For decades, the town has made annual contributions to a range of nonprofit agencies through budget allocations, often with little discussion. But the view of those charitable donations has changed in the last year or so, with some officials questioning why certain groups get funding and others don't.
To address those concerns, a committee was established to study the municipal contributions to charities. The panel has subsequently recommended the town not look at the funding to these nonprofits as a charitable donation, but rather as an investment in the community.
Chris DeWitt, the Board of Finance member who served as the committee's chairman, gave a report to fellow finance board members this week, noting the Fairfield group used Greenwich as a model for its recommendations.
"Greenwich puts out a goals and objectives statement," DeWitt said, and its funding goes to nonprofits that support those goals. "If there's a nonprofit that does not align with those goals and objectives, we would take a very hard look at funding."
By the same token, Dewitt said, officials may discover nonprofits that are doing that but have not benefited from municipal contributions.
As an example of a group that appears to meet a well-defined goal, DeWitt cited the Mill River Wetlands Committee, which provides educational opportunities for local school children and was allocated $5,000 from the town last year. "It is a nonprofit and it is well-aligned with education goals," he said.
While those goals and objectives need to be established by the first selectman, the first part of the committee's recommendations have been adopted. Any nonprofit that currently receives funds from the town has been sent an application that will be included in the budget deliberations for the 2013-14 fiscal year.
The application requests an IRS determination letter or proof of application for non-profit status, a listing of current board members, a copy of the group's latest financial statement and completed budget packet.
Finance member James Walsh suggested that the town also request a group's IRS 990 form, which must be filed on a yearly basis. "It gives information about non-profit activities and financial conditions," he said. "It tells you in several schedules how the money's being used and where the money comes from."
And, Walsh said, if a charitable organization has fallen behind on filing its 990 forms, it could be a red flag.
DeWitt said he signed up for a website, Guidestar, that allows him to pull all the 990s, but said Walsh had a point.
Another recommendation from the committee was to create categories for the non-profits, such as state statute compliance, social services, education and culture. Each category should have an appropriate person or body to review the applications and monitor activities to determine if they align with the goals and objectives.
Selectman Cristin McCarthy Vahey, who also served on the committee, said Greenwich has a staff person who does that job, along with a committee that works with the social services director to monitor outcomes.
"You have to be realistic about the resources available to us," Vahey said, noting that's not something Fairfield could afford at this time, "but also hold people accountable."
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