Industry Outlook: Nonprofits

September 9, 2013

We’ve seen some dramatic decreases, not only in our fundraising as a result of the recession, but it really spurred us to change the way we think about how we serve our communities, and the impact has been great.

CHRISTENSEN: For Valley Services, the purpose of our organization has always been to create businesses that employ people with disabilities—so that relies solely on the ability to be competitive in the market with other businesses.

During the recession we were actually very fortunate. We saw a dramatic increase in business and the people that we were able to employ, and I believe a lot of that was in relationship to difficulties from the recession. As businesses were reducing in size, as government agencies and nonprofits were looking at different ways they could supplement their income, they engaged us in providing services for them. So we saw an increase in work that was available.      

TRENBEATH-MURRAY: When the recession hit, really the stars came into alignment with something that we had envisioned for about two years. We had started the planning, then right as the recession hit we were ready to launch our new social enterprise. So it was coincidental that it happened at the same time. We didn’t see a decrease, necessarily, in giving, and our social enterprise project assisted with that.

Foundations and donors and businesses liked hearing that we were diversifying our revenue sources and that we were taking a very active role in figuring out another way to bring revenue to the organization than being dependent on the grants and giving that we had in the past. Our federal funding was dramatically decreased. We cut $623,000 from our budget this past year.

So the kitchen, the business model, has been absolutely essential to diversifying our funding, and it has helped us to bridge gaps with the for-profit community, which now looks at us a little differently, “Oh, you’re taking the initiative; you’re trying to take the bull by the horns and do things differently, and we like that and we want to help you.”        

If you think about our sector as a whole, what would you like business leaders to understand?

BRAY: This conversation is very reflective of what we’re seeing on a national level. We’re seeing businesses either flat or dip slightly with their giving, that they like entrepreneurial-type ventures. They really look for diversified funding. We’re seeing large decreases in government funding, or in other areas where they want to look at healthcare-related things that are high on this administration’s list. So government funding is shifting priorities.

We’re also seeing that the only area that is really increasing for nonprofits is on individual levels, but that looks different than it’s looked before—so ways to engage them in volunteer efforts, in deeper, meaningful relationships with nonprofits, not just having a fundraising event where you are asking the same people over and over again. So deeper engagement is the trend that we’re seeing.

WEDIG: With Glen Canyon Institute and Citizens for Dixie’s Future, whom I formerly represented, in working on environmental issues, what we saw was a lot more collaboration through organizations. We saw some of our giving go down, but we would partner with bigger national organizations and do a lot of in-kind volunteer work in exchange for those more national organizations to help support us financially. So we got a little bit creative and were able to use our manpower—the power that a local grassroots group has over a national group, which maybe doesn’t have that same local representation.


We’ve certainly seen in Utah a lot of models of collaboration and people working across organizations. Chris, would you agree with that, in the studies that you’ve been doing?

BRAY: I would, and that’s what we see businesses really pushing. I’ve been at a couple of meetings where people have said, “Chris, why am I getting three to five early-childhood-literacy grants that are serving the same population? Are there ways that these nonprofits can pull together and collaborate on a deeper level?”

Businesses really like to see deeper collaboration in working on funding. A lot of organizations have memorandums of understanding. However, those only go so far, and what they’re really looking for is wrap-around services for clients in communities, working on larger societal needs to really show outcomes and impact.      

BJORKLAND: We’ve had the opportunity of helping donors make gifts to multiple organizations, and we’d act as trustees. At first that was bit of a challenge for us. That’s a place where we can collaborate more, and we can actually initiate with the donor and say, “Who do you want to give to? Because we can help that gift go to lots of people.” It’s worked out really well.

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