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Human Services

Municipalities everywhere struggle each budget cycle to make difficult decisions about how to fund crucial human services that serve their most vulnerable populations. Most of this funding goes to contracts with non-governmental organizations (NGOs), but many cities are stuck in a rut of funding the same organizations over and over, without good data on their effectiveness or success. Competition in the funding allocation process and rigorous evaluation of outcomes can help achieve better performance and ensure return on investment, but many cities don’t know where to start.


A number of cities are leading the way, revamping the process for requesting, analyzing and processing proposals, for educating and working with nonprofits, and for insisting on and evaluating program results. Those who are can expect to see better outcomes, reduced reliance on federal funding and innovation in human services delivery.


For a recent MIP project, we did some targeted outreach across the country and learned that cities are facing many of the same challenges: poor communication between cities and potential partners; lack of transparency in the funding process; contracting policies or requirements that lead to the same organizations requesting and receiving funding; uncertainty about program outcomes; the list goes on.


We also learned that there are cities that are starting to tackle these issues by improving the quality and presentation of information sent out by the city, and by examining and amending their contracting requirements to allow for a broader range of groups to compete for funding. There’s a big desire for data and evidence – both qualitative and quantitative – to show what is working and to use that information to make future funding decisions.  

The city of Tallahassee, FL has been using a competitive process for years through its Community Human Services Partnership (CHSP) program. CHSP rigorously engages the public in the process. Volunteers review applications, conduct site visits, and make recommendations for funding to the city council. This sounds like a lot of work, but the city reduces the burden on any one volunteer by breaking up the group into teams and requiring 36 hours of service from each volunteer. This program creates buy-in and awareness of the public on how important these contracts are for the city. 
The city of Chapel Hill, NC works with the nearby town of Carrboro and Orange County to streamline the funding process for agencies that seek funding. The partnership uses one application and offers Q&A sessions for potential applicants to ensure they understand the competitive funding process. 
The city of Chattanooga, TN has rolled its agency funding into its transition to a Budgeting for Outcomes model, wiping the budget slate clean each year and starting from scratch. Outside agencies compete for funding along with city departments to provide services. The city provides a mandatory informational session for applicants and requires a rigorous evaluation process to show program effectiveness. 

Katya Szabados
For a project for the city of Madison, WI, we surveyed cities across the country on this topic: The Community Development Context in the City of Madison.