Common Good Vermont’s extraordinary – and necessary – quest
By Liz DiMarco Weinmann
APRIL 12, 2023
Over the past three years Vermont has thrived as a national example of doing the right things for our most vulnerable populations, and it’s our state’s nonprofits that deserve much of the credit.
Combating such perils as food insecurity, inadequate shelter, domestic violence, and other threats many Vermonters experience on a daily basis are just a few of the services essential nonprofits provide. Yet, if they are forced to depend on existing funding sources for their survival, the very mission and vision of these essential nonprofits could be in peril.
This is according to Common Good Vermont, which recently launched an impassioned petition titled “Stop Shortchanging Vermonters,” asking organizations to sign a letter urging the State of Vermont to fund the full cost of Vermont’s nonprofit services.
Common Good Vermont, founded in 2008, is a statewide organization providing educational resources to increase the capacity of our nonprofits. These services include intensive training for staff at all levels, certification, and other career-related support, serving over 4500 nonprofits. The organization makes it possible for the nonprofit sector in Vermont to share resources, gain skills, and build partnerships that include meaningful collaboration with local, regional and state leaders.
According to Morgan Webster, Common Good’s executive director for the past six years, the organization’s mission is to “increase the leadership, accountability, sustainability and advocacy capacity of our fellow nonprofits and allies.”
Webster’s background includes marketing and fundraising stints at the Shelburne Museum, Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition and AmeriCorps Vista, as well as a Master’s focused on mission-driven management. She is an indisputable expert on how funding challenges affect nonprofits’ capacity to achieve outcomes and deliver impact.
An unwavering champion for the staff, volunteers, donors and other advocates that serve and care about nonprofits, as well as for the populations nonprofits serve, Morgan Webster is a realist but is dogged about pursuing solutions.
The following are questions I posed to Webster, and her perspectives regarding what led Common Good Vermont to launch this petition for support at this time. Webster cited the challenges all Vermonters face if our nonprofits fail due to insufficient funding. In addition, she provided information about how Vermonters who care about our most vulnerable residents, can become allies and advocates for the causes that serve them.
What is driving Common Good’s petition to increase support from the state for nonprofits now?
“The pandemic and economic pressures have aggravated existing challenges for nonprofits, as organizations struggle to retain and recruit workers, keep up with rising costs, and meet increased demand for services,” Webster said.
To be sure, nonprofits in other states also experience these challenges. As Webster noted, “We sit on a national committee of nonprofit associations across the US and these concerns are widespread. However, Vermont has the second most nonprofits per capita in the country, and our state increasingly depends on nonprofits to fulfill critical services statewide.”
What are the most pressing threats to Vermonters overall if essential nonprofit organizations cannot continue their services?
Webster explained that when a service is discontinued due to loss of funding or level-funding from contracts and grants, the loss will be felt the most by our most vulnerable community members.
“Communities may see a rise in homelessness, drug use, and even crime,” Webster stated. She pointed out that the entire community benefits when nonprofits have sufficient support to address these crucial community needs.
What other challenges does underfunding create for the nonprofits themselves?
“Underfunding increases nonprofits’ struggles to offer competitive compensation,” Webster indicated. “This disparity in pay makes it difficult for nonprofits to recruit and retain skilled employees for what are often demanding positions. They deserve compensation that reflects the value they contribute through their work,” she added.
“Navigating complex processes and requirements of contracts, as well as having to fundraise, takes away from the resources organizations can put towards services,” Webster emphasized.
Webster cited long-range planning as another critical area of need for nonprofit organizations. As is the case with many nonprofits across the US, uncertainty around funding also compromises the quality of organizations’ services, forcing them to focus on short-term activities.
What are the most important benefits to all Vermonters if there is full state support of nonprofit services?
“Government-nonprofit partnerships that provide nonprofits with the resources they need to implement government policies, programs and services for the public’s benefit will ultimately lead to better outcomes,” said Webster. “By funding the full cost of services, we ensure that community needs are met, that organizations are supported in their work, and quality jobs are created.”
What steps can Vermonters take to help nonprofits secure sufficient funding to achieve their mission and vision and run effective enterprises?
“First, we hope organizations and those that support them will sign the letter on our website, https://commongoodvt.org/, calling on the government to fund the full cost of eligible nonprofits,” urged Webster. (Here is a link to the sign-on letter.)
Webster also urged organizations and those that support them to read the full Report by Common Good, regarding government grants and contracts.
Given the past three years that our state has been a national example of doing the right things for our most vulnerable populations, it’s almost impossible to imagine how such work could go on without the dedication of our nonprofits.
Webster sums it up succinctly: “Vermonters deserve better,” she said. “Building awareness, convening local conversations, and building relationships with decision-makers are all ways that Vermonters can help nonprofits and those they serve.”
Liz DiMarco Weinmann, MBA, is Principal and Owner of Liz DiMarco Weinmann Consulting, L3C, based in Rutland, serving charitable and educational institutions. lizdimarcoweinmann.com.