Stacey Bersani
Middlesex County Office of Public Information

County, Non-Profits Explore Ways
to Meet Demand As Funds Dwindle

FEBRUARY 6, 2009 – The economic downturn being experienced nationwide has led to increased demand for all types of social services. At the same time, however, Federal and State funding for these services is decreasing as a result of budget cuts.

County officials and about 100 representatives from non-profit organizations met Wednesday morning to share strategies for effectively serving clients with fewer resources. Key issues discussed were improving communication and collaboration between agencies and the possibility of sharing services and cooperative purchasing, two areas in which the County has found success.

“I was very happy to see the turnout and interest of our providers,” said Freeholder Blanquita B. Valenti, chair of the Middlesex County Human Services Committee. “I believe they have to consider Shared Services in order to survive in this economy. We feel obliged as a County to bring the idea forward.”

Freeholder H. James Polos, who oversees the County’s Shared Services Department, listed a number of areas, including sharing back office operations and certain specialists, where non-profits could pool their resources and save money.

Dale Caldwell, senior managing director of the Government Strategy Group and former Deputy Commissioner of the State Department of Community Affairs, said private corporations have been sharing services for years: “It’s a normal course of business. It’s our turn to do that.”

Caldwell said another way for social service agencies to attract corporate funding is to provide job training to their clients: “If corporations see that you can make people valuable to them, they will give you money.”

Polos also said non-profit organizations also may want to form a coalition and begin ordering supplies as one unit, which could lead to lower prices for commodities.

He said such a coalition would not only cooperatively purchase items such as office and janitorial supplies, but also lobby state legislators to allow them to join governmental purchasing programs, such as the County’s, to get a bigger bang for their buck.  

Leslie Stivale, executive director of Triple C Housing, which provides affordable housing and support services, said in these lean times, her organization is focused on contingency planning, collaboration and communication between its board members, staff and funders.

“We are focused on creating efficiencies, assessing our organization, asking “How are we delivering services? How can we do it cheaper,” Stivale said.

She embraced the idea of forming a non-profit coalition that could explore pooled health insurance, back office operations and training. “We need to build a coalition. We need to move on it and move swiftly,” she said.

The Rev. Lisanne Finston, executive director of Elijah’s Promise, a soup kitchen and social services agency, agreed: “We have to see how we can build up the non-profit sector, how we can purchase services from one another, how we can support one another if we use a business model.”    

Freeholder Valenti said Wednesday’s forum was a first step in improving communication and collaboration between the County and its non-profit partners.

“We have to help our non-profit agencies survive,” said Freeholder Valenti. “They are the first line of defense in trying to help our citizens.”