Engaged Public in collaboration with Colorado State University and with funding from the Colorado Health Foundation have produced a very interesting tool called the Backseat Budgeter for citizens to try their hand at balancing the state budget.
Last night, I tried my own hand in earnest to balance the budget using the tool. I was successful at balancing the budget based on my own views of how that should be done. However, I was extremely concerned for Colorado nonprofits and citizens when I clicked on the tab that says “Everyone’s Budget” to see how people have collectively answered the budget questions. The majority of people who tried the budgeter chose to cut major programs such as community mental heath centers, developmental disability services and others that have already been cut and are endangering the lives of very vulnerable citizens. When I took the budgeting challenge, there were 858 responses, and I am hoping against hope that these 858 people do not represent the views of the vast majority of citizens in Colorado because if they do, Colorado nonprofits are in for an even greater rude awakening.
I do not usually post my political leanings on our blog or on Twitter, but I simply must convey to you that charities cannot begin to replace government services. As a nonprofit consultant working mainly with human service and health organizations, I can tell you that the need is already far greater than charities can manage now. Private donations and grants cannot replace government services. Although I know many people believe that if people can keep more of their money, they can provide more for their families and give more to charity, even this is not going to replace the programs that are necessary. Colorado already has low taxes and yet nonprofits are still inundated with the unmet needs of citizens. Colorado has one of the highest percentages of nonprofit organizations per capita as well. By default, if Colorado goes down the road to major cuts in vital services, healthcare and education, charities across the state will become beyond overwhelmed with the great needs that already exist. If it were possible for charity to replace government services, it would have happened before the recession because of low taxes.
So what does this mean for nonprofits? Massive educational efforts need to be started for the people of Colorado to truly understand the implications of cutting vital services. The public is not connecting with these needs, and not experiencing the personal impact or feeling the pain of vulnerable citizens. It is not just the public officials who need to understand these problems. In fact, they are being driven by the citizens, as shown in this Backseat Budgeter tool. It is our fellow citizens who need to see the stories of those that charities are serving and understand that they are personally impacted.
What can Colorado nonprofits do together to organize a public education campaign? What is your organization doing? Please, comment on this blog post with your thoughts, even if you disagree that charities cannot replace government services. (But please, if you do disagree with that premise, give us all some data that shows it). I want us to start a big dialogue here and find some answers. Colorado needs us.