Tight Times

Posted on Aug 1, 2009 :: Features
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Collaboration is helping nonprofits through a lean economy

Tom Martin has long dreamed of a Brown County children’s advocacy center. But as government budgets contract and individual giving declines, Martin of Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin turned to collaboration with other agencies and nonprofits to create a center where children can discuss their abuse and receive treatment. Currently in cases of suspected abuse, children have to repeat their abuse stories several times in different environments and may undergo multiple medical exams, which adds to their stress.

“The tightening of the economy has had a tremendous affect on nonprofits. It’s more difficult to generate donations and funds from state and federal budgets are in short supply,” Martin says. “This all comes as the demand for our services is going up as people are having trouble coping with the increased stress in their lives.”

By teaming up with law enforcement, local health care systems and other nonprofits on the advocacy center project, Family Services was able to raise funds from individual donors as well as a three-year grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, collaboration between the U.S. Oil Open Fund for Basic Needs and the J.J. Keller Foundation.

“We have a $3 million fund-raising campaign to build the center and operate it for five years. We are now at about $2.6 million, which is outstanding in this economic environment,” Martin says.

Family Services isn’t the only area nonprofit organization looking for ways to collaborate, raise funds and limit expenses. Just like their for-profit business counterparts, nonprofits have been hit hard during the recent economic downturn at a time when many are seeing the demand for their services increase. That has left nearly two-thirds of nonprofits surveyed by the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region feeling financially vulnerable.

“Many nonprofits are using their reserve funds – if they have one – or cutting personnel so they can remain faithful to their mission,” says Curt Detjen, executive director of the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “Many nonprofits felt the economic crunch last fall and right through 2009. We are doing what we can to help organizations at this difficult time.”

So far, the Community Foundation has held a special match day, which raised $1.1 million for 400 area organizations, and is redirecting $650,000 from existing grant programs into a special bridge grant program, which will provide support to charitable organizations that had been stable going into the recession and have good prospects of returning to financial health once the economy turns around.

“We continue to ask ourselves what we can do to help nonprofits,” Detjen says. “We are trying to be nimble with our grant-making so we can address the needs as they arise. We believe the bridge grants program will be especially effective in helping nonprofit organizations continue their mission.”

David Pamperin, chief executive officer of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation, says foundations and nonprofits were affected from the start of the economic crisis nearly a year ago.

“This economic crisis started as an investment crisis and that’s what community foundations are – investment instruments,” he says. “But we have made the decision that we will continue our spending so we can continue to give at stable levels” to help organizations in need.

Many nonprofit donors were hit hard when the stock market tumbled, says Jennifer Wanke, executive director of LEAVEN, which provides emergency financial assistance to people in need.

“Since many donors use investment money distributions as their charitable donations, they do not have the same level of financial resources available for distribution. They face some very tough decisions about who to fund and at what level,” she says. “Most people are still donating, but they are just giving smaller donations or only donating to target agencies, such as LEAVEN.”

From July 2008 to the end of June 2009, the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation awarded about $5.5 million in grants, which is down from nearly $8 million for the previous 12 months, Pamperin says. “We are still fortunate in this area because charity still remains important to people and some people are really stepping up, but there is no doubt the funds coming in are down,” he says.

While basic needs organizations such as LEAVEN receive a lot of attention in the current economic climate, Detjen says the Community Foundation remains committed to helping all nonprofits, including those serving the arts, education and health.

“When things get tough, the human tendency is to focus on the basic needs, but our programs, such as the bridge grant program, are open to all nonprofits whether they are basic needs or not,” he says.