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Council's new rules for nonprofits to get city funding are playing out now. Here's how it's going

City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.
Jason Whitman
City Hall as seen from Plum St. in Cincinnati, Ohio, Wednesday, May 12, 2021.

Cincinnati officials are negotiating the next fiscal year budget, and the process for funding outside organizations has changed for the first time in decades. While some nonprofits are frustrated, feedback overall has been positive.

Most of the debate about city spending centers on a very small part of the budget — about $16.5 million, less than 3% of the General Fund.

Funding for nonprofits is called "leveraged support." It includes the Human Services Fund, with a competitive application process administered by the United Way. Another piece goes to groups that operate city programs, like 3CDC for managing Fountain Square, Washington Park and Ziegler Park.

Separately, some organizations get direct funding in the budget; it's about $4 million, less than 1% of the General Fund.

Council Member Meeka Owens says until recently, requesting those funds was chaotic and based mostly on who you knew at City Hall.

"It's almost like a wilderness without having something that is mapped out in terms of structure," Owens said. "You have no idea which organizations are at the capacity to be able to leverage city dollars, what they're going to do with that, why we should be choosing someone."

Owens led an effort to change the process last year.

What's new this year

This budget cycle, organizations had to formally apply for funding and show, up front, what they'd use the money for and how they'd demonstrate success.

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

City Manager Sheryl Long's office reviewed 92 applications and recommended 27 for funding. The review team included Long's chief of staff, an assistant, and Assistant City Managers Billy Weber and Virgina Tallent. Long made the final decisions on award recommendations.

They're supposed to be one-time grants, but several organizations have been in the budget year after year at the same level. That means less money this year feels like a budget cut.

See a comparison of recommended funding below, and a full list of all applicants on the city website here.

CincyTech is an early stage investor focused on southwest Ohio. The group has gotten $250,000 in city funding for the last several years.

"It's a critical piece of our funding because we get state match for it, so in the end that sort of doubles the dollars," CEO Mike Venerable told WVXU. "The employees in our portfolio companies that work in the city generate enough earnings tax to more than cover what we asked the city to give us."

CincyTech asked for $250,000 again this year, but the city manager is recommending $100,000, which, because the state matches the city funding, is actually $300,000 less.

Venerable hopes Council finds the difference somewhere else. Even if that doesn't happen, he says the new application process is a positive change.

"It's information we should already have at hand. I thought it was fine," he said. "It organized our thinking, made us write down the rationale and reasons and the impact that we've had. It makes sense to me. I mean, if I was on the other side of it, I would think that's a rational thing to do."

The City Manager's office seems pleased with the new process, too.

"Overall, we believe that the new leveraged support application process was successful in creating a less politicized and more competitive allocation methodology that will ultimately deliver more impactful and conscientious spending of public resources," said Assistant City Manager Billy Weber in a statement.

Weber said they've identified some "lessons learned" to integrate next year, like offering a template for applicants to fill out to standardize financial and performance data collection.

Mayor Aftab Pureval praised the changes.

"I have to give the administration incredible kudos for the hard work that they put in there to really professionalize and take the politics out of that process," Pureval said the day the budget draft was released. "I think it worked incredibly well."

That didn't stop Pureval from acting outside the process in his own budget recommendation. He wants to allocate $190,000 to four organizations: two to increase what the city manager recommended, and two that applied but didn't get recommended for funding.

  • Elementz: $25,000
  • Q-Kidz: $25,000
  • MORTAR: $40,000
  • Center for Closing the Health Gap: $100,000

The suggested $100,000 for Center for Closing the Health Gap is in addition to $650,000 the city manager recommends.
The new process capped awards at $500,000 except in "extraordinary circumstances." The City Manager's office says city funding makes up almost half of Closing the Health Gap's budget, and they didn't want such a deep cut from one year to the next that could jeopardize its work to address racial health disparities.

The mayor's recommendation brings the organization's funding to $750,000 — the same amount its received for the past several years, and the highest award for any organization by far.

Council Member Meeka Owens is not directly critical of the mayor making his own recommendations, noting all four organizations applied for funding through the new process. But she says it's something to be aware of as the budget moves forward.

She says there are lessons learned this year that can make the process better in the future.

"I think one additional criteria that I find important is, how is an organization impacting our earnings tax revenue?" Owens said. "That should be an important part of how we are considering leveraging public dollars, too."

That could mean applications from organizations like CincyTech end up with a higher ranking.

Other nonprofit funding

Owens says Council may want to do more streamlining in the future; there's also some overlap with the Human Services Fund administered by the United Way. The volunteer Human Services Advisory Committee presented its funding recommendations to Council this week, and they include some organizations that are also recommended for other leveraged support:

Bethany House:

  • Human Services Fund: $60,000 (for Shelter Diversion) + $60,000 (for Preventing Homelessness) + $80,000 (for Emergency Shelter)
  • Leveraged support: $125,000 (for shelter services and support for families experiencing homelessness)

Lighthouse Youth & Family Services:

  • Human Services Fund: $75,000 (for Collaborative for Homeless Youth)
  • Leveraged support: $125,000 (for Sheakley Center for Youth)


  • Human Services Fund: $95,000 (for case management program)
  • Leveraged support: $325,000 (for winter shelter)

Urban League of Greater Southwestern Ohio:

  • Human Services Fund: $150,000 (for adult workforce programs)
  • Leveraged support: $100,000 (2023-2026 strategic plan execution and The State of Black Cincinnati 2023 publication)

Cincinnati Works:

  • Human Services Fund: $125,000 (for job readiness and Phoenix programs)
  • Leveraged support: $175,000 (for workforce development)

YWCA of Greater Cincinnati:

  • Human Services Fund: $50,000 (transitional living program) + $90,000 (for school violence prevention partnership) + $52,500 (for workforce development)
  • Leveraged support: $50,000 (for domestic violence shelter)

WhitneyStrong Inc:

  • Human Services Fund: $46,000 (for Save a Life program expansion)
  • Leveraged support: $50,000 (for Save a Life program expansion)

Leveraged support funding is allocated on a yearly basis. The Human Services Fund offers grants on a two-year cycle, meaning the organizations approved for fiscal year '24 will get the same amount in fiscal year '25, as long as the same amount of money is available and Council approves it again.
LEARN MORE: How to understand the first draft of the next Cincinnati budget

What's next?

Council has final say over spending. Adding to leveraged support would require cutting somewhere else, although they could pull from a contingency account instead of making cuts.

Council will debate options in a committee meeting Monday with a final budget vote expected Wednesday.

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.