How to Keep Public’s Attention on Cutbacks?

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June 6, 2012; Source: KFYR-TV (Bismarck)

The North Dakota Association of Nonprofit Organizations (NDANO)’s annual Nonprofit Leadership Conference wrapped up yesterday, and according to a report from KFYR in Bismarck, N.D., one point of discussion among those in attendance was the dichotomy of rising demand and decreasing funding. According to NDANO Executive Director Dana Schaar, “Nonprofits, we’re finding, really are seeing an increased demand for services and also at the same time revenues are still a challenge to come up with enough donations and earned income to meet those rising needs.” That all-too-common dilemma is, sadly, old news to most readers of Nonprofit Quarterly, but bear with us here, because the KFYR report tied to the conference is interesting for a couple of reasons.

First, in an example of local television news doing what it does best, the report localized the problem for North Dakotans in a way that may be more tangible to those outside of the nonprofit sector than more generalized statements of need and capacity. The NBC news affiliate reported that “housing is so scarce in western North Dakota that a nonprofit organization like Bethel Lutheran Foundation in Williston has a waiting list 200 people deep for 60-some apartments.” The report went on to feature speculation on what happens to those who don’t land one of the coveted apartments.

Perhaps more importantly, the report noted that, for North Dakota’s 5,000 or so nonprofits and the people that they serve, “the situation just keeps getting more severe.” This statement was not attributed to a nonprofit leader, but was KFYR’s own editorial voice deeming that the problem is, objectively speaking, worsening. Have your local media outlets accepted the widely acknowledged (in our sector, at least) position that many or most of our communities’ nonprofit social safety nets are growing more endangered? Or are they still pinning such assessments to a nonprofit spokesperson? Does it matter who says it as long as the message is delivered? And how can nonprofit leaders continue to repeat this mantra, until it is heard and acted upon, without being tossed into the recycling bin as “old news?” –Mike Keefe-Feldman