Wisconsin Nonprofits in the Economy’s “New Normal”

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December 6, 2011; Source: Wisconsin State JournalNPQ always tracks and reports on the various state-level surveys of how nonprofits are faring in this troubled, turbulent economy. This third “Wisconsin Nonprofit Economic Impact Report” comes from Forward Community Investments, checking in on the health of Wisconsin’s nonprofit sector. Some key findings on the 325 nonprofits that responded to the survey are as follows:

  • A higher proportion of respondents in 2011 said that they planned to “reduce or modify their program services”—38 percent—compared with only 33 percent in 2010 and 29 percent in the height of the recession in 2009. Is that due to their thinking that their constituencies’ needs have abated somewhat as a result of the nation’s alleged economic improvement, or is it the lingering effect of cascading funding cuts causing program retrenchment?
  • Cash reserves are a problem: 24 percent had only one month (or less) of cash reserves, 27 percent had two-to-three months, and 49 percent had four months or more. That sounds worse than the national profiles we have seen, but we aren’t surprised. Many small nonprofits live incredibly close to the bone.
  • Half of the government-funded nonprofits reported decreases in their contracts (one wonders if those were mid-term, state-imposed contract modifications, as has been an unfortunate trend uncovered recently in some states) compared with 28 percent the year before.

FCI’s Salli Martyniak summed up the study as a picture of the “new normal,” a “cautious realism” as opposed to “cautious optimism” about the future. Crystel Anders of Community Shares of Wisconsin, an alternative workplace fundraising group, characterized the situation as nonprofits getting “busier and busier” and expected “to do more and more with less.”

We hope NPQ Newswire readers send us the nonprofit surveys they are seeing so that we can begin to see evidence of the trends, as opposed to what we suspect is happening, and instances of anomalies where nonprofits in some states and localities might be bucking the trends—for better or for worse.—Rick Cohen