October 10, 2011; Source: Hartford Business Journal | Are nonprofits becoming somehow optimistic about a change in economic conditions–and consequently, their own conditions–or are they simply adjusting to a new reality (some call it the “new normal”) of an economy that is going to be pretty crummy for a long time to come. 

In the Greater Hartford area, the latest United Way “Non-Profit Pulse Survey” concludes that nonprofits “have a renewed sense of optimism.” 

Perhaps it is the comments of nonprofits quoted in the HBJ article, but optimism doesn’t exactly jump off the page (or the screen) from this article.  The observations sound a bit more like nonprofits making the most out of a bad deal, such as these:

HBJ:  “many organizations have developed creative ways to do more with less, [have] concerns..over public sector funding, [and face] increased demand for services and general uncertainty over the future.”

Susan Dunn, president and CEO of the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut:  “While things haven’t gotten dramatically worse, they have not gotten better.”

Donna Taglianetti, executive director of Co-Opportunity, a Hartford CDC:  “I think people are a little less shell-shocked.  We have fared pretty well financially, but we’re starting to feel the hit on federal grants.”

Ray Gorman, executive director of Community Mental Health Affiliates in New Britain: “Every year that funding goes flat, your program costs go up five percent or so each year…you have utilities, and if health care costs only go up 14 percent a year, we think we’re lucky. There’s no place to shift that expense to, so we’ve consolidated and closed a number of our locations.”

Ron Cretaro, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Non-Profits: “There’s more anxiety over loss of federal dollars. Over the years, people thought that was more secure and that’s now unsettling.”

Despite ticking off the various Co-Opportunity programs that have been whacked by declining government dollars, such as housing counseling and workforce development, Taglianetti described herself and nonprofits in general as nonetheless optimistic. With Taglianetti and others also commenting about the increasing numbers of clients they are seeing who had never sought or needed their help before, optimism may not be the most accurate descriptor.  Try hard-nosed and realistic–and driven by their missions to survive and serve despite the prolonged private and public sector recession.–Rick Cohen