July 5, 2010; Source: Times Herald-Record | One of the big questions always facing nonprofits is whether or how they can stay in business forever. For at least one kind of nonprofit—a cemetery—going out of business is never an option. Yet, as The Times Herald-Record reports, several nonprofit and volunteer owned cemeteries in New York state are struggling to survive, limping by from meager returns on their investments.

An example is the Chester Cemetery Board, which operates a burial ground about 60 miles northwest of New York City. The cemetery currently has less than $100,000 in funds, and it is forced by state regulations to live off whatever interest it can generate from that money. “Before 2008, we were at least treading water, but then the interest rates dropped,” said Betty Ann Reilly, a member of the Chester Cemetery Board. That cemetery is not alone.

According to New York’s Division of Cemeteries, not-for-profit cemeteries have experienced as much as a 30 percent decline in revenue form interest. The Times-Herald reports that not-for-profit cemeteries are not allowed to spend their trust funds or invest in securities with high returns. Also hurting is a drop in revenues from new burials as more people are opting for cremation. The problem is becoming so severe that at least 10 of the 1,800 cemeteries overseen by the state are slated to be taken over by municipalities, which state regulations require when current owners can no longer properly maintain them.

Other cemeteries that are privately owned, affiliated with religious institutions, or already run by municipalities don’t seem to be having the same struggles like the smaller ones overseen by volunteers. Perhaps it’s time for nonprofit cemeteries to call on friends and past supporters to dig down deep to help.—Bruce Trachtenberg