October 22, 2008

Non-profit work must go on even during unprofitable times

The Center for Nonprofit Advancement convened an important panel on Monday about “Fundraising and the New Economic Realities.” The non-profit world will always be agitated during recessionary times as money grows tight – but the recent events in the United States financial system have sent us, as Richard Cohen of the Non-Profit Quarterly put it to the assembled crowd, “into uncharted territory.” Unlike past recessions, which are cyclical in nature, Cohen warned that the very landscape of charitable giving may be changing right under our feet.

For example, the effects of the near-collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alone are enough to seriously disrupt the field – last year alone, they invested $47 million in grants to Metro area nonprofits. (Bread for the City has not received substantial funding from Fannie Mae, but they do provide essential support to the Help the Homeless Walk, in which we participate every year.) As these giant organizations are restructured, as bank after bank falls or merges, and as corporations face tightening bottom lines, lots of funding is faced with uncertain future. There seemed to be agreement in the room that for smaller non-profits this is a cause for concern.

That said, it seemed like the event’s take-away message was: “don’t panic.” Rather, get out in front and act like everything is under control.

Tamara Copeland of Washington Grantmakers shared some survey results that indicated that though some foundations expect their giving to go down, many do not anticipate a change in their projected granting, and others are already planning to give more. In the face of uncertainty, the message to funders from the non-profit community should be that now is the time to act heroically – which means not only honoring commitments but even escalating them.

Bread for the City’s executive director George Jones brought home that very point: “There’s all this talk about the effects on Wall Street and Main Street, but just imagine what it will be like on Skid Row.” George mentioned our plans to expand Bread for the City’s facilities to accommodate a new medical clinic – an $8.5 million endeavor – and indicated that though we have to be more careful in the finances department, the project is still going full-speed ahead. We know that our community of supporters understand that Bread for the City’s programs can literally mean the difference between life and death for thousands of people who need our help now more than ever.

All that being said, now (today!) would be a good time to contact your Congressional representatives to urge that the giving levels of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac be maintained in our region. The Center for Non-profit Advancement has provided us with some talking points for these calls: urge your elected official to contact Agency Director James Lockhart to urge him to protect the Freddie Mac Foundation and to maintain the funding levels from the corporate giving programs of both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. See more information about this action here, and contact Lee Mason at leem@nonprofitadvancement.org for more information.

In the meantime, many thanks to the Center for Nonprofit Advancement for initiating this critical dialogue!

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