Nonprofits face tumultuous times

“May you live in interesting times.” It’s clear this ancient Chinese blessing/curse has been bestowed on nonprofit organizations all over America, including many right here in the Rogue Valley.

Recently I had the opportunity to be part of a luncheon roundtable discussion hosted by the Medford office of The Oregon Community Foundation. A dozen local nonprofit leaders gathered to discuss major potential changes to funding levels and sources and they saw difficult (and some good) signs on the horizon. People at the table represented groups working in health care, human services, education, youth development, homelessness, the arts, animal welfare, public broadcasting and more.

Many participants recalled how hard it was for their organizations to survive the negative impacts of the Great Recession, but they quickly agreed that today seems different and more challenging in important ways. Here are some of their insights.

Fundraising is more competitive — and more complicated — than ever before. Local donors are getting many more appeals from national organizations and for larger amounts. In addition, there is indisputable evidence that individual donors are tiring of traditional fundraising approaches and nonprofits must find new, innovative ways to engage and inspire them.

Giving patterns are changing for some organizations. For a myriad of reasons, fewer donors are making mid-level annual gifts, a longtime key component of many groups’ fundraising framework. That money will need to be replaced through other means. And while Millennials often want to be directly involved in the work of the causes and groups they support, they tend to donate at lower levels.

If proposed federal and state funding cuts are enacted, nonprofits providing basic services such as food, shelter and health care can expect a significant rise in the number of people they must serve. Organizations with substantial public financial support will be faced with the need to expand private development and other options. But here’s the dilemma: At what point do groups communicate genuine need — and how best to do it — without appearing to “cry wolf”?

Some long-established arts organizations may face a double whammy. If public funding is cut for basic human services, donors may shift their emphasis to supporting those needs. Coupled with that is the increasing age of many longtime donors to the performing and visual arts.

Nonprofit organizations are looking to form new collaborations with other groups doing similar work, and that takes time and skill. “Donors want us to cooperate more so they aren’t confused about who’s doing what and why,” noted one senior nonprofit executive.

Clearly nonprofits need new and better ways to interact with their volunteers. At the YMCA, we’ve taken an extensive look at unpaid helpers and reclassified them into three categories: Ongoing, Seasonal and One-Time. That makes it much easier for staff to use volunteers effectively.

There is no clarity yet on the potential effects of possible caps on charitable deductions and repeal of the federal estate tax. No one knows for sure what will happen next, but many nonprofits must be able to manage the ripple effect of changes to the U.S. Tax Code and likely impacts on private and corporate philanthropy.

One bright spot, however, is the rise in membership and donations to public radio/television in light of threatened cuts to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and ongoing attacks on the legitimacy of traditional news media outlets.

In summary, I urge my colleagues to remain optimistic and resolute, to lead boldly, and to continue to reach out to the broader community. And I encourage everyone to continue to support local nonprofits, who both add vibrancy to our community and provide an essential safety net for our vulnerable friends and neighbors.

— Brad Russell is CEO/executive director of the Rogue Valley Family YMCA in Medford. He also serves on the boards of the Nonprofit Association of Oregon and La Clinica Health Centers.


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