Recently, TSNE cosponsored a gathering convened by Associated Grant Makers (AGM) to look at the effect that the current economic downturn is having on the state’s non-profit sector.
The event drew nearly 400 participants from across the Commonwealth and included representatives from the state’s non-profit community, foundations and public sector agencies.
The convening opened with a discussion by a panel of non-profit, academic, communications and community leaders on strategies that nonprofits can employ now and continue to benefit from when the economy picks up. These strategies include closer collaboration, a stronger public voice and better financial management.
The panel also discussed the need for funders to collaborate, be more transparent in their funding processes and decision-making, and provide more funding for capacity building and general operating support, especially during lean times.
Nonprofit Leaders Assess Needs In Light of Economic Crisis
Following the panel discussion, small groups engaged in lively table-based conversations. The participants answered one of three questions posed that addressed short-term and long-term challenges as well as immediate technical assistance and capacity building needs.
Across all groups and questions, the most recurrent issue spoke to the need to create spaces and ways to bring nonprofits and funders together to foster greater trust and knowledge of each other. Some examples of these spaces included:
- More regular and structured convenings to bring about fruitful dialogue and exploration about often challenging topics such as collaborations, strategic alliances and mergers
- Creating a virtual “hub” to exchange information about resources, lessons learned and emerging and innovative ideas
- Harnessing nonprofits’ political power in order to influence policy regarding the economic stimulus package.
Building Capacity for the Long Term
Another consistent theme that emerged recognized philanthropy as a key partner in ensuring the welfare of our communities through their support of non-profit organizations. In this regard, participants believe that funders have an important role to play as convenors, and that the way nonprofits are funded by and large needs to change to include more operational and multiyear grants, as well as funding for capacity building needs.
Preparing for the Future
Finally, regarding specific technical assistance and capacity building needs, the most pressing needs identified included:
- Bolstering leadership across all levels of the organizations, with a particular emphasis on boards to increase their active participation in fundraising and volunteer work in the face of potential staff reductions
- Creating safe and structured spaces through internal assessments and strategic planning, to help nonprofits make wise and informed choices about their future
- Developing marketing or communications strategies to help organizations communicate their impact, relevance and uniqueness – and thus improve outreach and education efforts and attract funding and new volunteers
- Strengthening fundraising, financial management and human resources to help nonprofits expand and diversify their sources of revenue, improve their ability to manage these resources, and implement policies and practices that allow them to work with staff in a responsible and humane way given the potential for layoffs, increased workloads and declining staff morale
AGM and other cosponsors are now planning the next steps that best respond to the needs identified by the gathered non-profit leaders. TSNE looks forward to continuing partnering with AGM to support the nonprofit sector in these challenging times.