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Front Page » Top Stories » Executives For Nonprofits Businesses See Benefit From Joint Thrust

Executives For Nonprofits Businesses See Benefit From Joint Thrust

Written by on January 24, 2002

By Jaime Levy
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As businesses and nonprofits see traditionally separate goals coalescing, the two sectors are forming a not-so-odd couple on several fronts.

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce less than a year ago created a committee addressing nonprofits. The Alliance for Human Services last week elected a bank president to head its board. And the Human Services Coalition one week ago held a summit on striving for common prosperity by linking businesses and social service providers.

"We wouldn’t have had a meeting like this a few years ago," said Daniella Levine, executive director of the Human Services Coalition. "But we recognized we don’t have adequate influence on our own to get policies to change. We have to form new alliances, to find common ground with the business sector."

The business sector, too, is finding benefits in working with local not-for-profits, said Calixto Garcia-Velez, president of Citibank Florida and newly elected president of the Alliance for Human Services board. The nonprofit focuses on developing a health and social services master plan for Miami-Dade County.

"As we look to recruit companies or expand them, or to get people to stay here or vacation here or live here, we need to ensure not just a select few, but the entire community is a healthy, vibrant place where people want to come," he said. "If there are circumstances, be it that the economy or health deteriorates, that really deteriorates the foundation of our community.

"Growth in the business community is closely linked to the overall welfare of the general population. But the link is not clear. We need to make that link visible."

Esther Castiglia, president of the Human Services Coalition board, cited instances in which human services can either attract or repel businesses from coming to or staying in Miami-Dade County. Serving as a voice on health and human service issues, she said the coalition tries to improve the economic opportunities, education, medical care and other services for the county’s children, senior citizens and disadvantaged residents.

"From a business side, the business community realizes that we need to get students better educated with higher skills so we don’t have to bring workers in from other states or other countries," said Ms. Castiglia, who works for the forensic accounting firm Lewis B. Freeman & Associates. "When the school system is not positive, they don’t want to bring their children to South Florida. When the public safety or health issue isn’t addressed, they’re not going to move to South Florida. Rather, they’ll move to other states."

Aside from the chamber’s creation of a committee, many business leaders and social service providers said they have seen the shift in mindset intensify in the post-Sept. 11 recession. As many newly unemployed workers sought help from local nonprofits, the state government was cutting funds to groups to meet a budget and donations from cash-strapped businesses tapered off.

The leaders of the public-private economic generation and recovery task force, created by Miami-Dade County and the chamber just after the terrorist attacks, said they noticed a need for a relationship and designated a subcommittee to address the needs of dislocated workers and the groups catering to them.

"The social services community is only just beginning to see itself in terms of its role in the larger economy," said Alexandria Douglas, executive director of the Alliance for Human Services. "When the chamber launched the economic recovery task force, there was a real heightened awareness about layoffs producing a ripple effect through the economy. As people were dislocated, they would need a strong health and human services community to respond to the demand."

The nature of Miami-Dade’s economy – a large collection of small businesses instead of a handful of huge employers – meant that the newly unemployed could not look to a corporate powerhouse to provide support services, said Gene Gutierrez, co-chair of the chamber’s nonprofit group.

"It’s not a post-World War II profile that a big company is there to help," said Mr. Gutierrez, head of The Gutierrez Group, a printing company. "In this town, the Southeast banks and Knight-Ridder and Burger King used to, but where are they all going? We don’t have a post-World War II model because the world is changing, and therefore we need to collaborate."

In fact, Mr. Gutierrez said, his committee is working on collecting information to demonstrate how much economic impact the area’s nonprofits have.

"What we originally wanted to be able to do is say, it’s a big sector. It’s a lot of money. We started to do this so people would take not-for-profits more seriously. But they’re already taking it seriously," he said. "Not-for-profits have been the stepchild in the background and nobody really gave them the credibility they were due. It’s about time we come to the table as a peer, not some second-class stepbrother in the background."

And just as business leaders are starting to view nonprofits differently, social service providers are beginning to take plays from corporate books.

"We need on the health and human services side the expertise of business to make sure the dollars are used as efficiently as possible," Ms. Douglas said. "We’re moving toward being outcome-based – being smart financially and being able to demonstrate or measure the outcome. I don’t know how well we’ve been able to do that in the past."

The alliance is starting to look at economic development in the form of job creation, she said, as a way to elevate Miami-Dade’s poorer communities.

"If something is happening to business, it’s happening on the social service side. There’s a tremendous synergy," she said. "To some degree, there’s a relationship we could try to measure, that strong health and human services are really good for the economy. And when the economy is challenging, we need a strong health and human services sector to respond to the issues."Details: Human Services Coalition, (305) 576-5001.