What Does “Increased Need” Look Like for a Small Nonprofit?

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April 16, 2014; Cincinnati.com

A week ago, NPQ covered the Nonprofit Finance Fund’s survey of nonprofit finances, and one of the big takeaways was the fact that so many respondents were reporting years of gradually increasing need among their clients. This resonated with us, but sometimes we think it just sounds like numbers to most, so we wanted to recognize the complexity and compelling requirements of running even the smallest of local nonprofits.

The Freestore Foodbank in Cincinnati says there was a 17 percent increase in meal distribution through soup kitchens and senior centers during the coldest months of this past winter. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Northern Kentucky says that there was a 93 percent increase in need at its food pantry, and between December and March, the food pantry at Brighton Center provided food to 287 more families than during the same period the year prior. The increases are being attributed to a combination of very cold weather, cuts in food stamps, and school closings.

Snow days put a strain on limited budgets as children who would have been fed at school were not and parents working in jobs without sick days lost income staying home with their children. This coincided for some families with a decrease in food stamp benefits and an increase in utility payments; the result was a spike in food insecurity.

The nonprofits also struggled with the conditions. One did not heat its own building completely in order to distribute more propane. Others tried to manage around the needs of volunteers. “We have a lot of older volunteers working here during the day, and if the schools thought the weather was bad enough that the buses shouldn’t be on the roads, we didn’t want our elderly people falling on the ice,” said Fred Banta, director of Action Ministries.

NPQ welcomes stories from our readers about what their increases in need look like and how they are handling them.—Ruth McCambridge