Here’s the answer.
It came just six months ago. In December 2011, longtime United Way of Bradley County Inc. President and Chief Executive Officer Brenda Abel — who was preparing for her own well-deserved retirement at year’s end — sounded many of the same warnings.
Two leading executives of two highly respected charitable organizations offered essentially the same sobering messages: Pools of available funding are rapidly drying up. Nonprofits are competing feverishly for the same donated dollar. People agencies operating as 501(c)(3)s are being forced to change, or to evolve, based on society trends. But not all will succeed, meaning the number of nonprofits will decrease. Yet, community need will not.
Given the snail-like pace of America’s economic recovery from the five-year-old recession, many major corporations whose charitable donations were once a given have been forced to make tough decisions. These have included closing down facilities, consolidating operations, reducing product and services, and instituting painful employee layoffs, among others.
Such decisions have included cutbacks in discretionary spending which impacts nonprofit organizations whose community causes then suffer the consequences. And when nonprofits cannot provide the full services for which they were chartered, people’s needs cannot be met.
Ironically, these are many of the same people who have lost their jobs.
It is a vicious cycle, one whose end will come more quickly when business spending picks up ... by the same businesses that are being forced to cut back.
It was a fact six months ago when Abel forewarned that respected organizations like United Way would have to learn to do more with less. Nothing has changed half-a-year later as Moore points to the same issues that face Junior Achievement.
But it’s not all about money. It’s also about leadership. And specifically, it’s about volunteers.
In both cases, retiring executives of United Way and JA pointed to the need to recruit a new generation of volunteer leaders, a younger group whose energy, zeal, fresh approach and innovative ideas can work to reinvent what their hardworking predecessors created years earlier.
It is also about broadening the funding base for not only nonprofits like United Way and JA, but any community organization that relies on public and private donations to keep its doors open. Expanding these resources includes attaining the buy-in of new companies moving into the area as well as an expanded commitment of existing business partners.
It is not all about corporate donors. It also is a look ahead at how to attract the attention of young, well-educated, highly-skilled entrepreneurs whose current focus is more on career, wealth and family than it is on community and philanthropy.
Abel’s suggestion to her successors was to bring youthful leaders into influential United Way positions and volunteer roles. Moore’s recommendation to JA was the same.
Abel’s thoughts were to become more proactive in justifying United Way’s existence to the community by implementing measures to fund member agencies based on level of community impact. Moore said much the same, but her lean targeted heightened work at public awareness in order to help JA’s communities better understand its impact on area schools and young minds.
Abel favored working more closely with area businesses and industries to determine how they wanted fundraising activities to be conducted. Moore concurred.
Abel stressed United Way must change with the times. Moore believes JA must do the same while retaining its fundamental doctrines on preparing young people for a global economy.
Abel believes technology is the new wave of the nonprofit future. Moore believes it too, and urged greater use of the social media.
Such change won’t come easily. Such evolution won’t be painless.
But if nonprofits are to survive in this new world of economic uncertainty, those who react the fastest will be those who reach community need the most.