With dollars for social services shrinking, coordination among the public and private giving sectors has become critical.

If we think of the $5 billion state budget as an apple, what grantmaking organizations give to charitable causes would be about the size of its stem, at $65 million.

So while it’s often said that, if government takes a bite out of funding for social services like education and healthcare, philanthropy will flow in to fill the gap, it simply can’t, says Paul Daugherty, president and CEO of Philanthropy West Virginia. Representing 80 grantmaking organizations across the state, the group is the statewide leadership association growing the philanthropic sector and ensuring the effectiveness of its investments.

Social services are needed most during tough economic times—yet governments tend to respond by rolling back funding. At the same time, corporate and individual giving to nonprofits and grantmaking organizations shrinks, too. If the funding sectors don’t act together strategically, important needs like child services, nutrition for the needy, and elder care go unmet.

“During lean years, government needs to engage in dialog with philanthropy and nonprofits to determine how to partner,” Daugherty says. “In a state like West Virginia, we can’t just cut back—we have to look at ways to leverage each other’s investments.”

To facilitate communication and coordination, Philanthropy West Virginia is spearheading the formation of an Impact Commission that will convene participants twice a year from the nonprofit sector, philanthropy, the secretary of state’s office, and members of the Legislature on both the minority and majority sides.

Itemized giving by individuals in West Virginia peaked in 2009 at $515 million and had only rebounded to $496 million by 2014, the most recent data available. “We have to ensure that the great American value of charitable giving from citizens and companies is accessible to all and permanently ensures that our citizens and businesses can invest in local communities,” Daugherty says. “West Virginia immensely needs it now.”

What would strengthen philanthropy’s contribution to the social service safety net in West Virginia?

Better data and awareness of how all all four sectors—government, business, philanthropy, and nonprofits—operate. We release our State of Philanthropy report annually to show what itemized charitable giving by individuals looks like each year. We’re trying to get more data around annual grantmaking.

Better communication about needs and opportunities could help maximize the value of investments. A few of our member organizations are working on the opioid crisis, for example. They don’t have the resources to build treatment facilities. But can they contribute together to a grant writer to put a proposal together? Or can they put matching dollars down to leverage a state or federal grant? If you combine local giving with private giving with state and federal grants, a well-orchestrated project can take place.

Any community, region, or state is strongest when all four sectors are investing in a coordinated way. Each sector leveraging the others results in greater impact and staying power. In a prime example of effective coordination, all of the sectors came to the table during the tragedies of the 2016 floods to look together at ways to rebuild neighborhoods. Whether we’re addressing economic revitalization, health issues, or education, a consistent focus around building partnerships across all four sectors, specifically including the general public in philanthropy, results in better coordination and permanency. The Impact Commission we’re forming now will help.

interviewed by PAM KASEY

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