How I plan to help non-profits as a Leon County Commissioner

Recently I was asked by the Institute for Non-profit Innovation and Excellence(INIE) to participate in a candidate questionnaire focussed on the non-profit sector in Leon County. As someone who has both run and worked closely with non-profits throughout my career, I was glad to have the opportunity to share some thoughts about this critical sector in our community. We are blessed to have such a robust network of non-profit organizations in Leon County and I’m proud to share my thoughts about how we can strengthen this important part of the local economy.

Below are the questions asked of me by the INIE team and my accompanying answers.

Please describe how you have been personally involved in, supported or been affected by the nonprofit sector:

I have been involved both in personally supporting various non-profit organizations with financial and time (sweat equity) commitments and through my professional work as Executive Director for the John Scott Dailey Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University (IOG).  Through the IOG, we provide the professional staffing and management of three 501 c(6) nonprofit organizations devoted to improving the quality of life and economic growth and sustainability of residents and communities in over 30 counties (and the numerous municipalities within these counties) in Northwest and North Central Florida.  These organizations include the North Florida Economic Development Partnership (NFEDP), the Northwest Florida League of Cities (NWFLC), and the Suwannee River League of Cities (SRLC). Each of the three organizations is a public/private entity that is supported by private sector entities, public sector entities, federal, state, local and private granting sources, and service fees for special programs and events.   I have served as the Executive Director for each of the organizations over the past 10 years (NFEDP), 15 years (NWFLC) and 10 years (SRLC).  The IOG, under my leadership, serves as the administrative and support staff for each of the three Boards of Directors, serves as the fiduciary agent for each of the three organizations, provides technical assistance and professional development services, develops and maintains website and social media presences, organizes and coordinates advocacy efforts, and provides scholarships for members and partners for each of the organizations.

Since 2009, the NFEDP has been responsible for securing nearly $200 million in private capacity investment, nearly $60 million in infrastructure funds, and provided over 152 Scholarships for member partners totaling over $124,000.  We have also been directly/indirectly responsible for generating/retaining nearly 1,000 private-sector jobs in this 14-county rural region, covering 9,100 square miles.

Personally, our family has consistently contributed financially through our church and other faith-based organizations, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, Veterans organizations, TMH Foundation, Goodwill Industries and Salvation Army, OASIS, and many other tremendous services, nonprofit organizations.  My family and I have also provided sweat equity in a number of community projects including mentoring in Title I schools, Habitat for Humanity, Thanksgiving Feeding of the Homeless, and Hurricane Relief efforts, among others.

How do you plan to ensure that the nonprofit sector has a voice in the decisions being made in the commission?

Structural mechanisms, whether that be by formal appointments to County (or Joint City/County) advisory boards, Commissioners and Executive staff serving on nonprofit Boards (where appropriate and legal), or other formal mechanisms for providing tangible, fact-based input should be advanced.  Nonprofit organizations provide critical services and support in our community and are a significant part of our local and regional economy through revenue generation, leveraging organizational/agency funds to secure additional federal, state, local and private foundation funding, and ultimately in providing a robust sector for jobs. 

How would you use the nonprofit sector to advance the vitality of our community?

My experience with the NFEDP in recruiting business and industry, in seeking to retain companies that may be considering relocating, and to effectively brand a local community or region has been to highlight those agencies and organizations critical to the fabric and support of the community.  In some cases, these may be service organizations critical to supporting vulnerable populations (health, education, social, civic, recreational, etc.), unique and visionary leaders within these organizations, and robust accomplishments and innovative approaches to various issues (e.g., entrepreneurial spirit).

What suggestions do you have to improve the financial deficit that exists among nonprofits to serve the needs of our community?

It seems likely that we will continue to see a shrinking of governmental/public sector support for nonprofits at the state and national levels.  While this not great news, my experience has shown me (through the nonprofits we staff and manage) that corporate support programs, services for fees, aggressive identification and pursuit of federal, state, local and private foundation funding, have become the cornerstone for organizations.  Our organizational budgets have actually grown in the face of declining governmental and public sector support.  More than anything, I believe if organizations and their mission/services truly deliver a demonstrated value, can demonstrably show results (e.g., tangible metrics), has accountability built in to foster trust and transparency, and has the leadership drive and vision, they can be successful.  In the age we are in currently it will certainly demand collaboration with partner agencies and leveraging limited resources to gain greater value.

If our community is concerned about retaining and attracting talent, how would you encourage government leaders to assist in growing the workforce in the social sector?

One of the most important responsibilities of our local government is to enable and facilitate the development of a robust, diverse and balanced economy. The aim of these efforts should be to create an environment that consistently develops the skills of our workforce talent and produces access to jobs with high wages and viable career paths for all of our citizens—including those within the nonprofit sector. Our efforts need to look long-term toward the needs of our youth and young adults but also at those adults seeking a second or alternative career.  Strategically growing a balanced local and regional economy should be a top priority for every leader in our community.

To round out my thoughts on the local non-profit sector, I’ll add that what always amazes me about our strong and critical service providers in Leon County is how impassioned and dedicated the staff are. Those who choose to work on the front lines of combatting the difficult realities in our world are truly heroes. Leon County is fortunate to have so many people fighting these good fights and if elected to the county commission I plan on being an ardent supporter of the work being done by non-profits and the great people who make a difference within them.