Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Nonprofits Surviving Tough Times

Carter Wolf, Executive Director, Horizon House, Indianapolis

As we head into the final weeks of the year and continued economic uncertainty, I invite all nonprofit leaders to share what they have learned from past downturns and what they are doing now. The following is from Carter Wolf, Executive Director at Horizon House, a homeless services provider in Indianapolis. You can comment on Carter’s ideas below or send your own short article to: Bryan@NotforprofitNews.com

Every economic downturn has different causes that require different strategies for non-profits but there are usually a few tried and true principles that can work for all of us. Since no one has a silver bullet we need to evaluate threats and opportunities that apply to our particular sector. Here are 10 tips:

1. Get advice from everyone. Good ideas will emerge from reading and networking. The IU Center on Philanthropy (see COP below) recently printed some good ideas about fund raising during economic slowdowns. For-profit business journals will be offering advice that NFP’s could use as well.
2. Focus on your mission. Be careful about “mission drift” at all times but especially now. See what part of your mission deserves the most focus if you have to make cuts.
3. Do not cut fund raising staff or costs. The corporate model in downtimes is “build sales, cut inventories.” Your development staff is your sales staff.
4. Refine and recommit to your fund raising strategic plan.
5. Frame your stories around what your organization is doing to solve community problems during these tough times. For example the Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic has been featuring the service they provide to those in foreclosure.
6. Rely on your Board members. They can fill certain roles better then staff such as calling donors to thank them. (Ref COP)
7. Focus on your existing donor base by communicating and nurturing them to remind them of what you are doing. (Ref COP).
8. Stay in communication with major donors and foundations. If changes from them are on the horizon, they will usually let you know as early as possible.
9. Traditionally growth in annual giving may go down but it is still growth. Make sure you are part of it. (Ref COP).
10. Reduce debt, stay as liquid as possible. Make sure your reserves are large enough to cover payroll as well as unplanned expenses.