We Can Do Better Helping Vermonters In Need (It’s Not About Money)

How does a tiny state with a $5.5 billion budget – half of which is allocated to help struggling people and communities, a philanthropic community that contributes almost $3M to the non-profit-sector for community reinvestment, and a business community that spends significant time and money addressing shared socio-economic problems fail to substantially solve the problems of our 70,000 poor of whom 1600 are homeless, our 83,000 hungry, 21,000 medically uninsured, and 20,000 jobless? If we assume that 25,000 Vermonters are in dire need and divide that number into $3B we get $120,000 per needy Vermonter. Where is all this taxpayer money going and why is our progress so incremental?

I would suggest that statewide and with the best of intentions, we simply don’t know what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, what results we’re achieving at what cost, or how we’re measuring our successes and failures. Results-based accountability is all the buzz but we have yet to agree on common standards of measurement, an implementation strategy, or a shared commitment to apply them across state, non-profit and business initiatives to compare how each is doing.

The problem may simply be cultural. Each of the three sectors sees problems and solutions differently. The state is responsive to politics and public opinion, tends to evade budget detail, measures results its own way, reacts rather than plans, cuts budgets across-the-board instead of strategically, and is hemmed in by a two-year election cycle and a one-year budget process. Too often leadership appointments reward political fealty rather than a record of professional competence and agency management failures are tolerated for too long.

On the positive side, while the non-profit or mission-driven sector has its own challenges, our best non-profits are extraordinarily effective at delivering on mission and increasingly at collaborating to achieve a collective result. Vermont’s philanthropic community is generous and holds recipients to high standards of transparency and accountability for mission and results.

In turn, our business community understands the correlation between healthy communities, education, and a vigorous economy and funds initiatives to enhance both.

If these three sectors were ever to align intelligence and resources, agree on setting priorities for solving socio-economic problems, quantify the challenges, and apply their best resources towards finding solutions, we might make real progress. We could eliminate redundancy and competition and invest in those solutions that deliver results.

Within the three sectors, we have thoughtful leaders and adequate resources, they’re simply not pulling in the same direction.

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