Across the country, families seeking affordable housing, women seeking shelter from domestic violence and recent immigrants seeking legal support have all encountered the same stark reality: the demand for health and human service programs significantly outweighs the supply.
Public funding for such programs has dropped in communities throughout America. There simply isn’t enough public support to meet the growing demand for these services.
Yet in the face of such grim realities, we continue to see passionate people and organizations developing innovative solutions to these funding constraints.
Recently, George Mason University (GMU) and Community Wealth Partners engaged in a “Listening Project” with the Fairfax County Virginia Human Services departments, intended to bring together nonprofits, corporations and County staff. We sought to uncover how Fairfax County might best continue to meet human service needs through increased nonprofit capacity in a time of decreasing government funding support.
The importance of developing a cross-sectoral approach to improving community outcomes across Fairfax County emerged as one of the key themes from our intensive listening sessions. We found that:
- Nonprofits, corporations and the County recognize the respective strengths, limitations, and interests affecting each party’s ability to develop solutions to these issues alone.
- By working together, as true partners, they can improve access to and allocation of existing resources that will yield tangible, positive results for the community.
These observations parallel what Fairfax County has learned with its 10 Year Campaign to End Homelessness. Fairfax County has come to understand that building successful cross-sectoral partnerships require:
- Long-term commitment.
- Equal partnership from each sector at the table.
- Jointly developing and setting goals.
- Appropriately aligning interests of each sector so that each party’s self-interest merges with community interests.
And, at the end of the day, the community voice cannot be overshadowed by the logistics of bringing together the sectors. Nonprofits, County agencies and corporations may lead the charge of delivering services, but we must include the perspective of the individuals who receive these services.
Fairfax County is working hard to address its citizens’ needs and to bridge service gaps by applying learnings from this Listening Project to future cross-sectoral partnerships. The County, GMU and Community Wealth Partners look forward to continuing to uncover the ingredients to success in such partnerships.