Tougher times, challenging days for state’s nonprofit orgs

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Published: July 14,2008

These are challenging times for non-profit organizations as many families, businesses and corporations are finding it more difficult to make charitable donations.

It’s a mixed bag, with large, national nonprofits more likely to not feel the strain as small, locally-based groups scramble for funding. However, the demand for services is rising sharply.

Mark R. McCrary, executive director of the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits, says it’s interesting to note that nationally 2007 set a contributions record.

“But we are hearing from our members that they are tightening up, downsizing, combining positions and adding more responsibilities to staff members,” he said of his 480-member association. “While this is happening, we’re seeing a huge — at least 50% — increase in the demand for services, more than the organizations can handle.”

He says organizations with a good network of volunteers can call those volunteers to help. More nonprofits are also turning to grants to take up the slack in donations.

“The problem with grants is they don’t pay for staff, so that creates tension in the nonprofit world,” McCrary said. “I haven’t heard of any organizations closing their doors, but many are in a re-trench mode right now.”

Creative thinking

Hope Haven, a home for abused and neglected children in Hancock County, is one of those local organizations that must be creative to maintain funding. “Donations have significantly dropped off from the previous two years,” says Director Terry Latham. “After Katrina, organizations here lost a lot of local support, but they had corporations and people from out of state come in, and they certainly sustained us. The larger organizations ended up better off, but the smaller ones didn’t.”

Now, outside funds have disappeared and much of the local support has not come back. Latham estimates Hope Haven is approximately $20,000 in the red this year.

“How can we even ask local people to donate when they lost so much and haven’t recovered from the storm? We’ve stepped up our efforts with fund raising events such as our annual walk-a-thon and baseball tournament,” he said. “We’re establishing about six events spread out through the year.”

He’s thankful his organization put every penny it could into certificates of deposit when times were good. It was also able to purchase a home and acreage north of Interstate 10 to prevent damage from future storms. Its Waveland property is currently being used as a food pantry.

“We’re very grateful to the Brett Favre Fourward Foundation, Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the BucksMont organization from Pennsylvania for their support,” Latham added. “We’re also busy writing grant proposals.”

Jennifer Cofer, executive director of the American Lung Association, also acknowledges that a lot of nonprofits are staying afloat by writing grants. “I think we’re down in cash donations, but our grants have gone up,” she said. “Grants, endowments and bequests are how we survived the past year. Individual donors are not giving as much.”

However, she is pleased that there’s no decrease in volunteers who want to be involved in community service.

The ABCs of Money Ministries is a Tupelo-based nonprofit dedicated to helping people get out of debt, learn to spend wisely and save. President and founder Karen Tobias started the organization in 1999 and travels anywhere she’s asked giving seminars. With a small budget, she depends on volunteer help.

“We depend on donations and always go through periods of fluctuation,” she said. “We have periods that it’s quiet, then it rises, but I will say donations have gone down. I’m looking to try for grants, but it is tough to find the right one and meet the requirements.”

The American Cancer Society continues to see an increase in donations, according to Robert Morris, state vice president. “I’m proud to say we’re getting more money to help us fulfill our mission, but we’re seeing more cancer patients with needs,” he said.

The organization tries to provide a variety of resources for patients, including transportation. Helping patients get back and forth for treatments is the biggest need it is seeing these days.

“With the cost of fuel, it can be difficult for patients who must travel every day for five to six weeks. Maybe they live in the Delta and have to go to Jackson,” he said. “It’s taking more people for us to provide services.”

Noting that Mississippi residents lead the country in donations, Morris believes that generosity will continue, but may include more in-kind donations rather than hard cash.

“We are certainly aware of the issues out there and will adjust and forecast accordingly,” he said. “We have a lot of willing volunteers, and we try to be good steward of funds donated to us.”

In its July issue, The NonProfit Times reports that the number of donors and the revenue of the 72 large organizations tracked in the Target Analytics Index of National Fundraising both declined when the first quarter of 2008 is compared to the first quarter of 2007.

It is the first time that both donors and revenue declined across the entire index since it has been tabulated beginning in the fall of 2001. Although the number of donors has been declining for more than two years, the revenue generated by the remaining donors has made up the difference and more, the report states. The index has not experienced positive donor growth since the hurricanes of 2005.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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