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Fairfax County can improve the way it distributes grants to community nonprofits, according to a report presented to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

Since 1997, the county has issued grants to nonprofits through the Consolidated Community Funding Pool. The program has awarded $154 million to 930 programs since its inception, not counting the current fiscal year.

The fund, which received $11 million in the current year’s budget, is still a small piece of the county’s overall spending on human services needs.

However, in recent years, some nonprofit organizations and county supervisors have raised questions about the process. Some have suggested that the process favors larger nonprofits, for example.

“There were a lot of perceptions and assumptions that needed to be tested,” said Kerrie Wilson, a member of the steering committee that studied the CCFP and the executive director of the Reston-based nonprofit Cornerstones.

Because much of the public feedback the committee received reflected these types of concerns, Wilson said the group had to thoroughly examine that issue before moving on to other tasks.

They found that the CCFP is generally effective as it exists today. About 41 percent of the projects that received funding in the last three cycles were run by small organizations with budgets under $500,000, and about 15 percent were new projects.

“It does help address some of the perception that the funding pool didn’t allow for creativity,” Wilson said.

However, the committee did find that the county could improve processes for identifying community needs, setting priorities and ensuring that expenditures have the desired outcomes.

For example, the Consolidated Community Funding Advisory Committee, which oversees the fund, used to have more staff support to conduct public forums and other types of outreach to identify service needs and priorities in the community, the report states.

The report also suggests that the county should “explore the concept of financial and social return on investment,” based on the set goals for the CCFP funds.

The committee also shared ideas for streamlining the application process to make it easier for small organizations and creating an incubator program for new nonprofits.

“The funding process used to include training for nonprofits … we feel a return to that is extremely important,” said Marlene Blum, a steering committee member and chairman of the Health Care Advisory Board.

The financial accountability recommendations also suggest more training for nonprofits on tracking and measuring return on investment and other technical assistance, with the goal of strengthening the partnership between the organization and the county.

Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison said staff will report back to the Board of Supervisors later this year with a detailed plan for addressing the steering committee’s recommendations.

kschumitz@fairfaxtimes.com