Visibility Counts-02/09/2012

Posted on 10 February 2012

It’s only February, but already “belt tightening” seems to be emerging as the phrase of the year. Looming on our horizon for 2012 is the state-imposed two-percent tax cap levy on schools and municipalities, a county budget with a sizeable shortfall and a federal deficit that … well, we leave that one for another day.

The point is, in times like these, it’s a good idea to keep your head low and stay out of the cross hairs — especially if you’re a small non-profit organization that relies on public money to survive.

This week, we write about the YARD program and the Sag Harbor Youth Center, both of which provide an after school haven for the youth of the village and both of which have traditionally received funding from the county.

While in the past, this arrangement worked fine, that is not the case this year. Looking to preserve as much county money for youth programs in Sag Harbor as he could, our county legislator Jay Schneiderman, was forced to choose between the two similar programs. In the end, he chose to eliminate the $14,500 the county had budgeted for YARD in the past, rather than sacrifice the larger dollar amount — $48,177 — that goes to the youth center.

Schneiderman points out that his decision was based purely on a motive of preserving the greatest number of dollars he could for Sag Harbor youth — not on the merits (or lack thereof) of either program. He is now pursuing another source of funding to make up for some of YARD’s lost income for the year, but he noted the reality of the situation is this — the county is going to continually be forced to cut back on this sort of spending in the future.

One thing is certain, going forward the county will no longer be able to offer the same level of funding it has in the past to organizations that offer similar services. Instead, it’s likely legislators like Schneiderman will be required to choose between groups, and it’s likely that his or her choice will be to keep as many dollars as possible in the community.

Like we said in this space last week, in times like these it’s important to share resources and reduce budgets through collaborative efforts. The youth center and YARD now must start those discussions and see what can be done. Since both organizations offer an after school program, perhaps a solution can be found if the lesser attended program is eliminated and the money used to operate it is redirected into creating new programming that doesn’t duplicate current services. Special field trips, outdoor activities or community service projects are just some examples of what could be offered.

There’s another reason to eliminate duplication and think outside the box when it comes to offering new youth programming — and that is visibility. As municipalities make ever deepening cuts in non-profit funding, being able to point to an organization and demonstrate what it has done for the community will be vital.

In addition to publicizing all the events they have coming up through press releases to local newspapers and flyers sent home to parents, both organizations should work toward designing their own websites with a detailed explanation of activities, hours of operation, age of the children served and mission statements clearly explained. Photos of kids having fun and testimonials from parents are also a good way to draw interest and raise awareness.

And raising awareness, we feel, is going to be paramount in budget cycles ahead. What will the county be looking at when it’s deciding who is to be funded next year? Having something substantial to show them is not a bad idea. It would be a shame to see Sag Harbor’s youth miss out on well deserved funding because an up island organization happens to have a better PR person or web designer.

Times are tough. For many groups, the time has come not only to collaborate, but think competitively. You know plenty of other groups are already doing that.

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