At a recent meeting, the Charleston County School District recently confirmed its commitment to fund the Charleston Promise Neighborhood for the 2011-2012 academic year. Given the recent budget cuts at the District, and the fact that CCSD is set to experience a $28 million budget shortfall, the vote to recommit was far from certain. In the weeks since the school district has voted to honor its commitment to funding, several opinion pieces have appeared in our local newspaper, questioning the wisdom of governmental spending to support nonprofits. While the arguments for prudent fiscal spending do carry some merit, funding for programs like the Charleston Promise Neighborhood is vital, and should be funded now more than ever.
As Mayor Riley argued to the school board during public comments in favor of continuing funding for Charleston Promise Neighborhood, CCSD’s commitment to support our organization was also matched by three other governmental entities: Charleston County, the City of North Charleston and the City of Charleston. These entities agreed to fund Charleston Promise in equal amounts and represented a regional collaboration toward improving educational outcomes. The agreement was memorialized in a Memorandum of Understanding executed in April 2010. This funding commitment created the initial financial foundation for our organization, and allowed us to attract matching funding from private individuals, boards, and corporations. To date, the $50,000 which the Charleston County School District has invested in the Charleston Promise Neighborhood has allowed us to raise an additional $438,000 this year, which will allow us to create a pipeline of proven, evidenced-based programs to improve academic achievement. Given the proposed cuts to both leadership and faculty positions at our four schools, this influx of additional resources and support has never been more vital.
The success of Promise Neighborhoods nationally has depended on the ability to build and maintain a broad coalition of support across communities that traditionally have operated through “silos”. “Silo” is a term meant to identify separate governmental entities or nonprofit organizations working independently of one another and in many instances inefficiently duplicating some of the same services. Harlem Children Zone founder, Geoffrey Canada has said: ”If is essential that fundraising for Promise Neighborhoods comes in three-year cycles. This security enables the leadership to focus on building program rather than worrying where the next dollar is going to come from.”
The leadership of the Charleston County School District in initially funding the Charleston Promise Neighborhood was extremely important in getting our organization off the ground, and the recommitment to fund CPN for this upcoming year sent an equally strong signal. A subsequent Post & Courier article mentioned that other nonprofits would be put under the microscope. The school board will try to find out whether these organizations are able to demonstrate results consistent with the district’s mission of educating our children, and whether they are able to leverage the public financial support they receive into significant private matching funds. Regardless of how future votes turn out, it is clear that we are entering a new reality where nonprofits must justify even more convincingly every dollar that they receive from donors. It will be our ongoing commitment to demonstrate that dollars invested in the Charleston Promise Neighborhood are among the best expenditures one can make to change our community for the better.
Dwayne Green, CEO