As I mentioned in my last e-Newsletter, I have spent a good deal of time over the past month, in conversation with nonprofit executives all over the country, asking them how they are experiencing the recession and what they are doing in response to the current environment. I heard many tales reminiscent of a slow moving freight train bearing down on agencies. Some funding cuts are known and many more are anticipated.
One remarkably calm leader talked about having somewhere in the realm of 100 sources of financing — and his organization actively monitoring most of them as it waits for the whole picture to unfold. A little foundation failure here and a flat reimbursement rate and slow payment there, and at some point the board is pressed to project what else may be ahead and discuss the use of its reserves — if any exist, and perhaps the use of credit, layoffs, program elimination and other difficult issues.
For many nonprofit boards, this is uncharacteristically intense work with a lot of inherent risk and ambiguity. How are boards approaching this moment? Are they clear enough about the financial structure of their agency to be called into decision making? How much framing needs to be done for them? Do they have a sense of the agency’s financial “dashboard” (indicating when you might be hurtling down a long lonely road and your oil light’s been on for a week)?
We have some stories from those we’ve talked to already but we’d love to hear yours as well. If you wish, we will take your comments behind the scenes so that anything you say will be anonymously posted. What are your circumstances and how is your board responding (or not) in this strange anticipatory moment?
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Meanwhile I want to mention two other things:
NPQ is co-sponsoring a nonprofit governance conference on 23-24 April with the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. This conference is the only one in the country that brings nonprofit leaders and researchers together to review the most current issues on board governance. This year, the conference will be focusing on “Boards in Uncertain Times.” Come and join what has always been a very spirited and useful conference!
NPQ is planning to follow a number of nonprofits through this chaotic era to ensure that we know the immediate needs of our readers as they make decisions on how approach the future of their work. We will chronicle the struggles of a few dozen groups, review all the larger survey research and track, important shifts in public policy and funding as it happens. A subscription to NPQ will get you the magazine, regular e-mail updates, and a complimentary copy of our digital compendium “It May be Hard Times Reader” (this offer expires March 11). If you order now, your subscription will start with our Winter issue, which projects some of the important trends in the nonprofit environment.
Beyond that, I want to say, in my neck of the woods, today is a very sunny and warm day. What a relief!