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Partnership Works to Reduce Poverty
Five individuals launched the Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP) to bring together the state's diverse organizations to improve families' financial and economic health. Fortunately, Florida is rich in community coalitions working on one or more aspects of poverty affecting residents. As these groups learned about or formed new ideas to further their efforts, they began reaching out to one another. Finally, a core group convened face-to-face gatherings, and the FPP was formed in 2008. The organization provides programs and assistance designed to strengthen communities and promote financial stability.
Nonprofits often compete fiercely for funding, which can make it difficult for them to collaborate. But as the need among low- and moderate-income (LMI) communities has grown and funding has dried up, many community organizations are finding that the best way to increase capacity and boost impact is to partner with others. The Atlanta Fed's Community Indicators Project on nonprofit capacity found that more organizations reported increased collaboration to provide programs than in the past. That trend is expected to continue (and increase) in the next 12 months. This is where the FPP plays a starring role. The statewide coalition links a diverse group of actors: community organizations, state and local governments, and financial institutions with a common goal to boost the financial well-being of Florida households.
The Florida Prosperity Partnership helps meet the needs of local asset-building organizations that support families' financial well-being. It provides assistance for new organizations in parts of the state that were previously underserved.
Florida Prosperity Partnership
President and CEO: Kaye Schmitz
As Kaye Schmitz, FPP CEO and president, described it, "We're a connecting-the-dots, information-brokering statewide association."
Florida is a large, diverse state. Prior to the creation of the FPP, several statewide asset-building organizations were started but did not succeed because of the lack of buy-in from the state's many regions. The conveners of FPP recognized early on that they must bring in stakeholders and organizations representing all of Florida's regions and interest groups. The five founders personally reached out to their contacts around the state. An initial meeting was held in Orlando in 2008 to gauge interest in pursuing a statewide organization, and it attracted asset-building leaders from throughout the state. In 2009, the United Way of Tampa Bay and the Allegany Franciscan Ministries provided seed funding, and Kaye Schmitz was brought on as the "point person." Daniella Levine of Catalyst Miami, Sandra Bernard-Bastien of Children's Services Council of Broward County, Ted Granger of United Way of Florida, and I in my community development role with the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch—a group hailing from the far reaches of the state—became the inaugural FPP board members.
The organization's first task was to understand the state's needs. Michael Gutter, an associate professor at the University of Florida, volunteered to conduct focus groups in seven regions of the state. Some of the key issues identified were the continued need for innovative financial education and access to mainstream financial services. Other issues included identifying the number of people who were unbanked, the number who could benefit from personal financial education, the need for transportation programs to help people get and keep jobs, and policy changes that could benefit the LMI population. As a result of this dialogue, trust was built, and before long organizations that previously operated as silos reached out to their neighbors across communities and regions to work together on shared issues.
These first regional meetings were so successful—leading to a strategic plan, increased membership, and additional funding sources—that annual regional meetings continue to be convened in the seven regions of the state and hosted by local partner organizations. These partnerships and the resulting meetings have provided FPP with a vehicle to leverage the organization's presence throughout Florida and make it easier to introduce innovative processes such as integrated service delivery, bundled services, and collaboration among organizations working with the LMI population.
Outcomes and lessons learned
Statewide collaboration provides an efficient way to address issues. The FPP has strengthened existing programs and promoted successful ones from other parts of the country, such as the Bank On San Francisco program and the National League of Cities Bank On technical assistance program. It now has a network of over 800 individuals from 160 organizations throughout the state. Other key accomplishments include:
- Working in Florida urban areas with existing service providers and with the often overlooked rural communities that lack nonprofit capacity to provide needed services and capacity building. Community convening has taken place in cities all over the state, from Pensacola to Fort Lauderdale, to strengthen and stretch community resources.
- Creation of Bank On Florida, an asset-building initiative. In the program, mainstream financial institutions provide financial education and coaching to low-income Floridians, with the goal of them becoming better money managers. The FPP provides fast-start templates for new Bank On initiatives that include marketing messages, collateral materials (brochures, posters), and a step-by-step process definition. The FPP is involved in each new Bank On initiative through its launch. The number of Florida counties participating in local Bank On efforts has expanded from three, when FPP began the initiative, to almost three-quarters of the 67 Florida counties participating at some point. To date, 10 local Bank Ons have launched, encompassing 23 counties; six others are in the pipeline, encompassing 21 counties.
- Raising awareness of free income tax preparation for all LMI Floridians. These include Schedule C small business owners. FPP member organizations provide free tax preparation through groups like Tax Wise, Virtual VITA, the Benefit Bank, My Free Taxes.com, Deaf Tax.com, and online tax preparation through the FPP website, FreeFLTaxSites.org. In the past three years, these coalitions have completed more than 500,000 tax returns, bringing in almost $500 million in refunds, $300,000 of which was in federal Earned Income Tax Credit dollars—dollars new to Florida.
- Partnering with low-cost national transportation loan programs such as Ways to Work and More Than Wheels. These programs bring much needed, reasonably priced auto loans to Florida communities to help people get and keep jobs.
- Partnering with the University of Florida, 211 Network, and Florida Information and Referral Services System to create an online database of health and human services. The database is searchable at the county level.
- Partnering with elected officials to effect policy changes that benefit low-income working Floridians, including the convening of the first bipartisan Florida Prosperity Caucus with the Florida state legislature. To date, the FPP and its partners have been successful in passing two pieces of legislation—an amendment to the Volunteer Protection Act to define corporate liability if a company's employees volunteer on company time, and the requirement to take a personal financial education course prior to high school graduation. The FPP and its partners have also been successful in defeating other legislation that would have harmed the LMI population—for example, the reinstatement of title loans and harmful debt settlement legislation.
- Partnering with funders, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the University of Florida, and other organizations to bring financial education training to Florida. More and more classes have been held each year, and last year, 20 Train the Trainer classes were convened. Five hundred ninety-two people completed the course work and became certified to deliver financial education instruction.
- Introducing national initiatives to Florida, including:
- Being chosen as one of 25 organizations in the country to participate in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's field test for financial empowerment
- Coleading the first of its kind CFED Learning Group on Coalition Building, a six-month program in which 21 national coalitions participate to learn from the FPP and other groups around the country, and enrich and expand their coalition-building experience
- Introducing Opportunity Nation's "Opportunity Index" to statewide partner organizations.
The FPP connects the dots with community service delivery organizations and convenes meetings, facilitates partnerships, and teaches organizations, which previously operated in silo fashion, how to reach out to their neighbors across the county line or across the state to leverage and maximize their resources and improve the results within their communities.
By Janet Hamer, former Atlanta Fed regional community development manager, Jacksonville Branch