3 Priorities for Avoiding the Potholes on the Road to Recovery
Recent stock market gains notwithstanding, the great recession and its close cousin, the painfully slow recovery, continue to wreak havoc on the lives of many in our nation. While experts nationwide remain focused on key economic indicators with an eye on forecasting our future, the present impact is still being felt on many real-life levels. Some have lost jobs and been unemployed for months. Others are underemployed, barely able to cover the necessities. Families have lost their homes and are reaching out for help — many for the very first time.
With American charitable giving for 2009 estimated at $303.75 billion, or a 3.6 percent drop from 2008 (in current dollars), it's clear donations are down. How does that compare to previous years? Not very favorably. In fact, 2009 and 1974 (-5.5 percent) are the only years to post declining numbers since 1956, when giving stats first started being collected. Meanwhile, 2008 was initially reported as a down year. However, several large year-end bequests caused totals for that 12-month period to be revised to a 1.5 percent increase over 2007.
To make matters worse, government social services are broken, and nonprofit organizations face an increased demand for services — all while donations are on the decline. A recent survey by GuideStar found that 63 percent of nonprofits reported an increase in demand for services.
However, a silver lining can be found in all of these clouds. Challenging finances cause nonprofits to re-evaluate priorities and pick up valuable lessons, focusing on what's truly important. Adhering to three positive principles will help you survive — and even thrive in — today's sluggish economy.
Clear the focus
Make it a priority to be clear on your organization's core mission. Understand your calling, and focus on it. Now may not be the best time to expand services, open the new thrift store or try an untested marketing campaign. My mom used to say, "Don't bite off more than you can chew." When leaders expand into new, less mission-specific ventures, they place an unnecessary burden on staff members and donors. And they are the ones who feel it when donations slip. These are tough times. Take a moment to review your core mission, and ask yourself if all of your programs and those new ideas are the right fit, especially right now.