Nonprofit organization leaders need the community’s help

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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Some of my most meaningful work moments were gained while running a nonprofit organization for five years. My top priority in the first half of the ’90s was making a Grass Valley cultural center the activity hub of Nevada County. So much so that I uprooted my daughters from their grade school a half hour away and enrolled them in a Grass Valley school. I needed them close to my workplace because the majority of my waking hours were spent there, from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on “easy” weekdays and to 11 p.m. on meeting nights. Then we would spend most every Saturday and/or Sunday producing concerts and community events. My house suffered as a result of my tenure at the nonprofit organization. During the terrible 10-day rainstorms in 1995, in which northern California was declared a federal disaster area, I repeatedly drove a half hour each way in blinding rain to sandbag and resandbag the 135-year-old historical landmark. But I didn’t have time to place sandbags around my Lake of the Pines house. As a result, I had to run space heaters to dry water-damaged rugs in my living room, dining room and bedroom after the storm was over. The rugs never looked the same, though. My personal bills were also neglected. Money was tight at the center as donations and grant funds slowly trickled in. So I often delayed writing my paycheck because the center needed enough money to cover its $500-plus monthly PG&E and $200 monthly water bills. My own unopened PG&E and water bills littered my own kitchen counter since I paid my personal bills after work bills were paid. There are 171 nonprofits in Lincoln, according to Robert G. Ottenhoff, the GuideStar USA, Inc. president/chief executive officer. GuideStar gathers information about 1.8 million IRS-recognized nonprofit organizations throughout the country. I am sure that most nonprofit executive directors are just as dedicated as I was to their organizations. That’s true today, even as many organizations are struggling monthly to stay open and its leaders are living paycheck to paycheck because nonprofit salaries are often lower than in the corporate world. To make matters worse, area nonprofit organizations are after the same available but rapidly shrinking fundraising dollars. If it was challenging 15 years ago to compete with area nonprofits for donation and grant funds, it has to be an Olympic-like task today as residents continue to lose their jobs and homes, and businesses struggle to make a profit. How can nonprofits survive in today’s down economy, especially since so many are competing for the same funding sources? “Our biggest piece of advice is to be transparent about everything in your organization, and do the best you can to tell your nonprofit’s progress and work to overcome obstacles," Ottenhoff said. “We just launched a new initiative to help nonprofits tell their impact story:” Eight percent of nonprofits were in danger of folding because of decreased fundraising, according to a 2009 GuideStar study. Another finding was that the number of charitable nonprofits reporting decreased contributions increased from 34 percent in the January through September 2008 period to 52 percent in the October 2008 through February 2009 time period. “We know fundraising is a real concern ... We also know, based on our recent fundraising survey, that the demand for services continues to increase as the traditional sources (governments and individual contributions) are declining,” Ottenhoff said. “It’s for this reason that we’re beginning to hear more and more talk about mergers and acquisitions ... But we advise people that if you want to make a difference, don’t start a nonprofit – see what’s already out there and find out how you can help their efforts.” Taking Ottenhoff’s advice one step further, please support your favorite nonprofit organizations during these hard economic times. Every dollar in donations helps.