Rolling out for Nonprofit Success: Staying Viable in Tight Times

Article excerpt

I love baseball metaphors (although I'm not really a baseball fan). I was recently in Philadelphia for a conference after the Phillies won the World Series. A speaker was talking about philanthropy in a down economy as a small-ball game-not always swinging for home runs, but chipping away one base hit at a time as a safer fundraising strategy until the economy improves.

I recently spoke with the executive director of a medium-size nonprofit in Florida, who said the organization generally spends up to 20% of its resources on fund-raisers, grant writing, grant reporting or cultivating donor bases. I know she would prefer that her staff spend its time providing community services, rather than chasing the dime. The only way to get out of the endless cycle of fundraising and grant writing is for nonprofits to make their own plays.


Service organizations in aging have a particular sense of urgency. In the long run, we know that the need for services to elders and their caregivers will double and triple as the boomer generation ages. Simply put, future government funding likely will not keep pace with the level of increased need.

Furthermore, the current economic crisis forecasts a rather bleak future. Add to that the fact that endowments, foundations, wealthy and even small donors have seen their investments rapidly decline and, in some cases, evaporate.

The bottom line: In the next few years, relying on increased funding from the usual suspects seems to be a pipe dream. That is why we need to become playmakers on the base paths, creating wins by being innovative, flexible and mobile. (See "The, Nonprofit Playbook" on this page for my recommendations.)

One question I'm frequently asked when I present my ideas, such as entrepreneurship and revenue generation for nonprofits, regards integrity. Service organizations in aging are a trusted source for the community, and if we closely associate with the for-profit world, will we be compromising our unbiased role? There is no reason for that to happen: As long as an agency chooses revenue-generating programs that are mission driven, it still can maintain the appropriate firewalls between sellers and their consumers.


One good example of a mission-driven project that allowed us to provide benefits to business and the community, as well as bring in new revenue, is our Generational Resource Center (GRC) mobile Unit. In services for elders-unlike in baseball-if you build it, they probably won't come. In Silicon Valley, we wanted to reach busy and overwhelmed working caregivers, seniors who avoided senior centers, boomers and people who needed our services but who had no clue our area agency on aging (AAA) existed. These groups were our new hard-to-serve population, and we wanted to find the right way to address their need.

To do so, we customized a 39-foot RV that transports all the services our AAA has to offer (and much more) out to the community. When people ask what the GRC does, we always answer, "What do you want it to do?'

Recently, the GRC has rolled up to many high-tech companies, retail outlets, hospitals, community health fairs, senior housing facilities and libraries. …