Conference Will Examine State
Policymaking and Nonprofits
Posted April 29, 2003
HOLLAND -- A Hope College professor's on-going
research on the relationship between state government and
nonprofit human service organizations forms the basis of a
statewide conference being held in Grand Rapids on Friday,
Dr. Deborah Sturtevant of the sociology and social
work faculty is seeking to help nonprofits play a more
effective role in the public policy process. The need is
particularly critical, she said, as the state shifts away
from direct governmental delivery of social services to
contracts with private and nonprofit organizations. On
average, she noted, human service nonprofits receive more
than 50 percent of their funding from government sources.
"So they need to be working more closely together
on behalf of all the people who are being served through the
human service sector in Michigan," said Sturtevant, who is
professor of sociology and social work and chair of the
department at Hope.
In her most recent project, which she completed
earlier this year, she surveyed 55 percent of the Michigan
Legislature to obtain legislators' perceptions of the
relationship between government and nonprofits. In a 1997
study, she had asked executives of nonprofits about their
relationship with government policy makers.
The results of both efforts will be reviewed in
the conference in Grand Rapids, "Partnership in the Era of
Term Limits: A Conversation between State Policymakers and
Nonprofits," which state legislators and representatives of
nonprofits alike will attend. The event will be held at the
Dorothy A. Johnson Center for Philanthropy and Nonprofit
Leadership at Grand Valley State University's Pew Campus.
Sturtevant's presentation will focus on four main
areas: how nonprofits can be more influential in engaging
legislators to respond to their needs; the effect of term
limits; issues related to the federal emphasis on faith-
based initiatives; and how the partnership between
nonprofits and policy makers can be improved.
Legislators, she found, generally recognized the
important role played by the nonprofits, and hoped for more
direct interaction with representatives of the
Both the executives and the legislators cited
trusting relationships as key, and noted that the current
term limitations impede long-term relationship building.
Sturtevant found broad support among legislators
for the ability of faith-based nonprofits to deliver
"holistic" quality services at reduced cost, even while
lawmakers from both parties had concerns about
constitutional church/state separation and accountability.
Based on her research, Sturtevant proposes a
formal mechanism for involving representatives of nonprofit
organizations in public policy development, such as creating
roundtables of experts to serve as resources or including
liaisons on legislative committees, "so that they would have
a regular opportunity to help frame the policies in the
system," she said.
The conference will run from registration at 8:30
a.m. to 3:30 p.m. In addition to a presentation by
Sturtevant, the event will include a panel discussion
featuring both lawmakers and representatives of nonprofits;
small group interaction during a luncheon; and visits to
area examples of public-private partnerships.
The conference is sponsored by the Council of
Michigan Foundations, Heart of West Michigan United Way,
Hope College, Michigan 211 and Michigan Association of
United Ways, Michigan Nonprofit Association, Michigan
Nonprofit Research Program and Public Policy Institute at
Sturtevant's research was supported through a
grant awarded by the Nonprofit Sector Research Fund of the
Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C. She was assisted in her
work for the past two years by graduating Hope senior and
social work major Morgan Smith of Three Rivers. Smith, who
will be participating in the conference, will pursue
graduate study at the University of Michigan in the fall.