March 21, 2011; Source: Nonprofit Finance Fund | For anyone looking for signs that the recession is over and that things are brightening, a just released survey of 1,900 nonprofits in the United States offers little comfort. Findings from the survey conducted by Nonprofit Finance Fund (NFF), with support from the Bank of America Charitable Foundation, show that the heads of these organizations expect that they'll be tested again in 2011 as they try to cope with increased demands for their services from people who also are struggling.

Of those responding to the survey, some 85 percent expect they'll be asked, as they have over the past several years, to do more, but less than half – 46 percent – feel they'll be able to fully deliver. This year marks the third in as many years in which more than 70 percent of organizations have been seeing increased demand for services. The hardest hit are organizations that characterize their services as providing a "lifeline" to people in communities.

Some statistics: 87 percent of lifeline organizations saw an increase in demand for services in 2010, compared with 68 percent of non-lifeline organizations. Of the 60 percent of lifeline organizations that reported increased requests for services in 2010, only 43 percent said they could fully meet those demands, and a much smaller number, 37 percent, say they'll be able to do all they're being asked this year.

Nonprofits are coping by either getting creative through strategic collaborations with other service providers in their communities, finding ways to cut costs, or relying on more volunteer help. Those who have no choice are taking more drastic steps, such as laying off staff or turning away people, said Rebecca Thomas, vice president of consulting services at NFF. Thomas adds that these more draconian measures "are further compromising the social safety net at a great cost to America."—Bruce Trachtenberg