Nonprofits unite over common funds

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With $1,937,357,000 in cuts looming in Gov. Tom Corbett’s 2011-2012 budget proposal, Pittsburgh’s nonprofits might soon find themselves fighting over the same small pot.

At the first session in the Pennsylvania Budgetwatch Series, approximately 500 representatives from across the city and Allegheny County were present to hear how their organizations would be impacted by the cuts and what they could do to fight for their piece of the remaining pie.

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BOB NELKIN (Photos by J.L. Martello)

“We, as nonprofit leaders, need a plan to rebalance the budget equation to support critical programs that will be at risk with budget cuts. One of the goals of the series is to help nonprofit leaders learn to more effectively describe the benefits of their services to the public and policy makers,” said United Way President and CEO Bob Nelkin. “While there will certainly be cuts because of reduced tax revenue, we need to help state officials identify, sustain and build upon effective prevention programs that both help people in need and also save taxpayer dollars overtime.”

The United Way of Allegheny County, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership, The Forbes Funds and Dewey & Kaye are sponsoring the series. The first session featured speakers Chuck Kolling, a lobbyist and government relations professional for Buchanan Ingersoll and Rooney PC, and Karen Snider, a former secretary of public welfare.

“All of us who are service providers need to have a full understanding of what’s proposed in the budget,” said Dara Ware Allen, executive director of YouthWorks Inc. and district 2 school board representative. “There are more unknowns in what we do in non-profits.”

While the session outlined how increases and reductions in the budget would impact individual programs, several of the speakers and those in the audience, focused on the largest cut in the budget, a 53 percent decrease in funding to the state system of higher education.

“There will be a major push by higher education including the four state related institutions: Penn State, Pitt, Temple and Lincoln as well as the State System of Higher Education schools and school districts across the state to try to have their state funding partially restored,” said Kolling.

Although some non-profit representatives worried cuts in education would overshadow their own cuts, many agreed it was important for every organization to unite to advocate on behalf of nonprofits as a whole.

“I don’t like to divide the sector. I hope what folks walk out with today is that we have to speak with a unified voice,” said Kevin Jenkins, director of community initiatives for the Pittsburgh Foundation. “While it’s a little anxiety provoking, it is a proposed budget.”

The speakers urged the audience to take immediate action by reaching out to legislative leaders who will most likely be members of the joint Senate/House Budget Conference Committee tasked with ensuring the budget is passed on time. They include state Sens. Dominic Pileggi, Jake Corman and Vince Hughes; and State Representatives Mike Turzai, William Adolph and Joe Markosek.

“I represent so many things. I’m an education advocate and a government advocate. I’m an advocate of citizens being well informed of what’s going on before it happens,” said Tracy Baulding, a consultant at Integrated Resource Solutions Consulting. “I’m really concerned about how this is going to affect our community. Listen to how it actually affects your resources and talk to your legislators.”

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