As Budgets Shrink, Municipalities
Find Growing Opportunities in Alliances
President, Bohse & Associates
How to Find Partners
- Look locally. Compile a list of local social and civic groups. Such a list may be available through your local library or through area non-profit organizations. You can also find social and civic groups, such as the Rotary, Lions, Elks, Women’s Clubs and the like, by reading the events listings of your local newspaper. Similarly, compile lists of local businesses and business groups by looking at business registrations and advertisements in area media.
- Identify specific projects. Find out the areas of greatest need in your community and make a list of projects or services which would relieve that need.
- Make a match. Once you’ve identified the projects and services that would best serve your community, begin looking for logical matches among non-profits and businesses in your area. Do you have a park that needs refurbishing? Look for local landscapers and vendors of playground equipment who might donate products or services in exchange for promotional signage in the park. If
your community is more in need of a team of tutors to help school children raise their test scores, look for local literacy groups or social/civic organizations whose members might want to donate their time to an after-school program.
- Create win/win situations. While the benefit to the community will often be clear from such an alliance, it's importannt for the business or organization to receive some benefit, as well, or the arrangement may not work in the long-run. Unless the business or group is opposed to it, publicize the donation in local media and write letters of thanks. Put signage on permanent installations to which these entities have donated time or services. In the case of Lacey's park, Rotarians were credited with signage on-site.
- Evaluate the relationship and how it can grow. Don’t assume that the end of one project is the end of the alliance. Once the immediate goal is achieved, look for new projects on which the municipality and its alliances can further build.
It’s no secret that the State of New Jersey has faced an increasingly tight budget over the past several years. As legislators and staff struggle to make the state’s financial ends meet, municipalities have found that funding has been either frozen or cut, making it difficult for towns and cities to find extra resources for important projects. To overcome this challenge and continue to make improvements and provide additional services within their districts, some savvy municipal governments have found sweet relief by forming strategic alliances with both corporations and non-profit organizations within their borders.
Once you've identified the projects and services
that would best serve your community, begin looking for logical matches
among non-profits and businesses in your area.
Veronica Laureigh is Lacey Township’s Municipal Clerk, as well as a member and past president of the Rotary Club of Forked River, which serves Barnegat, Ocean and Lacey Townships in Ocean County. Her town began teaming up with its local Rotary Club in 1995, when the president of the organization approached the township with an idea for a four-year project to refurbish a park.
“Many local organizations, like Rotary, the Elks, Women’s Clubs, all have by-laws that say they need to do community service projects,” explains Laureigh. “It’s often just a matter of [municipalities] reaching out to them saying, ‘Hey, do you want to do a community project?’”
Making Communities Stronger In the case of Lacey Township and its local Rotary Club, that alliance has made some significant improvements in the town, including $60,000 from Rotary toward the completion of a new park, and $12,000 toward a $21,000 electronic sign. The remaining funds were drawn from a Clean Communities grant which Lacey Township had received. Since the sign replaced myriad paper flyers that were previously posted at the intersection of Manchester and Hayes Avenues, a major intersection in the town, the sign has served as a clutter-free way for organizations to promote their activities while increasingly becoming a revenue source for Lacey Township.
So, what’s the catch? Usually, says Laureigh, these organizations are only looking for a bit of recognition.
“Sometimes all it takes is throwing up a sign,” she explains. “That’s all we want as Rotarians, is to show people some of the good work that we’re doing.”
(L to R) Protect and Serve USA Representative Bert Weinstein shakes hands with Lt. Brian Klimokowski commander of the Manchester PD Swat team as PASUSA Senior Community Relations Representatives Lou Montanaro shakes hands with Chief Brasse from Manchester Police Department.
She says that another benefit of such promotion is that other organizations and corporations may be attracted to the opportunities for exposure. In the case of Lacey’s park, Laureigh says that several other non-profit groups -- such as the Old Guard of Forked River – added its fund-raising muscle to the project. In addition, companies got in on the act. The owner of a private landscaping company donated plant material to the project in exchange for signage promoting his company.
Organization on a Mission
Some non-profits are less interested in the exposure and more interested in serving their core mission, however. In late July, Protect and Serve USA donated 19 bulletproof helmets to the Manchester Township Police Department. The Connecticut-based nonprofit, whose senior community relations representative, Lou Montanaro, is based in Toms River, was founded in 2004 to help law enforcement officials acquire life-saving equipment that municipal budgets might not be able to accommodate.
“The reason that we do it is actually selfish,” explains Montanaro. “We want better protect the police department so that they can better protect us.”
Montanaro says that his organization, which is funded by donations and staffed by volunteers, fields requests from local police departments. Because the organization is still relatively new, it selects more manageable requests to fulfill, but has been asked to provide everything from armored vehicles to CAD systems to infrared cameras to body bunkers.
It’s Just Business
In Franklin Township, Somerset County, the municipality laid the groundwork to foster redevelopment alliances by forming a Special Improvement District (SID) on Hamilton Street, which is the center of the community. Businesses in the district are assessed an additional tax, which is then used to create positive change in the community.
“We deal primarily with businesses in the SID, and the money stays there with the emphasis is on economic development,” says Bonnie Von Ohlen, grant writer with the township.
Von Ohlen says that the SID makes businesses more motivated to become involved in the community activities that are designed to drive traffic – as well as business and revenue – into the town. Toward that end, the SID hosts a farmer’s market, located within the district, as well as a weekly car show during the summer months.
“Some of the participants pay a small fee, but there is also private fundraising to defray costs,” she explains.
In addition, Franklin Township administrators work in conjunction with local nonprofits to provide services to the community. Raritan Value Community College has a satellite location in the district, providing access to various courses, training and seminars. The Somerset Community Action Program, another area nonprofit, provides affordable day care to the community, as well as after-school services to local children. The organization is currently renovating a building to provide early day care, and is working with Franklin Township to accomplish this goal.
In the City of Elizabeth, Mayor J. Christian Bollwage points to alliances with Groundworks, USA, which works to preserve open space. In addition, the Greater Elizabeth Chamber of Commerce created a marketing opportunity at the Elizabeth exit off the New Jersey Turnpike when it funded signage proclaiming Elizabeth “A Great Place to Shop, Play and Stay.”
”These partners, in addition to our Community Development Block Grant funds, have made a big difference in the community,” says Bollwage.
Members of the Manchester Police Department pose with new helmets they received from Protect and Serve USA, a Connecticut-based charity.
Start a Strategic Alliance Today
It’s in the best interest of the businesses and organizations within a community to take action to ensure the future health of that area. Strategic alliances can be an excellent way for municipalities to find resources for projects that might otherwise never achieve reality in tough budgetary times. By carefully evaluating the situation and how each party can benefit, then by making appropriate matches between businesses, non-profits and the immediate needs of the communities, both short- and long-term solutions may be just around the corner.
Pat Bohse offers curbside consulting services to the League’s members and writes monthly articles for the League of Municipalities website under Grant Research Assistance at: http://www.njslom.org/grants.html.