At the Giving Institute’s April conference, we had a presentation by Dr. Paul Light, Goddard professor of public service at New York University and senior fellow and founding director of the Center for Public Service for Brookings Institution.
According to Light, during the recession and now into the economic recovery, nonprofits have been battered by government funding cuts. As a result, those that rely primarily on government funding are in trouble. But the answer, he says, is not simply to hunker down until the economy recovers. This time of economic challenge provides a unique opportunity for nonprofits to look to the future and determine what their vision will be. It’s a time to imagine new possibilities and begin planning for them, while hedging against the downside risk.
For example—and these are my words, not Light’s—you might eliminate or downsize programs that aren’t as effective as they used to be or cut expenses you don’t need anymore. Then you could put those funds toward your new vision.
That many nonprofits are leaner as a result of the recession—though not necessarily by choice—might be a good thing, Light explains, in terms of transforming their vision and diversifying funding streams. If that diversification effort means cultivating more individual donors, nonprofit leaders need to know that those donors are demanding a return on investment. They want to learn how your organization is stewarding funds and that your work is getting results. Don’t have measurement systems in place or can’t show how their gift is making a difference? They may choose a nonprofit that can.
Light will continue this conversation when he speaks at the Giving Institute’s Summer Symposium in July, and I promise to take good notes.