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January 30, 2014 Published in City Hall, Top Stories

Alexandria Fund For Human Services Gets Makeover

By Carla Branch

The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday night approved changes to the Alexandria Fund for Human Services, which is the vehicle for providing approximately $2 million a year in financial support to 59 Alexandria nonprofit agencies.

“The purpose of these changes is to make the fund align better with City Council’s Strategic Plan and to make certain that agencies meet the goals outlined in their proposals,” said City Manager Rashad Young at the Jan. 28, City Council meeting. “We also believe that these changes will make it easier to administer the grants.”

During City Council’s budget deliberations last year, City Council Members Paul Smedberg and Justin Wilson expressed concern about the fund. “Are we funding City priorities and are we certain that these agencies are actually doing what they say they are going to do in their proposals? We don’t seem to have a real way of measuring their successes and that is important,” Smedberg said.

In June, Council directed the City Manager to form a working group to take a look at AFHS and bring forward recommendations to Council in the fall. The group submitted a report to Council on Dec. 10, 2013, with ten specific recommended changes. City Council asked Young and his staff to look at the recommendations and respond.

The work group’s recommendations and Young’s responses are:

Recommendation #1:  Promote stronger alignment between AFHS awards & the City of Alexandria’s Strategic Plan.

Staff Response:  Staff concurs with the need to align AFHS priorities with established City priorities outlined in the City Council Strategic Plan, City Manager’s Performance Plan & other City Council approved planning documents such as:

-Aging Master Plan,

-Housing Master Plan &

-Children and Youth Master Plan


Recommendation #2: Consolidate three AFHS funds into a single fund with established priorities to focus on children, youth & community needs.

Staff Response: Staff concurs with the consolidation of funds.

  • Grants will be awarded to groups best able to demonstrate that their program goals align with one or more of the long term outcomes in documents cited in responses to Recommendation #1.
  • Current priorities will be eliminated & new priorities developed as stated in Recommendation #1.


Recommendation #3: Establish a narrow procurement process that extends contracts to selected awardees meeting specific criteria.

Staff Response: Staff does not support this recommendation & could not determine a benefit for transitioning from grants to contracts.

  • Both contracts & grants may be awarded in multi-years.
  • AFHS provides supplemental funding used to leverage additional dollars to support the cost of providing services.
  • Staff has past experience with moving from granting to contracting for a service; it resulted in the doubling of cost (hypothermia shelter).
  • City costs under the contracting method may increase as increases are based on the consumer price index.
  • Contracting will not improve outcomes & is more staff intensive & may result in reduced service levels due to costs.


Recommendation #4: Provide City Council with lessons learned from each grant cycle & recommendations for the next cycle with the report on grant awards.

Staff Response: Staff concurs with the recommendation.

  • Staff recommends that any information gleaned from the review process be included in the docket memorandum to City Council conveying grant decisions.


Recommendation #5: Create a mechanism for promoting innovative solutions to existing challenges through solicitation of joint applications and new solutions.

Staff Response:

  • Extra points will be awarded to proposals which:
  • offer innovative solutions to existing challenges, backed by research or have been successful elsewhere.
  • are joint applications, combining similar services.
  • have a dollar-for-dollar match.
  • Staff does not recommend a carve-out or set-aside of funds.


Recommendation #6: Establish a multi-year (2- to 5-year) cycle for grant awards.

Staff Response:

  • Staff concurs with the recommendation to provide multi-year grants and recommends moving to a three-year cycle. Funding in the subsequent years would be based on successful completion of program outcomes in the previous year and continued City Council funding.
  • Multi-year funding would enhance service delivery by ensuring program continuity over a longer period of time.


Recommendation #7: Strengthen the review process to promote & reward innovative solutions.

a. Standardize AFHS review panel formation & composition.
b. Strengthen & develop additional guidelines for grant reviewers for ranking grants & allocating resources.
c. Provide more time (a minimum of 2 weeks) for the grant review panel to review grants under consideration & require panel rankings prior to meeting.
d. Ratings/scoring of applications should, to some extent, be made public to encourage transparency & collaboration.
e. Organizations already receiving city contracts for services should be identified as such during review process to prevent supplementing existing contracts.

Staff Response: Staff concurs with these recommendations & will work to implement them, beginning with announcement of the FY 2016 grant cycle.

  • Staff proposes issuing a request for grant proposals in the fall of the fiscal year prior to the beginning of subsequent grant year.


Recommendation # 8: Improve oversight, monitoring & measuring of grant performances to ensure grants are achieving desired objectives.

a. AFHS should strengthen mechanisms that measure or capture impact of grant awards as well as conduct rigorous oversight of awards to ensure that stated objectives & goals are being met.
b. Allocate new resources for dedicated staff to manage grants (and/or contracts).
c. Conduct visits to awardees (above a threshold) as a standard part of annual review; enlist & train volunteers from boards & commissions

Staff Response: Staff largely concurs with this recommendation.

  • Agencies seeking grant funding will be required to articulate how their proposals align with City’s grant priorities.
  • Training on outcome measurement will be provided to award recipients to enhance program reporting.
  • Online grant reporting will be implemented.
  • Funded programs will be invited to make presentations to appropriate human & social service related boards & commissions.
  • Fiscal & programmatic monitoring & site visits will be conducted by staff over the multi-year grant period.
  • Existing staff can implement proposed enhancements & does not recommend reducing the fund for a dedicated position.


Recommendation #9: Establish a funding “floor” or level below which applications will not be considered.

Staff Response: Staff agrees with this recommendation & recommends minimum of $25,000.


Recommendation #10: Introduce additional technological changes to the online application process to improve its effectiveness (login/PIN, ability to save and review, Excel budget, online evaluation process, etc.).

Staff Response: Staff concurs with this recommendation & has begun discussions with City IT & Communications staff to further enhance the online application initiated for the FY 2014 grant cycle.

  • Staff will also develop an online reporting process, consistent with the application process.


A number of Council members disagreed with Recommendation 9 and the staff’s response. “If we make the floor $25,000, that will eliminate a number of the agencies that currently receive funding,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper. “Some of these small agencies are run by volunteers and just a little bit of money goes a long way. I really think we should lower the floor to $10,000.”

Young explained the rationale for the $25,000 floor. “There is not a lot of money in this fund,” he said. “We can either spread the peanut butter really thin and give everyone a little bite or we can provide more peanut butter to fewer agencies and have a real impact on programs.”

Smedberg agreed with Young. “Part of the point is to encourage nonprofits to collaborate with each other and come up with creative programs that will have a real impact on the community,” he said.

Mayor Bill Euille spoke about the number of nonprofits in Alexandria. “City Council is not in the business of making sure that agencies survive,” he said. “We need to make certain that our money is helping meet a real need and is being used efficiently and effectively.”

Wilson asked about pulling some of the larger grants out of this process and looking at contracts for services with certain agencies. “I just think this would give us a better way to manage these services, which we fund year after year,” he said.

Young said that the staff could find no advantage to a contract over a Memorandum of Understanding. “There just isn’t any reason to do that,” he said.

In the end, Council decided to keep the floor at $10,000, not to pull large agency grants out of the process and to make the AFHS grant cycles three years instead of one. Smedberg and Wilson voted against the changes because they said they did not go far enough. The changes will be implemented for the fiscal year 2016 budget cycle.

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