A Good Time to Invest in the Causes You Care About
By Lance Linares, Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County
A question frequently asked of me these days is if I think the recession will have a negative effect on giving to nonprofit organizations in Santa Cruz County? I'm sure it will. But, to what extent is hard to answer.
It seems like what only weeks ago was being described as a "crisis of confidence" within our financial markets is now turning into very real layoffs, loss of retirement savings and business closures. The nonprofit sector is not immune.
Last month, the Bridgespan Group, a national philanthropic organization, polled 800 nonprofit leaders across the country and found the current recession is already being felt by many nonprofits. "Nonprofits that rely on government funding," it said, "have been the hardest hit, with 61 percent reporting cuts."
We expect this will be true in our county as well, with local and state budgets now on the chopping block. Agencies like Community Bridges, Mountain Community Resources and Families in Transition are among the more than 60 nonprofit organizations that contract with government to effectively provide thousands of local residents with basic services like food, shelter and health care. Established arts, history and environmental groups are under increased strain as well, as reported in recent stories about Shakespeare Santa Cruz, KUSP and others.
Despite the continued uncertainty the best and simplest advice for all of us might be the hardest to follow: Don't Panic.
Just how long the economy remains in recession is anyone's guess and the long term impact on charitable giving and the nonprofit sector is still a matter of conjecture and nervous debate. Both history and experience offer some insight and hope. Through our 26 years as a community foundation, working with donors, professional advisers and nonprofits, even during tough times, people in our community have rallied to support the causes they care about and the organizations they trust.
This is supported nationally by a study undertaken this year by GivingUSA and the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University. In it they gauged giving during recessions and economic slowdowns during the past 40 years. They showed while overall contributions may dip, people continued to give during recessions and are most likely to make gifts to organizations that provide "excellent stewardship."
Hopefully, this offers some reassurance and an important message to local nonprofits. It isn't a time to panic. Not because there isn't good reason to do so, but as one local nonprofit leader told us this week, panic doesn't work; it doesn't result in good thinking or clear communications.
Energies might be better used in turning the current situation into an opportunity to revisit budgets and to look for additional cost savings, to focus on what is working well, to seek out partnerships and reduce duplication and to, above all, communicate clearly and often with supporters. Yes, it is a critical time to reaffirm and strengthen trust; to demonstrate excellent stewardship.
If we can all take the long view, it doesn't make sense to stop supporting the food pantry or the symphony or school programs this year -- even if it means being a bit more selective. These are our organizations. Santa Cruz County is not rich with many foundations or corporate giving programs. Our local groups depend on us, now more than ever.
So, if you haven't made a contribution this year to a favorite cause, now would be a great time to do it. Perhaps a slight shift in perspective might also help. Don't think of your next contribution as a donation or an emergency gift, but rather an investment in our future.
I think you'll find the returns on this kind of investment will pay real and lasting dividends over the long haul.
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