Surviving in the New Nonprofit World: A Multi-Dimensional Approach

Nonprofits who rely on state and other government funding should prepare for a bumpy road ahead in the next couple years says a new report produced by independent philanthropy consulting firm “Changing Our World, Inc.” Although the economy is seeing a shift toward the positive, state tax revenue – and therefore funding for many nonprofits – is nowhere near stable. And while the number of nonprofits has been steadily rising over the past 15 years, charitable giving has dipped significantly and would need an unprecedented rally to make up for the government funding shortfall.

Since World War II, the average recession in America had lasted 10 months. Until Now.”

Unemployment alone has created a crisis in many states. In fact, 44 “crisis states” have significantly reduced spending and are expected to cut spending even more (by $38.5 million) in social services, education and Medicaid says the report. Despite $1.5 trillion of American household wealth lost in just the first three months of the recession, philanthropy on the other hand, has been making modest gains and is expected to slowly trend upward. But the dollars are spread thinner as the number of nonprofits increases and the demand for services explodes. As the Chronicle of Philanthropy put it: “To help nonprofits cover cuts in those services, households in the hardest-hit states would have to step up their giving by 30 percent in 2011 and 60 percent in 2012—an increase the report says would be ‘historically unprecedented.’”

So what’s a nonprofit to do?

The report concludes that a multi-faceted strategy is needed for every nonprofit. Waiting on philanthropy or government funding to recover won’t work. “Philanthropy will be an important, indeed critical piece of that strategy, in part because philanthropy is often flexible and can fill in gaps not financeable through other means. However, the sheer weight of the burden will require that multiple revenue pathways be opened as well as that every managerial option for efficiency be considered.”

For nonprofits looking for a guide to this multi-pronged approach, we gleaned these tips from the report:

Efficiency – Reach out to unemployed workers to become volunteers, possibly with a stipend. You’ll not only give them a step in the right direction but you’ll receive valuable man-hours.

Collaboration – Reducing overhead costs is possible through a number of collaborative efforts like merging of back offices, joint purchase of property, combination of nonprofits with similar programs into a single service network, etc.

Messaging – When asking for donations, emphasize progress instead of crisis. Talk about all the good the organization is doing in the face of the economic crisis, not how it’s struggling.

Financial Expertise – Learn more about managing cash flow and accounts receivable so you can weather late payments and financial dips. Become your own expert on economic trends. Also think about adding people to the board with financial expertise or government experience.

Don’t Rely on One Source – No more than 60% of any program’s budget should come from government money.

Maintain a Reserve – This fund should be triggered only by the Board or the Finance Committee, and saved for lean times.

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12/07/11 9:51 PM

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