The good news and the bad news: Revisiting the view from Nonprofit Street

by Katy Snyder, JVA Consulting

The good news: We may finally be out of the woods in regards to charitable giving: A new report from Giving USA shows that for the first time since 2007, total estimated charitable giving increased by 2.1 percent (when adjusted for inflation). Broken out by type of donations, individual donations rose 1.1 percent, charitable bequeaths were up 16.9 percent, and corporate donations also rose 8.8 percent (all figures are after inflation).

The bad news: While we have finally dug ourselves out of the hole of the last few years of charitable giving declines, we still have a ways to go to reach above 2007 giving levels. Unemployment levels have gone down, but there is still much room for improvement. Failure to pass a bill that would raise the debt ceiling in the U.S. has many uneasy that massive stock market fluctuations are in our future. And global instability in the Middle East and European countries like Greece is leading to a volatile economic environment that will continue to make giving uncertain.

When things first started to get bad in 2008 (or rather, when we all started to feel the effects of the downturn), we put out some advice in two articles for weathering the storm. While things have changed in the last few years, and indeed, may even be looking up, both articles offer commonsense advice that rings true today. Keep reading below for our tips:

From Coping with Tough Times: The View from ‘Nonprofit Street’

Look for grants to help your organization build its capacity. These types of grants will help you build capacity through activities like creating a strategic or evaluation plan, or developing a marketing plan that will continue to make your organization more profitable and more attractive to potential funders. Check out the Technical Assistance grants offered by The Denver Foundation.

Have a plan. If there were ever a time to have a fund development plan that details WHAT funding you are seeking, WHO will do the work and WHEN, it is right now. JVA can help you with this.

Consider a collaboration. Collaborate, form a strategic alliance or, yes, even consider a merger with another nonprofit that does work similar or complementary to your own. You will be more viable to funders if you can show that you do not duplicate services, and by sharing resources (such as office space), you can save money.

Call your donors, personally, now. Let them know what’s going on with your organization and what your plan is. Yes, we know you’re busy, but these calls can make a huge difference. This advice still rings true in 2011. Undoubtedly, you’ve lost some donors as things have gotten bad. Give them a call and let them know how you’ve coped, how you’re making donor dollars go even farther, and how you’d love their renewed support.
Click here to read the full article.

From 911 for nonprofits

Learn from the business sector. The plight of the financial sector and auto industry are good cautionary tales. Waiting until you are in a desperate situation is not the time to get help. Before you get to the point of no return, examine your operating costs and the services you provide. Do you have sky-high operating costs and programs that no longer make sense for the population that you serve? Bad economic times are ripe for innovation (remember the old “necessity is the mother of invention” saying?). Which brings us to our next topic…

Make a plan. Strategic plans are a great way to prepare for upcoming challenges and opportunities, and they let you face the changing economic times with a plan. By participating in a strategic plan, you’ll be able to decide as an organization exactly where you want to be in the next three years and the precise steps you’ll need to take to get there. A fund development plan will help you tackle your financial plans for the next year by taking an in-depth look at how you raised funds last year and will help you create an action plan for the coming year that lays out where you want to be, how you’ll get there, and who will help you do it.

Sell, sell, sell. No, we’re not talking stock here, but social enterprise. Social enterprise, which is usually defined as selling a good or service that is linked to a social–improvement mission, is a great way to diversify your revenue and become less reliant on grants. JVA has helped several nonprofits come up with products that help them bring in revenue and further their mission (click here to read a YourHub.com story about it), and we can help you, too.

Evaluate. While some funders have cut back, many haven’t. Those that are still funding will be getting more requests as nonprofits have fewer foundations to apply to. To be competitive, you need to have the best proposal possible, and that means evaluating your programs. The organization that can best show how the value of the dollars invested in their programs will have the best shot at getting funding when foundation money is stretched. Evaluating your programs will also help your organization decide which, if any, programs need to be reorganized, scaled back or even increased, especially as the economy affects your clientele.

Dialogue. Ask other nonprofits what they’re doing to weather the storm and, if need be, how you could create a strategic alliance or merge programs or services together. You’ll make yourself more attractive to funders who will see that you are not duplicating services, and you can streamline costs. If you foresee yourself in a dire situation (or you are already in one), consider if you and a similar nonprofit should merge. JVA can help you facilitate these conversations in a non-threatening way.

Volunteers are valuable. If you have already asked volunteers and individual donors for more donations, and haven’t seen much return, change your approach and ask them for their time instead. Volunteer hours are invaluable and translate into funds: They improve your programs, help you plan fundraising events, and funders look for evidence of strong volunteer support in grant proposals. Make sure you think of ways to show appreciation for volunteers that are cost-effective but still show your volunteers just how valuable they are.

Click here to read the full article

In sum, things are getting better, but that also means our work has just begun. There is no better time to let your donors know how you weathered the storm and to continue (or start) practices such as evaluating your programs and making better use of your volunteers to make yourself attractive to funders, no matter what happens with the economy. And remember, we’re here to help. Leave a comment to let us know if you’re feeling better about your nonprofit’s future.

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