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Public? Private? All Hail the Power of Collaboration!

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Robert Brescia
September 6, 2019

It’s well-known that non-governmental organizations (NGO) are a huge feature of our American social landscape. Although they are private, they often complement the efforts of public organizations and institutions. When I use the term “NGO,” I refer to nonprofit, private organizations at the national level and that also have a structure throughout the states and local communities. Americans sometimes wonder about the way these large organizations are funded and, in some cases, whether they are quasi-government entities. Therefore, this article contains descriptive examples of three such organizations and makes the point that public collaboration with them can be a very powerful tool to achieve common public-private goals.

Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) – and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS)

CPB says that it is a private organization, “Funded by the American people.” That is true because taxpayer dollars are appropriated by Congress to partially fund its operations. Since 1967, CPB has been the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting. The approximate annual cost per American for public media is currently $1.35. Almost half the public television and radio grantees are considered rural and nearly every American has access to this broadcast content. CPB uses content produced by PBS. PBS is #1 in public trust, provides digital resources for teachers, ranks #6 among all cable and broadcast networks, and bills itself as, “America’s Largest Classroom, the Nation’s Largest Stage and a Trusted Window to the World.” Americans can receive its programming several different ways, all the way down to using a simple TV antenna. PBS reaches 93% of non-internet homes, 85% of lower-income homes, and 82% of rural homes. In short, it doesn’t tell the, “Government story,” as a station might in a country with a totalitarian type of government. Rather, it supports public policy of building a literate and informed populace.

 

United Way Worldwide

Let’s just refer to it by the name you might be a bit more comfortable with—the United Way. It is the largest charitable organization in the United States today. The United Way’s three focus areas are Health, Education and Self-Sufficiency. These are some heavy-hitting focus areas of the government as well, so it would be wise indeed to see how one can support the other to make things better for all. For example, the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and United Way Worldwide have a good working relationship to the benefit of both. Public schools make use of its Student United Way Program and Born Learning initiative, designed to supplement and strengthen early childhood education. United Way has partnered with Bright by Text to send frequent and free child-raising and learning tips. This can support the government’s efforts to produce more of a self-supporting and knowledgeable populace that can become better prepared to face social challenges in adulthood.

Some community issues are both local and national—consider, for example, human trafficking. There is a current emphasis by United Way at the national level on that social issue, causing the creation of the Center for Human Trafficking and Slavery. It was the United Way, as well, that worked with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create, expand and sustain the national 2-1-1 program—a free call-in number for issues related to health and human services. A big public-private challenge that I have written about and worked on extensively is the reintegration of our military service members back into the communities they left. United Way has a national initiative called Mission United to accelerate solutions such as working with the Red Cross and others to conduct veterans’ reintegration workshops.

 

The American Red Cross

The mission of the Red Cross is to, “Prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.” The Red Cross doesn’t engage at any time in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature—it just alleviates human suffering. While the national level of the American Red Cross certainly cooperates and collaborates with government entities, especially during humanitarian crises, it remains independent. This is another example of possible confusion on the part of some Americans who believe that the Red Cross belongs to the government or is somehow funded by it—not so. The Red Cross creates, by working with legislators and public officials, a public policy environment at all levels of government that reinforces its mission capabilities and strategic objectives.

 

Summary

Of the three nonprofits I have described, only the CPB receives partial government funding and that is because it was established by congressional legislation. The United Way and the American Red Cross exist by raising their own funds through annual campaigns and other means. All three serve very important national needs.

Today’s rapidly evolving American society will require a great deal of collaboration between public and private organizations. Smart public administrators know this very well and look for opportunities to partner with nonprofits for great results. Where there are common top-level goals, there is opportunity to reach out for combined process and progress toward those goals. Americans will love the results!


Author: Dr. Robert Brescia serves on several nonprofit boards in West Texas. His latest book is Destination Greatness – Creating a New Americanism. Bob has a doctoral degree with distinction in Executive Leadership from The George Washington University. He has also served the nation for 27 years as an Army soldier, NCO, and officer. Please contact him at [email protected] or Twitter: @Robert_Brescia.

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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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