Nonprofits Seek Government Document Standardization

To cut red tape and ensure more timely payment, state governments should standardize contract language and audits, allow nonprofit providers to give input at the start rather than at the end of the contracting process, and create electronic document repositories.

Those are some of the results of a study by the National Council of Nonprofits that looked at the results of government-nonprofit partnerships in nine states: Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Texas.

Although each commission made a different number of recommendations — from about 30 to more than 150 — some recommendations were universal or nearly so. All nine task forces recommended the standardization of contracts across agencies, and to allow nonprofit service providers to give input on drafts of request for proposals (RFP), as opposed to at the end of service contract, when input would be too late for that contract.

“The focus is on identifying solutions, things that work, then pushing it out to the public,” said David L. Thompson, vice president of public policy for the Council. “There were recurring themes, contracting problems that are not so unique that nothing was transferable. The same problems are so deep-seated in so many states that they rose to the top.”

Eight of the nine recommended the creation of document vaults, which are electronic repositories to which nonprofits and government agencies can submit documents, the creation or continuation of nonprofit-government task forces, and standardization of audits. Seven tasks forces studied by the Washington, D.C.-based Council of Nonprofits advocated for prompt payment of contracts and the standardization of service monitoring. Other recommendations include designating a nonprofit sector liaison, better coordination between agencies and multi-year contracts.

“The most striking aspect is the color on the political spectrum doesn’t matter,” said Thompson. “The focus is universally on solutions, not politics. We have Texas and Hawaii, the reddest red and the bluest blue, doing the same thing.”

The study looked at the common elements of each of the nine task forces. Someone in a government leadership position, be it a governor, an attorney general, the legislative body or the head of a state agency, called for the creation of the task force. The task force is made up of representatives from government and from the nonprofit sector, many of which come from the state’s nonprofit umbrella organization. Each task force has a specific goal, usually to identify redundancies in processes. And, the task forces are just one step in a larger process.

Thompson believes that the current economic climate, with both nonprofits and state governments being asked to do more with less, is impetus for representatives from each to team up. “The thrill of this report is that government folks and nonprofit folks are recognizing they’re in the same boat, and they’re working to steer the thing instead of fighting,” he said. “Maybe in good economic times, there’s no incentive to sit down together. We absolutely believe that state governments and nonprofits are better off together identifying problems and solutions.”

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