“Helping Non Profits Through Economic Tough Times” was an interactive session focused on the real issues that funders are facing at this time. Understanding that organizations may shrink or grow in response to the economic crisis, this panel provided concrete examples of what funders, boards and organizations can do to help strengthen an organization and its work. The themes of providing general operating support, capacity building, financial sustainability and advocacy were not new, but the conversation between the panel and the audience provided specific examples that illustrated the issue.
Ron McKinley (Fieldstone Alliance) and Karen Whalen (Kellogg Foundation) provided tools and shared best practices with the group. Specifically, they highlighted examples of how organizations can scale back thoughtfully instead of making cuts of across-the-board, focus on the reliability of funding sources instead of the diversity of funding streams, provide general operating support while still ensuring accountability, and provide net grants that cover the total true cost of the administrative cost and reporting requirements.
Gayle Williams (Babcock Foundation) warned us that there is “threat even in the opportunity” of this current moment. She predicted that the economic downturn will test the economic infrastructure that has been built, and the influx of stimulus dollars may test it further. She challenged us to think about how we can help organizations who are poised to grow with federal money “that is going to hit them like a Mack truck.” One of the things that I was most impressed by was that she candidly addressed the race dynamics present in the flow of federal dollars, sharing that in her funding area, “the white power structure is not pleased that the dollars are flowing to organizations being led by people of color.” She reminded us that we need to help these organizations meet the higher level of scrutiny that they may face.
While Dione Alexander (Nonprofit Finance Fund) reminded us that “this too shall pass,” she also cautioned us that the goal is not simply to help a grantee “get through” the recession. If so, she said, “you have done them a disservice. You need to come out of the recession different and stronger. This is the new normal.”
Kaberi Banerjee-Murthy is a board member of Resource Generation.