Collaboration Over Competition for Alexandria Nonprofits

Collaboration Over Competition for Alexandria Nonprofits

Alexandria non-profit organizations unite for city budgeting.

As Alexandria’s nonprofits prepare for the March 3 release of the County Manager’s proposed budget, things are going a little differently this year. While in the past Alexandria’s non-profits have lobbied separately for their share of the City Council funding, this year the major non-profit organizations in the city have met in a series of meetings to present a unified message to the council.

“We’ve been organizing non-profit development housing and human services providers to come around the budget season and evaluate the needs in the community,” said Michelle Krocker, executive director for the Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, “[We look at] what is being proposed in the budget and comment on it, either to thank City Council or to make recommendations for further funding.”

According to Debra Collins, deputy city manager, the process was a bit more chaotic in years past. The non-profits were divided and the pool of funding was broken up based on the types of services offered by the non-profits. Some funding would go to housing groups, some funding would go to organizations that provided food. But the reality of the non-profit world is that the responsibilities of these groups aren’t as cleanly divided, and when the non-profits were pitted against each other to compete for funding, they all lost.

“Last year, [then City Manager] Rashad Young told us that if we wanted to have any kind of impact, we couldn’t come in while the cake was in the oven,” said the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Smoot, executive director of the Northern Virginia branch of Habitat for Humanity. “So the strategy for this budget cycle is to talk over what we see as needs and priorities that we put together as a formal letter to the council in March. Then what we would do is seek to make individual appointments, a couple of us going together to each council member, to get their ideas and feedback to help us work together [with the council].”

Over the years, Krocker says Alexandria’s non-profit organizations have seen their work transition from independent organizations in competition to a more collaborative ecosystem, and the new approach at funding is an attempt at representing that.

“Rather than everyone performing the same activity, [the non-profits] organize themselves into activities that are complementary,” said Krocker. “There are two major homeless shelters in the city, but one focuses more on families and the other focuses on individuals. These are very different needs. ALIVE has a very robust food program and food delivery, they deliver to some of the people that live in affordable housing that non-profit developers build.”

The unofficial coalition’s membership includes the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, Healthy Alexandria, Bridges to Independence, ALIVE!, Carpenter Shelter, New Hope Housing, Friends of Guest House, Community Lodging, Rebuilding Together Alexandria, and Habitat for Humanity.

Last year, the city approved over $2 million in grants. According to Collins, the funding to non-profits has an extraordinarily high return of investment and minimizes the cost to the city for human services. According to the Alexandria Nonprofit Impact Report, Alexandria is the fourth largest location in Virginia in amount of revenue generated by non-profits and in expenditures.


photo contributed

The key message for the 2016 fiscal year seems to be asking City Council to hold the line on funding to nonprofits.

“It’s a tough environment because the city has very little money,” said Smoot. “It’s a constrained budget year. Everybody wants a big piece of that, whether its schools or infrastructure or the 10-year plan for capital improvements. It’s all really expensive stuff, and the council has a difficult job with decreasing commercial revenue.”

In addition to funding, the coalition is asking the City Council to take further steps towards strategic land use redevelopment. According to Carol Jackson, director of the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation, there are several empty parcels of land owned by the city that the nonprofits hope to convert into affordable housing. One parcel, originally under contract to the Community Services Board, had been used as a group home for clients before that department lost funding and had to discontinue use of the site. The lot has been vacant since and the coalition will be asking City Council to allow a non-profit to begin using the site as a group home again. Smoot also said he hoped the city would consider relaxing zoning in certain housing areas to increase density to create more affordable housing space.

On the city side of this change, the city manager’s office is currently in the process of updating the 2008 Needs Assessment of the Alexandria Human Services System. The Alexandria Fund for Human Services (AFHS), a program under Community and Human Services, has also moved towards providing grants on a three-year cycle rather than annually. According to Collins, the AFHS will also specifically target non-profits that emphasize collaboration with other groups.

“As a human service provider, the fact that the city may change what used to be the community partnership fund to the human service fund, a multi-year grant, that’s something we’ve been arguing for,” said Michael O’Rourke, director of Bridges to Independence, formerly the Arlington-Alexandria Coalition for the Homeless. “Our clients sometime span years, so to make it a multiple-year grant: we think that’s the way to go and we’re happy about that.”