Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

Utah’s nonprofits and charities were hit especially hard during the Great Recession, with many forced to provide more services with substantially less funding. Our group of nonprofit leaders discusses their current needs, the vital role they play in Utah’s economy and community, and how businesses can become more involved in helping this important sector.

We’d like to give a special thank you to Fraser Nelson, executive director of the Community Foundation of Utah, for moderating the discussion.


Back Row: Chris Bray, Utah Nonprofits Association; Mike Washburn, Thanksgiving Point Institute; Tim Brown, Tracy Aviary; Christi Wedig, Glen Canyon Institute; Eric Bjorklund, Utah Youth Village; Jose Lazaro, Catholic Community Services; Jeremy Christensen, Valley Services

Front Row: Greg Lee, Red Butte Garden; Agnes Chiao, United Way of Salt Lake; Fraser Nelson, Community Foundation of Utah; Nan Seymour, Local First Utah; Brandie Balken, Equality Utah; Adam Cohen, Odyssey House; Terry Haven, Voices for Utah Children; Tony Milner, Family Promise Salt Lake

SeatedErin Trenbeath-Murray, Salt Lake CAP Head Start; Brad Jensen, Holland & Hart; Amberlie Phillips, YMCA; Caroline Goldman, HawkWatch International; Martha Wunderli, Fair Credit Foundation

How has the Great Recession impacted you? We’re a couple years, supposedly, out of it, but our studies indicate that we really haven’t seen a return to even 2008 levels of giving.

PHILLIPS: For the YWCA, 2007-2008 was our most successful fundraising year ever, and the very next year we saw a 20 percent dropoff in giving. So right at the outset when the recession started, our giving dropped. And we have yet to return to that level. This year we came very close; we were hopeful, but we just barely missed the mark.

It’s been a very slow climb back for us, and at the same time, in response to ever-increasing need, we actually increased our capacity by 75 percent. So we’re now providing more services with less money. It presents huge challenges for us.

MILNER: Right after the fall of 2008, we actually had a bunch of people come and bring us donations. They said, “We know that there’s going to be a lot of families that are going to be hurting.” It was interesting to see how everything was hitting the general population, and their response was to come to us right away rather than waiting, holding onto their own money and just seeing where the economy was going to lie.      

Since then, though, we’ve pretty much had a 7 percent decrease per year, mostly foundations, mostly private. This past year is the first year that has been coming up just a little bit. We weren’t able to increase services; we’ve just been basically holding down the fort since then.

GOLDMAN: A lot of our funding comes from government at various levels, and industry, and it kept steady. We’re diversified enough that we were able to keep steady for a couple of years. 2012 was actually our worst year, and it was mostly because of government and industry folks who didn’t know what tax havens were going to look like and they didn’t know what the whole political environment was going to look like. So it’s not just the economy. A lot of the political uncertainty in the last couple of years has also affected us, but we are certainly coming back this year.

BROWN: We had a lot of sources of funding, so really the governmental support hasn’t changed dramatically. The foundations initially dropped, but they’ve returned. For us, what’s not returned is the business community. They took a step back, and they’ve not come back to where they were prior to 2008.

Let’s talk about changes you’ve made in your business model as a result of the recession.

CHIAO: During the recession, [United Way] had to lay off a number of our staff. It was a very hard time, and we took it as an opportunity to look at our business model and really evaluate the impact that we were having on our community. We were in middle of a five- to 10-year transformation, and what the recession really did was give us that last push to complete our transformation—and we’re just simply not the same United Way. We’re not the same organization that we were a short three or four years ago.     

How we’ve changed our model is that we are focused on very specific neighborhoods that have shown high needs, and we’re trying to work with nonprofit organizations and other sectors, like the business sector, to really move the needle on a very specific common agenda, on specific goals. We’re looking at how we use data differently, together.

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