07/23/2013 05:18 pm ET Updated Sep 22, 2013

How Nonprofits and Government Can Work Together To Tackle Illinois Challenges

This week, I had the honor of joining many of my fellow nonprofit leaders for the inaugural meeting of the Illinois Nonprofit Advisory Council, launched by Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

The first of its kind in the nation, the Council was created by Comptroller Topinka to address the tremendous fiscal challenges facing nonprofit service organizations due to delays in state payments. I applaud the Comptroller for her efforts and ongoing leadership on this critical issue.

As the Urban Institute has reported, Illinois is the worst state in the nation -- by a wide margin -- when it comes to overdue bills to nonprofits. And there are numerous stories of nonprofit organizations trimming programs, reducing staff, or even shutting their doors as a result.

Nonprofit organizations are a vital resource in Illinois, providing critical services to people across the state. They contribute to the development of healthy and safe communities, support workforce and economic development, and provide important services to our most vulnerable citizens. And research shows nonprofits also account for nearly 10 percent of the state's workforce. So when nonprofits struggle, it affects us all.

But just as our state's fiscal problems have been building over time, there are no quick fix solutions to the nonprofit payment crisis. Which is why is it so important for nonprofits and philanthropies to join with policymakers to develop solutions that will provide real, sustainable relief to nonprofits while protecting critical services for our citizens.

These are the types of partnerships Donors Forum has been working to establish through Building a Stronger Illinois: the Public Nonprofit Partnership Initiative, which aims to strengthen the relationship between nonprofits and state government so policymakers truly understand the value of the sector and the challenges it faces, and nonprofits and foundations can contribute new approaches that benefit the people of Illinois.

Building a Stronger Illinois brings parties together to develop new solutions to issues impacting nonprofits in Illinois. In addition to payment delays, we are addressing state contracting, reporting requirements, and outcomes-based budgeting. For example, we have established a formal partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services (DHS) to develop meaningful reforms to nonprofit reporting requirements, which save agencies precious time and resources by eliminating duplicative and burdensome reporting.

We are now beginning work with DHS on a process to streamline state contracts with partner agencies. A recent inventory shows that just five participating state agencies currently contract with approximately 2,000 providers under the guidelines of approximately 10,000 contracts, many duplicative and confusing in nature. Clearly, there is a great opportunity to improve State-nonprofit contracting, and we're excited to help guide this process.

These are difficult financial times for the State and for nonprofits, and systemic challenges and outdated policies are exacerbating the problems we face. Only by working together can nonprofits, philanthropy and government tackle these issues and create an environment where nonprofits can effectively and efficiently fulfill their missions to serve the people of Illinois.

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About Donors Forum: Founded in 1974, Donors Forum ( is the only statewide association in Illinois serving funders and nonprofits of all kinds as well as their advisors. It offers philanthropic and nonprofit leaders and practitioners a variety of resources to enhance their effectiveness - opportunities for convening and collaboration, education and research, and leadership in advocating for public policies to protect and promote their critical missions. Donors Forum leverages the collective power of nonprofits and philanthropy to improve lives and strengthen communities in Illinois.

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