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What Now?

The fallout from the current economic downturn continues to spread.

Recently, the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal had a front page story about the rapid decline of corporate giving and an example of its effect on one charity, the Harlem Children’s Zone. At the same time, Bill Gates released his first annual letter after arriving full time at his foundation from Microsoft. He announced the decision to actually increase their grantmaking in 2009, despite a precipitous 20 percent decline in assets during 2008. Give less or give more? At best, things are confusing.

Many nonprofits are facing more demand for their services than ever. All nonprofits are facing challenges for their funding. Individuals, businesses and foundations are struggling to sort through countless new appeals for support, while at the same time trying to deal with their own financial issues and their sense of loyalty to the nonprofits closest to them.

So, what now?

If you believe anyone who tells you they have all the answers, then I have some lovely swamp land in Florida that I know you’d be interested to buy. These are called "uncertain times" because they are uncertain. But even so, there are a few points worth noting.

Communicate: Nonprofits must communicate clearly and candidly with their funders and volunteers to maintain confidence during times like these.

Focus: Nonprofits should concentrate on what they do best. Let the brainstorming about possible new programs outside your core area wait for another day. And, donors and other funders must find ways to support the most important programs of the nonprofits about which they care. You may wind up even being able to maintain your level of giving, but concentrated among fewer organizations.

But while that’s true enough, we still must have hope. Economic challenges have a way of imposing useful discipline. Every crisis is an opportunity. It sounds trite, but the nonprofit sector can come out of this downturn more efficient, with stronger donor relations and poised to do greater work. More than ever, it is abundantly clear that healthy nonprofits are vital to our country. They fulfill roles in people’s lives that are well beyond any help the government can provide.

So, the question comes back to you—what now?


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