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Nonprofits and the Federal Government Working Together

Nonprofit membership organizations have or have access to tremendous intellectual capital, dedicated members willing to donate services and credibility with the media and the public. These assets can be tapped by government agencies and leveraged through cooperative agreements. Cooperative agreements are a source of funds for nonprofits that also benefit the government because the funding in a cooperative agreement buys more than funds channeled through a bidding and contracting process. The following are some examples.


Training Agency Personnel

While training for agency personnel has been threatened with new restrictions on attending conferences, not all training needs to happen in Vegas. In fact some of it can happen right in the agency. In one example, the National Association of Housing Cooperatives provided training to five regional U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offices on exercising supervision of co-ops with federally insured mortgages.

In another case, the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), a professional society of government employees, academics and technical consultants, provided regional training workshops to USDA personnel and academic researchers on the Revised Universal Soil Loss Equation developed by the Agricultural Research Service.


Figuring Out What Is Important

The Entomological Society of America received funds from USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to develop a list of the “Dirty Dozen” invasive insects, why they were a danger and what steps the public can take to stop their spread.

The Soil and Water Conservation Society assisted the Agricultural Research Service in developing priority topics for its research agenda. The Soil and Water Conservation Society convened a half day meeting of its members who had achieved fellow status, put them in small groups and charged them with developing recommendations and rationales. In anticipation of the 1995 Farm Bill, SWCS worked with the Natural Resources Conservation Service of USDA to convene multiple “listening sessions” and public meetings to get local producer input into what was working and not working with conservation programs.


Getting Around Red Tape

After Veterans Affairs, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and HUD spent three years brainstorming common policies for condo loans, they were faced with the question of how to create a form to gather needed underwriting information. It seemed almost certain that each agency would have to create its own form, which would be a time-consuming effort and lead to non-uniformity and extra effort for lenders. The Community Associations Institute (CAI), a trade association for condos, offered to create CAI Form 100, to which each agency could refer applicants and avoid the specter of four forms for one transaction.

In another situation, long-term contracts between the government and farmers under the Conservation Reserve Program, a federal program that compensated farmers for not farming highly erodible land, were coming up for renewal. The Natural Resources Conservation Service wanted insight into what might happen. Would farmers renew or would they plow up fragile land? The private sector would consider that basic market research, but government agencies are not allowed to spend money on marketing. So SWCS and a subcontractor leveraged federal funds with foundation funds and conducted a questionnaire asking farmers what their plans were. The published findings were useful to the entire agricultural and conservation community.


Reaching the Public

While the Consumer Information Service has distributed millions of booklets, many Americans do not know of its existence and look elsewhere for consumer information. Consumers look to nonprofits for information, and nonprofits have distribution channels. When condos were just starting to be popular, the Department of Veterans Affairs saw a need to educate veterans on what to look for and what to watch out for in condos. With VA funds, the Community Associations Institute developed a pocket size booklet for first time buyers.

Not all ideas get to fruition, but one that may inspire others is the State Department’s efforts in international child custody cases. In violation of a U.S. court custody decree, a noncustodial parent sometimes takes a child to another country where it can be difficult to access the court system. The State Department thought having a master list of family mediators who were certified as having experience in international custody law and processes would be of benefit to citizens who were often faced with a choice between handling the situation themselves or hiring an expensive legal team. The Association for Conflict Resolution, a professional society of mediators and arbitrators, showed interest in developing a master list, but the conversation never reached a decision point.

A great success in reaching the public was 1-800-The-Soil. The Soil and Water Conservation Society had the number, but was not actively using it. The Natural Resource Conservation Service of USDA wanted to use the number for volunteer recruiting. So, they developed a national television advertisement program to promote the number, and SWCS staff answered the phones, referring thousands of clerical, outdoor education and engineering volunteers to local NRCS offices around the country.


Getting It Right

Not all efforts in cooperation need to cost money. When the condo boom was causing questions at the local level, CAI cooperated with the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Affairs to develop a report for local governments about what these new housing forms were all about, and what were appropriate and inappropriate ways to regulate them and work with them.

Almost any professional society can help its members and the public by working with the Labor Department on the Occupational Handbook entry on its members’ daily work and job expectations. And any trade association can work with the Commerce Department in reporting industrial data.


The era of doing more with less is not ending soon. By partnering with nonprofits, government agencies can leverage funds and stretch resources.


Author: Doug Kleine, an ASPA member for 40 years, had a career that encompassed six years with two federal agencies and 34 years with five trade and professional associations. He can be reached at [email protected]


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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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