On November 20, 2001, Commissioner of Finance Pam Wheelock issued a letter directing all state agencies to immediately freeze any new grant agreements (including any agreements not yet fully executed). Although the motivation was to preserve the state’s options for responding to the state’s expected budget deficit, the effect was to freeze funding going to nonprofits serving extremely vulnerable populations – precisely those least able to weather an economic downturn.
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits responded immediately by notifying nonprofits, legislators, and the media of the freeze. MCN also urged the Department of Finance to rescind the freeze. The Department refused, but Commissioner Wheelock agreed to a briefing for nonprofits. Hundreds of nonprofit representatives packed a hearing room in the State Office Building until the group was declared a fire hazard and half the crowd was moved a hearing room down the hall. After the briefing, however, the Department of Finance finally began to post a partial list of grants that were “thawed,” although a list of frozen grants was never released.
Deeply concerned the grant freeze and expected budget cuts indicated that the historic partnership between government, nonprofits, and philanthropy might be in jeopardy, the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, in collaboration with The Minneapolis Foundation, initiated the Think Twice Campaign Before Cutting Nonprofits to create awareness about the problem and inspire action by the public.
The goals of the Think Twice Campaign were to educate the public, opinion shapers and decisionmakers about the essential work of nonprofits and the value of their services; to affirm, build and solidify the public’s understanding of the importance of the nonprofit and government partnership; and to inform, inspire, train and animate nonprofits to engage in effective advocacy work. With ads, posters, and a website complete with talking points, tips for contacting legislators and downloadable versions of the ads, the campaign offered nonprofits and citizens ways they could frame messages to decisionmakers.
MCN's Minnesota Budget Project supported the campaign by providing timely and insightful analysis of budget proposals and the potential impact on the individuals and communities served by nonprofits. The Minnesota Budget Project also developed a set of “Principles for State Fiscal Decisions” which became an essential component of the campaign. These principles – which advocated using all budgetary tools available, not making the recession worse for those least able to weather an economic downturn, using past budgetary decisions to inform current ones and working with federal decision-makers to promote revenue sharing and oppose policies that would further hurt state finances – were widely shared with nonprofits, legislators, state agencies and the media.
Minnesota nonprofits successfully fought the threat of severe direct cuts in the 2002 Legislative Session. Nevertheless, the broad cuts that were made by the Legislature had a negative impact on the most vulnerable in our state.