public safety, and the environment. Obviously, most nonprofits in the District will meet those criteria in the broad sense, so keep this in mind too — Mayor Gray emphasized throughout the briefing that the application and selection process will prioritize innovation and new investments that will eventually become self-sustaining. Each grant cannot exceed $100,000 per year, though some projects may be renewed for up to three years.

What nonprofits need to know: The application requirements are still very preliminary, so expect more details over the summer (assuming that all goes to plan). The main take-away for potential applicants at this point is that the DC Government is looking for new nonprofit partners for government funding, and wants to help spark the innovation that will start to move the needle on key issue areas in the city. One other requirement – all funding must serve DC residents. Nonprofits operating in Maryland and/or Virginia as well as Washington must show through their proposals how any One City Fund monies will exclusively serve DC residents.

A comforting note for the smaller nonprofits in the Catalogue community: many questions were asked pertaining to the unique characteristics of small nonprofits during the briefing. The answers given by Mayor Gray and CFNCR President Terri Lee Freeman indicate that the application process will be flexible enough to accommodate smaller nonprofits (like those in the Catalogue), who do great work, have the potential to innovate, and can make a deep impact on their communities in DC.

For the community at large, the potential benefits of the One City Fund are substantial. The Mayor reiterated that an open, transparent, and competitive grant-making process is a step in the right direction for DC Government, and will allow more nonprofits to be part of that process. While, again, the Fund itself is in the planning stages, both Mayor Gray and Freeman spoke of several potential methods for using the grants to increase community knowledge and awareness of best practices in nonprofit work. This could include presentations by grantees on their work throughout the grant process; other collaboration/networking opportunities for grantees within the priority areas; and evaluations of the fund itself and its progress on moving the needle for areas like unemployment, workforce development, graduation rates, and environmental protection.

Next steps for those interested in One City Fund grants: On Thursday April 18th, the Committee of the Whole will hold a hearing on the One City Fund at the Wilson Building. Members of the nonprofit committee are encouraged to sign up to testify on behalf of the fund. More information will likely be made available by the Mayor’s Office and the Community Foundation after the One City Fund receives the green-light from the City Council – keep an eye on their websites over the summer for details on how and when to apply.

Taking A Lead

From “In Favour of Philanthropy” by Tony Blair in today’s Huffington Post:

In the USA, the philanthropic sector is most advanced. At roughly $290 billion per year it is several times the size of the US Aid budget. 11 new foundations and over 100 non-profits are created every day. Even in the UK the amount given is bigger than many departmental budgets; and in Asia and the Middle East there is a huge growth in the sector which though still way behind the US, now runs into billions of dollars every year.

The work these philanthropic institutions do is crucial precisely because of the limits of government. They can’t and shouldn’t substitute for things only government can do. But that still leaves a pretty big range of activity and though only government or legislatures can pass laws, one huge lesson we’re learning from governments around the world is that the private and philanthropic sectors or partnerships between them and government, are often more efficient ways to get government programmes done.

This is because the best philanthropy is not just about giving money but giving leadership. The best philanthropists are those who bring the talents that made them successful into their charitable work. Those talents — determination, drive, refusal to accept the conventional ways of doing things — are just what some of the world’s problems need.

An interesting (and far-reaching) question for today: where does the public sector end and the private one begin, and vice versa? Nonprofits, both global and local, can be so vital to our communities because they can act in fast and direct response to what is happening that hour, that day. Government often does not have that capacity. But in an ideal world, would it? Would you like to see a closer relationship between the sectors or a more distinct one? And what are they ways that that relationship could deepen and improve?

Quotes for the Day

From Mayor Vincent Gray’s State of the District address:

Picture with me a Washington where the government is lean and efficient — the kind that supports businesses, places of worship, schools, and non-profits; envision a government that makes every tax dollar go as far as it possibly can. It’s a government in which public servants recognize the value of the trust bestowed upon them and carry out their responsibilities with humility, dedication and pride.

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