The Herald Bulletin

March 28, 2012

Nonprofits rethinking the way they do business in today's economy

By Michael D. Doyle
For The Herald Bulletin

— With the economy struggling, more and more people are seeking ways to make their charitable donations reach specific causes.

That is just fine with United Way of Madison County president Nancy Vaughan, who has banded together with other local nonprofit organizations, business and local government agencies to find ways to stretch every dollar her organization receives.

“People have become really specific in what they want done with their donations,” Vaughan said. “It’s becoming a big trend in what we do. We have to respond by mobilizing and pooling our assets together to accomplish those things.”

Vaughan said that the United Way’s fundraising has increased each of the last two years after a ten-year trend of decline that was largely attributable to a loss in population. She said her United Way chapter has had to be cautious of what she calls “donor fatigue”.

“When your population decreases I think there’s a danger of losing even more support because you have to go to the same people over and over,” she said.

Sometimes, she said, the best way to counter that is teaming up with other organizations to address specific issues in the population. For example, the United Way is teaming with Old National Bank to help the “unbanked,” or those without banking accounts, establish themselves with a bank to manage their money more effectively. It is also collaborating with WorkOne to help job seekers build their employment skills and is part of the “Born Learning” program which helps parents prepare their young children with pre-literacy skills before entering school.

In the past year, Vaughan said food pantries and other food programs have seen a 22 percent increase in demand from the “working poor.”

“There are so many working families out there struggling to make ends meet and the food pantries are a popular thing because you don’t have to jump through a lot of hoops or fill out a lot of forms to get assistance,” she said. “Unfortunately that also means that the pantries have less to go around.”

Similar programs which provide housing and utilities assistance have also come into increased demand in recent years. Fortunately, a relatively mild winter this year relieved some of that burden, but a substantial need is arising with the increasing costs of childcare and the organizations that subsidize it.

“Childcare providers are all struggling greatly,” Vaughan said. “Most of them are probably losing money. The average parent is just trying to get their kids in a place they can afford and some of those are not so great. It’s a big issue.”

To combat that, Vaughan said, organizations like hers must be dedicated to rethinking operational strategy and making better use of limited resources.

“We’re making some very structural changes in the way we do things,” she said. “We have to learn to do things differently. The whole world is changing so much and every non-profit or charitable organization has to think about what they should do to compensate.”