Op/Ed

Letter to the editor: Consider better ways to put nonprofits on ballots

In September, United Way of Addison County (UWAC) sent a letter to every town in Addison County asking them to waive the petitioning process or to consider removing the petitioning requirement for any returning agency requesting the same amount as the previous year. UWAC does not request town funding, but we do advocate for local nonprofits who do; this year, 15 local nonprofits co-signed this letter with us.

While many are eager to return to “business as usual,” the pandemic taught us that some systems and processes can and should be reimagined. I believe we all want to support the nonprofits who have served Addison County for decades and had to reimagine their own systems to increase their services during the pandemic — simplifying the process for getting on local ballots to receive town funding is one small but important way we can do that.

In 2020 and 2021, the majority of towns in our region approved UWAC’s request for contactless funding appeals to ensure health and safety. That flexibility was greatly appreciated by our nonprofit community. While we’ve all adapted to the new norms associated with living in a post-COVID world, our nonprofits continue to be affected by the pandemic. Workforce shortages continue to impact our local nonprofits, increasing staff workload and the likelihood of employee burnout and turnover.

Many agencies collect signatures on weekends (over several months) as they are unavailable during the work week. This often means that staff don’t get compensated for their time or organizations have to pay overtime; neither is suitable for the employee or the organization. There are 23 towns in Addison County, each with its own set of signature requirements. While collecting signatures in one town may not seem challenging, collecting signatures in multiple towns and keeping track of each town’s needs is a great challenge for many agencies.

On the surface, it seems like a simple task: obtain a population percentage of signatures for voters to consider a funding request. However, many organizations seek funding from multiple towns across the county. Tracking the different needs of each town gets complicated quickly. Signature requirements vary from town to town, and so can the method for signature collection. Some towns suggest hanging a poster for voters to sign at their local market, while other towns prefer agencies to collect signatures in person at the local waste-collection site on high-traffic days. The current process also creates an administrative burden for the towns that need to ensure that every signature collected is indeed connected to a registered voter in their town.

At UWAC, we want every person in Addison County to know about the services provided by our nonprofit partners. While gathering signatures could provide opportunities for that kind of information-sharing, we believe there is a better way to reach more people while also decreasing the burden on local service providers. What if in place of a petitioning process, town websites included information about each request with clickable links and announced when the links were available at a town meeting? What if the agencies requesting town funding met certain criteria in place of obtaining signatures? What if the criteria helped inform voters?

Example:

Does your agency serve members of our community?

What are the services/resources your agency provides?

Will this funding help maintain or possibly increase your impact in our community?

We can make change today:

Reach out to your town leaders and ask them to join us in supporting our local agencies by waiving the petitioning process this year.

We can also make long-term, lasting change:

Reach out to your town leaders and encourage them to reimagine a better way to improve this process that increases voter knowledge and decreases agency burden. Include your own ideas!

Do you think there is a better way? Tell your town leaders!

Respectfully,

Jesse Brooks

Director of Advocacy

United Way of Addison County

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