Last year, the Nonprofit Finance Fund released a survey of the financial state of America’s nonprofits. Among other things, the survey focused on nonprofit finance, what organizations expected in 2010 in terms of funding and demand for services, and what steps they were taking to weather challenging economic conditions. The survey received a staggering amount of media and sector attention (relative to most surveys). Stephanie Strom did a piece in the New York Times and the data was cited throughout 2009 – recently in the Washington Post and the Boston Globe.
This year, NFF will conduct a similar survey. In the interest of providing the most valuable information possible to the sector, NFF wants to ask people what information would be useful to them and has selected the Tactical Philanthropy Community as the venue through which they’d like to gather input.
You can find information about last year’s survey here, summary results here and the full survey here. NFF would like the Tactical Philanthropy Community to make suggestions as to what additional questions should be asked in this year’s survey and plans to add a couple of questions based on this input.
To add your thoughts on what you’d like them to ask, leave a comment on this post.
Last year’s survey was a good one, but a key element was missing. The survey focused solely on the challenges that the recession brought. Question after question had a similar pessimistic, constraint-filled theme. For example the only options available to a survey respondent in the question “To successfully weather the current economy, please check all actions below that you have taken in the last 12 months or are planning to take in the next 12 months” were negative. The options assumed that the recession provided only challenges, not opportunities, to nonprofits. 19% of respondents said “none of these options” or “other.” I’m curious about those respondents. Is anything innovative going on there? Maybe, maybe not, but is anybody asking?
In the business world, examples abound of companies that capitalized on a recession to gain market share, snap up talented employees from their competitors, create a new product or service, and so on. Are there really no examples of innovation in the face of adversity in the nonprofit sector? Or are we so mired in the charity mindset to think that innovation in the nonprofit world is not possible, particularly when economic times are tough.
I understand that this survey was primarily intended to uncover the financial situation of the nonprofit sector, but was there really no room to understand any potential opportunities the recession afforded and how nonprofits might be capitalizing on those opportunities? I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna in the midst of a dire situation, but if we continually throw pessimism and constraint at the nonprofit sector doesn’t it make sense that they will continue to feel constrained and pessimistic? Is there a possibility that some innovation exists out there? Perhaps there are examples of nonprofits who bucked the trend and took the recession head on, revamping their approach to the social problem they are working on, or the funding of their operations, or the delivery of their services, or their response to competitors.
Let’s uncover the Southwest Airlines (creator of the “Grab Your Bag, It’s On” anti-recession ad campaign) of the nonprofit world who are taking the recession by the throat, making some bold moves, and innovating amid constraint.
We’ve seen it here at Social Velocity. One of our clients, Heart House, an after-school program for at-risk children, decided last year to kick their vision for growth into gear, despite the recession. The program, currently serving 500 kids in Austin and Dallas, knows they have a great, scalable model, so they put together a growth plan to go statewide. Social Velocity helped them refine the plan and create an investor pitch around it, and they went out to raise $1.5 million in growth funding, recession be damned. A few months into their campaign they’ve already raised a third of the money. They don’t sit around talking about constraint and the horrible economy, yet they are feeling the pinch just like the rest of us. They seized the opportunity: when funders have nonprofit after nonprofit coming to them begging for money to get by, Heart House talks about something completely different. They are talking about big plans, a grand vision, results and a way to scale those results, a way to solve Texas’ afterschool problem. And funders are intrigued.
I would like to see NFF add a question(s) to the survey like: “What new approaches to funding, service delivery, operations, etc. have you taken because of the recession? What positive results emerged because of those new approaches?”
Thanks for your feedback- very helpful! Your input will influence a couple of this year’s survey questions. Please get in touch with me directly if you have any further thoughts you’d like to share.