Katherine Meerse lay deathly still on the floor of her Minneapolis office. She was flat on her back, arms outstretched, eyes closed as if in a dead faint. Papers from her desk were strewn across her body.
The manager of Better Together Hennepin, an agency in the Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health Department, had just learned of five new funding opportunities her office could apply for.
The photo of Meerse appeared on the agency’s Facebook page documenting her astonishment.
As surprising as the news was, Better Together Hennepin had, in a sense, positioned itself for new funding.
The agency, which provides youth services that help reduce teen pregnancy, had taken part in the process known as fiscal mapping. This involves gathering data on funding sources and results in a detailed look at federal, state and local spending.
Fiscal mapping didn’t identify the specific funding that so astonished Meerse, but it did result in other money.
“It was a really useful process to engage in,” Meerse said, “It brought a lot of stakeholders to the table.”
Better Together Hennepin began its teen pregnancy prevention work in 2006. In the following years the county teen birth rate declined dramatically. From 2007 to 2012, the rate dropped 41 percent. In 2013, it dropped 15 percent compared with a 9 percent drop statewide and a 10 percent decrease nationwide.
But despite its effectiveness, Better Together Hennepin faced the end of a five-year federal grant that was providing $3.2 million a year to support its services.
It called on the Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit that assists organizations working with young people, to help it explore funding through fiscal mapping.
The key reason an agency or community coalition does a fiscal map is “not to find huge pots of money that are being missed, but to look at the funding picture overall to see where there are gaps and redundancies,” said Elizabeth Gaines, vice president for policy solutions for the Forum for Youth Investment,
Gaines said government agencies that provide funding make decisions department by department, and the decisions are different depending on who’s in charge. There may be very little coordination among departments, she said.
A fiscal map can improve the way leaders make decisions, according to the forum. It uses data to align resources and direct them to areas of need.
Many after-school networks have done fiscal mapping, some with assistance from the nonprofit Finance Project. The forum has worked on fiscal maps with agencies in New Orleans, Detroit and Durham, N.C., among others.
The state of Tennessee passed a law in 2008 requiring the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth to map the federal and state funding that supports youth programs in the state.
How it works
When the forum begins the mapping process with a client, “we typically like to ask them to pull together key stakeholders that cut across various agencies,” Gaines said.
Better Together Hennepin drew together 17 people from local and state government, philanthropies and community organizations. They included a United Way administrator, public health administrators and the director of the Governor’s Children’s Cabinet.
The team identified government agencies and private foundations that have funds for youth services. Then, information collecting began.
Information can be gathered through interviews, examination of source documents or electronic surveys, Gaines said.
When funding agencies are surveyed, they are asked how much money they spend to produce specific outcomes, rather than how much they spend in various categories, Gaines said.
For example, Better Together Hennepin asked how much each funder provided to ensure the health and safety of youth. It asked how much funding was aimed at other outcomes: the equity, education and self-reliance of youth as well as for connecting and engaging young people.
“Then what you can do instead of seeing department-by-department spending, you get an overall view that’s more child- and youth-centered than department-centered,” Gaines said. “It just gets more intentional.”
The focus is on the ultimate purpose of the funding — what it’s meant to achieve.
“Then we put together a set of analyses” and go back and show it to the stakeholders, Gaines said. “It’s really meant to be a conversation-starter.”
Uncovering new money
Last fall, the Forum for Youth Investment also worked with a group in Detroit, the Youth Development Resource Center, to map funds for out-of-school time programs.
Detroit is the only major city without dedicated public funds for youth development, said Sara Plachta Elliott, executive director of the center.
As a result of the fiscal map, “we have a list now of funding streams,” she said.
The process showed the type of funding Detroit was capturing, she said.
“One thing we learned is Detroit is undercapturing 21st Century Community Learning Center opportunities.” she said.
“It also helped us identify a newer funding stream, the Youth CareerConnect fund,” she said.
For Meerse, the value of the fiscal map is also clear.
“Two really important things came out of the process,” she said. “[The first was that] we uncovered some uncapped funds.”
Minnesota was eligible for federal funding through the Title V Maternal and Child Health Services Block Grant.
The state, however, wasn’t providing the matching funds the block grant required. After this funding stream was identified, the Hennepin County Board provided a match so that Better Together Hennepin could gain the funding, Meerse said.
The fiscal map also revealed the fragmented nature of funding for youth development and pregnancy prevention services, Meerse said.
Most funding comes in small dollar amounts, she said, and as a result, programs spend a lot of time chasing dollars. This administrative burden takes time away from directly providing youth services, she said.
“It was a wake-up call for funders in Hennepin County to better align our funding and reduce the administrative burden on program providers,” she said.
Meerse is optimistic now that a conversation has begun about aligning funding.
She’s also picked herself up off the floor, and Better Together Hennepin is applying for the new funding that so astonished her.