Sunday, November 22, 2009

It's A Stressful Time of Year for Nonprofits, Especially Now, But Also A Time For A New (Survivable) View

As we head into Thanksgiving, this week, our heads are buzzing with realities based in this year. We want to be sure to remember to buy the ingredients for the dish we're making and bringing to Thanksgiving dinner, we are wondering how we'll be sure to spend less on holiday gifts, and we are a bit concerned about the future. How secure is the nonprofit we care most about? How secure is our job? Our friends' and family members' jobs? What about others? There are those who are currently jobless, and the less fortunate, and still yet others who are perhaps the most disenfranchised and vulnerable in our communities. It' s a pleasant time of year and also a bit daunting.

I truly wish you and yours' a wonderful holiday season, this year, filled with some genuinely good times, some good news, and even some quality relaxation.

As for the view on the horizon...

We are all nonprofit professionals (whether dedicated volunteers or staff) and as such, despite the different causes or geographic regions which we serve, share the same professional arena: the nonprofit sector. Our sector is uniquely situated as we do not make profits, our organizations grow and achieve only by being successful and efficient at the work of our missions, and the only way we bring funds in is if we are as committed to fundraising work as we are to the work of the mission (and as successful at this, too). As such, we (no matter what different causes or issues our organizations work on) can share professional methods that succeed (or 'best practices') that can be used and applied by any nonprofit, no matter where, or what that organization works on.

We have many professional resources available to us, as a sector, and in times like these (especially when we are keeping an eye on the future and our organizations' potential in that future) it is important to keep up on the latest best practices, studies' findings in our sector (such as donor trends, how organizations are surviving the economic downturn, etc.), and keeping open to other organizations' lessons learned or recommendations, given these tough times. The media, such as regional professional nonprofit affiliations (check with your local United Way for the one nearest you), professional print media (e.g. The Chronicle of Philanthropy), reputable professional web resources (e.g. The Foundation Center, in particular their Focus On The Economic Crisis web page), professional current topics online web discussions (of which many are free now), and all other reputable avenues where nonprofit professionals are sharing quality information. Staying in the loop on the latest in our sector will keep you aware of until now unknown options or even potential connections that can help your organization if it gets into a tight spot that others have experienced and worked out.

Communicate with colleagues at other organizations, from our own, and keep in touch. Go to lunch with a colleague and ask them to invite another colleague to join you two who you do not know yet and do the same. Bring people together who are skilled, ethical, talented, and have a proven track record and then over lunch brainstorm issues and potential solutions. Share insights, lessons learned, and what you have heard or know. Ask the same of the others at the table.

Look at your organization's situation as one within a whole. Your organization exists within the community(ies) it serves. Look at that geographic region and consider what is impacting it, where the silver lining is predicted, and what the reality is (pressures, lessons learned, and what's working for other nonprofits in the region); and picture your organization within that context. Consider, from this point of view, what the strategic options are to keep your organization running, growing, and healthy based in real regional information (facts). For instance, if most donors, in the region, are still giving but at lesser amounts than two years ago; but the major donors in the area are still giving in about the same larger amounts - your organization would be wise to either initiate (if one does not exist, yet) a major donor program (or to increase and expand it if one does).

Educate yourself, the executive director, and the board; come together to review, assess, study, and devise survival strategies; review real relevant recent data and communicate further; consider what is best for the organization in light of its mission statement and plan in the best interest of the organization and the beneficiaries of its work.

The future can be dealt with if a nonprofit's leadership takes it on, facing reality, finding out information, communicating, listening, planning, and evaluating for successes and failures, and making adjustments based on lessons learned. If a nonprofit is still doing excellent, much needed, and unmatched work in the community in an efficient, ethical, professional, and talented manner - while dealing with the current economy by facing it, educating oneself, and planning how to deal with the economy; the organization will likely survive well.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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