Why ignore efficiency, effectiveness in funding charities?
Written by Michael Lewis on October 10, 2017
It’s hard for charities to win county aid, but once they get it, they get it forever.
That’s true no matter how effective or ineffective a group is, or how its services meet actual local needs. What’s in place stays in place.
For more than a decade a roster of impressive charities – which the county terms community-based organizations – have tried in vain to enter the ranks of groups that get Miami-Dade budget funds. The same groups always divide the money, year after year.
The funds are meaningful: $15.445 million for the year that began Oct. 1 for charities that do vital jobs that the county itself can’t get done.
Each organization has backers on the commission. Choices of who wins and who loses are thus very political.
But for more than a decade the county hadn’t held a competition for the funds. The list was always the same, based on who knows and likes whom. Effectiveness and need would have been far better yardsticks.
Finally this year the administration, at the request of the commission, finished a formal year-long competition for the charity funds. County officials whittled a list of more than 250 groups that applied down to the top 70.
But that rational effort fell apart in March when commissioners refused to remove from the recipient list any charities that hadn’t measured up to criteria of effectiveness, even though a group of new applicants rated far higher in impartial county reviews.
Commissioners were caught between a rock and a hard place: how could they take in new groups that had passed county reviews with flying colors – groups that also had backers sitting on the commission – without kicking out long-standing recipients who had been found less effective users of the funds or less able to fill major needs?
The commission turned to administrators for cover on how to divide the same pie in various ways without leaving any current recipients without funds. The budget office offered three scenarios, dividing funds among charities now being funded that are doing the job well, newly recommended charities, and charities currently being funded that didn’t measure up. The percentages of the pie that each group got differed in each scenario.
Obviously, the same pie divided among more groups yielded to none of the old ones what they used to get or to newly funded charities what the administration had recommended.
In the political process, commissioners also gave all charities that weren’t doing the job 75% of their old funding – the other options from the administration would have given them only 50%.
But why fund inefficiency at all? The county found that these long-time recipients didn’t measure up to others, and more than 100 additional applicants were left out entirely. Why did non-performing groups stay on the dole when it meant that all recommended charities got only 80% of their suggested aid so that those not recommended could each get 75% of their old county funding?
In business, that doesn’t make sense. Suppliers who do best at the best price win. Others don’t get a penny until they show better service results.
Why, taxpayers should ask, is a big chunk of their $15 million going to ineffective suppliers when effective groups were cut by 20% of what a study found they required for needed work that’s efficient?
Virtually all the groups that weren’t recommended had been on the county’s payroll for more than a decade not measuring up. Is keeping them there at 75% of what they used to get suddenly going to make them more efficient?
Further, why hold a funding competition if it makes almost no difference to how money will be spent?
Commissioners must have a reason for ignoring a fair competition and continuing to fund inefficient organizations with your taxes. If you ask them, I’m sure they’ll tell you that they think it’s the wrong approach.
So why did they vote 10-1 to use charity money ineffectively? Just ask.