A Balanced Agenda for Funding (Sep 02)

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Oh dear, it’s September already…

It’s amazing how quickly we plunge back into the thick of things. Someone sent us a photo titled, “AND YOU THINK YOUR [sic] HAVING A BAD DAY AT WORK !!” Circulated anonymously on the Internet, the photo alleges to show a great white shark attacking a person suspended from a rope ladder under a hovering helicopter. It seemed to capture the way many of us are feeling as we head into this fundraising season — what with budget cuts, growing needs, shrinking foundation assets and such. (By the way, we checked and the photo is a very clever e-mail hoax .)

The enclosed article by Jon Pratt may help guide your thinking about how to achieve a more balanced and stable funding mix in the long term. Although I am not generally a big fan of the quick-and-easy “tool” approach to management, every now and then something comes along which is useful, timely and well worth sharing — besides, we couldn’t resist giving you a peek at next month’s fall issue. Subscribers to the Nonprofit Quarterly can use this tool in concert with our forthcoming annual update on the state of philanthropy. (See: Pratt, “The Dynamics of Funding: Considering Reliability and Autonomy,” NPQ Fall 2002)

But in the short term, many of us are facing the onset of hard times driven by events we cannot control through better fundraising or financial management practices.  Government policies and funding priorities are increasingly shaping our environment; and many, even some fiscal conservatives, are beginning to recognize the potential for disaster in the curious financial choices being made at federal and state levels. In my own state of Massachusetts, for example, “balancing the budget” has meant severe funding cuts for mental health services to the poor — incidentally, protecting an across-the-board tax cut benefiting the wealthy. If we can’t turn things around, it’s fairly easy to foresee the dreadful outcomes of this kind of nonsense.

Turning things around might begin with generating a different and more powerful common agenda that attends to such things as inclusion, justice and sustainability — locally and globally. Some might call it building a social movement. Our second preview article presents the findings of a recent study of factors influencing nonprofit advocacy. (See: Arons and Bass, “Not Ready to Play the Game: Nonprofit Participation in Public Policy,” NPQ Fall 2002) Where does your organization fall along the spectrum of advocacy activities described?

Finally, we’re always looking for new voices — stories of people and organizations still striving in this otherwise disheartening age of devolution, shrinking tax revenues and budget cuts. We know that there must be a nascent social movement stirring out there somewhere; you might even be part of one, or know of someone who is. We’d love to hear what you are doing. Please take a moment to write us.