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By Alicia Freese, June 27, 2018

After struggling for a decade with rising costs and stagnant state funding, Vermont’s 15 nonprofit parent-child centers came to a conclusion: It was time to hire a lobbyist to fight for more money.

“We decided we didn’t have a choice,” said Scott Johnson, who until recently led the Lamoille Family Center. “We needed to have boots on the ground under the [Statehouse] dome on a regular basis.”

The independent centers support low-income families with a wide range of services, including parenting classes, childcare and home visits. A 1989 state law entitled them to government funding, and the state currently provides about $17 million of the centers’ combined $24 million budget.

That’s not as generous as it may seem, according to Rep. Dave Yacovone (D-Morrisville), a former commissioner of the Department for Children and Families. He described parent-child centers as “the orphans” of the state social services system — easily overlooked when lawmakers write a budget.

In this age of austerity, lobbying has become a necessary survival strategy for many nonprofits.

“I think, over the past several years, it’s become more important for organizations to make the case that they are worth the investment,” said Amy Shollenberger, whose lobbying firm, Action Circles, now represents the parent-child centers. Those centers aren’t seeking dollars to start new programs, Shollenberger said. They’re simply asking the state to cover the full costs of the services it already commissions.

Nonprofits are legally allowed to lobby, and they do plenty of it. In fact, the three highest individual spenders on lobbying during the 2018 Vermont legislative session were all nonprofits — and they shelled out significantly more than large, for-profit companies such as Entergy, Green Mountain Power and GlobalFoundries. Organizations lobby for a cause, funding or both.

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