February 6, 2012; Source: Florida Times-Union | There are meetings of nonprofits occurring around the country to take stock of the impact of the charitable giving environment on their financial and programmatic futures. The mid-January conference of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida showcased nonprofits in the Jacksonville area doing their best to sound confident and put on their game face as they told potential donors that they would be giving to nonprofits on their way up, not those suffering from years of fiscal entropy. 

Ben Warner, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Community Council, gave the sentiment a new name that should be added to the nonprofit sector’s lexicon: “strained optimism.”

Warner credited nonprofits with the “ability to just soldier on: ‘We’re going to do it. We’re going to find a way,’” but some factors make the game face a little difficult to don. 

Rena Coughlin, the executive director of the Nonprofit Center, cited the sale of Winn-Dixie and the area pullout of Food Lion, two charitable giving mainstays, as factors that changed the landscape for corporate donations.

She also noted that nonprofits would be suffering from reductions in local, state, and federal grants and, as a result, would face new competition for charitable dollars—from public programs. She noted that nonprofits would be “competing with city government” as Mayor Alvin Brown makes the charitable giving “space…more crowded” by trying to find private moneys to fund city programs. 

Some local nonprofits saw small increases in their charitable revenues, but frequently they were outpaced by escalating service demands, as was the case with the Mandarin Food Bank’s 50 percent increase in demand. The official statistics make this obvious. The Florida Times Union states that 10 years ago, one in 25 Jacksonville residents qualified for food stamps; today, it is one in five. The City Kids Art Factory also saw an increase in contributions, but its one paid staff person, able to live on a pension from her previous job, has donated all but $1 of her $25,000 salary for two years to keep the organization afloat. 

It’s not in the DNA of most nonprofits to cry poverty, especially given institutional funders’ reluctance to put money into organizations that they think might not make it. They present themselves as good, reliable, long-term investment opportunities. But given the economies of the public sector and charitable giving, that public image of optimism doesn’t come without serious stress and strain. –Rick Cohen