State Nonprofit Association Leader Virtual Roundtable: Jody Shields

Jody Shields, Wyoming Nonprofit Network

On the job since: 2012
Organization formed in: 2005 (not active 2008-12, reorganized in 2012-13)
Geographic scope: Wyoming
2015 budget: $25,000
Staffing: 0.25 FTE

What are the most important issues facing the nonprofit sector in your state?

The current state of the energy sector is greatly impacting Wyoming, where state and local government rely heavily on mineral revenues. Mineral productions makes up 34% of the state’s GDP and the industry employees 8% of the state’s workforce. Wyoming’s revenue forecasters see continued declines through 2018.

While nonprofits see an increase in demand for services during economic downturns, unfortunately, these are also the times when government cuts programs and services in an attempt to balance budgets. The Wyoming State Legislature recently made additional cuts to the governor’s proposed budget, many of them impacting human service programs. Broader impacts will likely follow as state agency budgets were reduced across the board. In addition, foundations in Wyoming will continue to see an increase in the number of new requests for funding as state and local support continues to decline.

What are your core strategies for addressing these issues?

We will continue delivering our message to our public officials that cutting program services for our most vulnerable populations will only increase mandated and unavoidable interventions in the future (at greater cost). We're planning to increase our efforts in educating nonprofits about the critical role they play in advocacy and public policy decisions. Another strategy is to facilitate opportunities for nonprofit leaders and philanthropic partners to meet and work together to address some of these challenges.

How can philanthropy best support capacity building for the nonprofit sector in your state? What sorts of investments are most needed?

Grant opportunities are too often only focused on programs and not on funding operations and capacity building. In order to effectively operate programs, nonprofits need strong leadership and a structure to support internal operations. Investments in professional development for staff and board members as well as assistance in areas such as communications and technology are needed.

We would also like to partner with philanthropy in advocating for the nonprofit sector and giving nonprofits the tools they need to advocate for their mission.

What’s been a recent big success for your organization and what excites you about it?

We have completed an updated Wyoming Nonprofit Sector that will be released soon. (It's been eight years since the last one.) It is our intention that this report will inform government leaders and the public about the nonprofit sector, including its economic impact and contributions to our communities and quality of life. We will use it as a basis for discussions with stakeholders in the public and private sectors and how we all can work together for the betterment of Wyoming.

What are the most important public policy issues for you this year, and what are you doing about them?

The budget shortfall will continue to be issue, as the legislature looks for alternative sources of revenue. Items such as property tax exemptions for nonprofits have been brought up in the recent past and I expect we will see this again. We have to be vigilant in following these issues and speaking on behalf of the sector to make sure our elected officials have all the information they need to make an informed decision.

What are the one or two best opportunities you see for nonprofits and philanthropy to “go beyond the grant” to work together to create sustainable change in communities?

I would like to see a broad spectrum of nonprofits and philanthropic partners come together in each community to discuss their community’s unique challenges and opportunities for sustainable change. I believe there are many opportunities for collaboration between very diverse types of nonprofits and funders. Breaking down these silos is a first step.

Jody Shields is managing director of the Wyoming Nonprofit Network, joining us this month for our virtual roundtable with state nonprofit association leaders.