The State of It All

I had this great blog posting.  It was insightful, funny, made a really important point.  But I can’t remember what it was about.  And, of course, I didn’t write it down. “I won’t forget this one,” I thought.  Famous last words. But it’s been that kind of a week.  I’m unfocused, mildly depressed.  Maybe it’s the cold (my Wisconsin-living daughter laughs when I complain about southern California cold), just that inter-regnum between Thanksgiving and the end of the year holidays.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that so many of my friends and colleagues are in panic mode looking for a job.

Given the state of the economy, knowing so many out-of-work folk isn’t surprising.  Still, it is worrying.  Things are not getting better;  a jobless recovery is no recovery at all.  And then there are all the state of the nonprofit sector reports and conferences I’ve been reading and attending.  It’s not a happy picture out there, but what makes it even more chilling is that those working in the sector don’t seem to understand.

Oh yes, giving is down almost across the board—but “I” won’t have to change anything.  Sure, salaries were frozen or worse, programs cut, hiring frozen (see above).  But for too many nonprofit leaders, it appears to be business as usual.

Putting on a cheery face is not by definition a bad thing;  not facing reality is.

Most of the reports I’ve read give really mixed messages. For example, the Nonprofit Research Collaborative reported “Nearly the same percentage of organizations reporting that giving was up as those that reported giving was down.”  But digging more deeply put a slightly different cast. Organizations that had higher expenditures also reported higher revenue, reminding us that it does really take money to make money.  And health and public-society benefit organizations were down.   Of all sectors, international organizations were the most likely to report an uptick, “reflecting” the report said “donations made for disaster relief.”

Despite the fact that only 36% said revenue increased, 47% planned budget increases in 2011.  How does that compute?

Certainly not all (and perhaps not even most) nonprofits are assuming ostrich pose.

End of the year is always a good time for reflection.  It’s also a great time to begin planning for the coming year.  Being realistic is a necessary ingredient, however. Take off the rose colored glasses and give yourself and your organization a hard, clear, accurate look.  Assess your strengths; think about what could be better.  Don’t settle for what is, but develop a plan for what should be.

Janet Levine is a consultant, author and trainer who works with nonprofit and educational organizations helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn about her services and workshops and buy her book, Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants at her website,