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Here's how Cincinnati is changing the process for nonprofits to get city funding

cincinnati city hall
Becca Costello

The process for outside organizations to get funding from the city of Cincinnati is changing ahead of the next budget in July. The new process requires organizations to formally apply for a one-time grant, instead of lobbying council members directly, like they do now.

The city budget has two mechanisms for funding third-party organizations: the Human Services Fund (administered by the United Way), and "leveraged support" funding.

"We inherited this leveraged support bucket of money without having even defined what leveraged support is," said Council Member Meeka Owens, who proposed changes to the process last year.

Although this funding is less than 4% of the General Fund, it dominates public and council discussion during budget season. Owens says those conversations don’t provide enough information.

"Just because I like you and I like what you do doesn't mean that's how I should make a decision as a legislator, as someone who's responsible for taxpayer dollars," she said.

A new report from the City Manager's Office outlines what the new process will look like.

See the full reportbelow (story continues after):

It defines "leveraged support" as "(f)inancial support from the City of Cincinnati to an external organization (i) as general operating support to fund their work in the City or (ii) as funding for a specific program aimed at addressing a public need in the city."

Organizations eligible for funding will apply for a one-time grant for providing a service within one of seven priorities:

  1. Arts: Organizations that support artistry, creativity and culture within Cincinnati.
  2. Economic development and neighborhood support: Organizations that invest in communities or specific neighborhoods within Cincinnati to develop the local economy or increase neighborhood vitality.
  3. Environment: Organizations dedicated to addressing climate change and improving the local ecosystems in Cincinnati.
  4. Equity and inclusion: Organizations focused on combatting institutional discrimination, bolstering diversity, and uplifting all genders, sexual orientations and races in economic pursuits.
  5. Homelessness and eviction prevention: Organizations aimed at combatting the affordable housing crisis, providing tenant protections, maintaining homeownership and quality rentals and preventing homelessness.
  6. Human services and violence prevention: Organizations aimed at improving public health, legal representation and safety among Cincinnati residents.
  7. Workforce programming and poverty reduction: Organizations that assist residents in finding and maintaining gainful employment and reducing poverty.

Organizations applying for funds have to show at least three years of audited financial statements or federal tax returns. Applicants must choose three output metrics to show three years' past performance, plus annual goals for the requested funding using the same metrics.

Grants will generally be between $50,000 and $500,000, but larger awards will be considered for "extraordinary circumstances." Two organizations have received more than that ceiling in the recent past: Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, which received $550,000 in fiscal year 2023, and The Center for Closing the Health Gap, which has received $750,000 a year for the last several years.

A few exceptions

Some organizations will be exempt from the process because they manage city assets:

  • 3CDC funding for Fountain Square, Washington Park, and Ziegler Park
  • Findlay Market operating budget support
  • The Port
  • Women Helping Women Domestic Violence Enhanced Response Team (DVERT)

And several programs administered by the city have been called "leveraged support" in the past but will also be exempt:

  • Community Urban Agriculture
  • Green Cincinnati Fund
  • Needle Exchange Program
  • Neighborhood business districts
  • Neighborhood community councils
  • Summer Youth Jobs initiatives

Council will hear more public feedback at the next Budget and Finance Committee meeting and will continue the discussion with administration then.
Applications are expected to open next month, with the administration's proposal for awards included in the budget recommendation.

The Human Services Fund administered by the United Way is a subset of leveraged support, and is also exempt from the new process.

Council voted last year to update the priorities for that set of funding. They also established a new "Impact Award" where up to a third of the total fund will go toward one project focused on eviction prevention and housing stabilization. The official ordinance to make those changes will likely get a vote at next week's Budget and Finance meeting.

The Human Services Fund hit a record high funding level this fiscal year; the United Way accepts applications for those grants, and decisions are made by a volunteer Human Services Advisory Council. The United Way then establishes a contract with each organization awarded a grant and follows up with evaluation and accountability.

Asked why the city is keeping "leveraged support" separate from the "Human Services Fund" when the processes will now look very similar, Council Member Owens said more changes could be ahead.

"I think this is just one step in the right direction," she said. "So we'll see where the future leads."

Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.