Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hunger Pangs

My good friend of many years, nonprofit consultant Marilyn Hoyt ( sent this out a few days ago, coincident with my "Hap-py New Year" blog below. She has graciously allowed me to re-post it. I guess all of us in the consulting trades are ruminating on what's to come. ...

We are all hungry to know what the future holds, even as we may already have a gut assumption: Not as tough as 2009 and likely slogging back. At the bottom of this update are a number of sources for high quality information to use in planning and action through the year. Thanks to all of you who helped focus attention of the really useful studies buried in the welter of communication we all receive. (Feel free to let me know new addresses who want to receive these updates. Likewise, if you don't want to receive this update, just let me know.)

Here's what I'm seeing so much of around the country that it counts as an informal trend:

1) Many, many staff are identifying the tough times with their institution and are really ready to leave. At the same time, their supervisors and boards may be identifying the tough times with them, and wouldn't mind their leaving. Once the job market starts to open up (and the largest of the nonprofit recruiters are seeing the trickle of searches starting now), there is going to be a tremendous game of musical chairs. NOW is the time to write down procedures, filing systems, and build structures that allow facts, history and culture to be accessible when staff leave. NOW is also the time to keep finding ways to allow most valuable employees to influence outcomes, vary their tasks, know they are respected, so that the chances of their leaving are diminished.

2) Lots of data points (but not yet consistent trendlines) are starting to look better. These range from scheduled art auctions to the Atlanta Merchandise Mart shows beginning in the 2nd quarter. Past recessions tell us that just as our tough times tended to lag the business crash, so our better times will lag. But they will come along.

3) Like small business, a lot of us are analyzing our "customers" and donors to see who is really worth the candle...and beginning to focus our mailing lists, meetings and staff time.

4) Many of us are seeing delayed payments for both contracted work and grants from both private and public sources. As Governing Magazine's 2010 checklist noted: "Live Within Your Means. Look to the future. Stop Deferring Expenses.... Set up a rainy day fund."

5) As the commercial business model falters, longing eyes are turning to our side of the fence. We are seeing an unprecedented number of businesses launched with the purpose to sell in the public good. Vermont has created a new type of incorporation that recognizes these companies seeking to do good, raise capital, and also receive grants. This is a trendlet to follow carefully....

There are capital campaigns ongoing and even in announcement, but you know when Harvard suspends a capital project in construction (science center, 12/10/09), that things remain very tough.

Family attraction earnings continue strong Those of us who run museums and zoos for family audiences continue to see good and sometimes record-breaking numbers, and many annual funds did better this holiday season than in 2008.

Looking for money -- there's a stimulus going on, and the nonprofit sector is still wending its way in. We haven't missed the boat.

The National Science Foundation, NOAA, and US Department of Education have announced tranches of funding available for educational activities that non-profits outside of school districts and universities can apply for. Likewise, the state offices for recovery money are pretty organized now and you can usually find them with a model like this "" or "" More importantly, this is a time to network, network, network with colleagues and our national associations. None of us are going to win all this money in one felled swoop so we need to be connecting with each other on all we learn.

Here are useful reports:

Guidestar periodically produces useful surveys with summaries that are quick to review. This one comparing the first 1/2 of 2008 to the same period in 2009 tells us a lot of what we already know. It's helpful to have authoritative data to cite when working with our staff and boards. Here it is:

The Pew Center for Research does such thoughtful work. They've turned one of their lenses this year on the new generation of teens and young adults coming up and will continue to release work through the year. Here's the start:

The only thing worse than not having resources is spending our resources barking up the wrong tree. Excepting for those of us with brands rivalling Coca Cola, social networking is still a waste of time if the goal is to raise money. Philanthropy Action has done a solid study: Social Networking and Mid-Sized Nonprofits, What's the Use:

A Nielsen study on blogging seniors reminds us that social networking may not be particularly useful for fund raising, but as an interface to forward our mission, it grows more important with each passing year. Attached is a December Nielsen report on blogging seniors.

Most nonprofits are involved with education or poverty, or both. The 2008 federal figures which allow us to pull stats for our proposals and reports in a number of ways, including by school district, are out:

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