Last week I was interviewed by 7 radio stations in the space of three hours! A marathon, you say? Last year I did 18 interviews in about the same time span, so this exercise seemed like a piece of cake in comparison.
These are fun to do. I always learn a lot—about the state of radio (not so good) as well as current public opinion about nonprofit organizations (mixed). The stations ran the gamut from New York City to Kokomo to Los Angeles and places in between. The stations included big 50,000 watt AM stations and state networks with formats ranging from country to news to urban contemporary. Having started my career in radio, it was fun to hear those booming voices again, and it brought back fond memories as we “rolled the tape” sometimes and other times jumped into a live morning show. I enjoy the challenge of telling a story in a convincing way in five minutes or less!
The subject of the interviews was a recent survey GuideStar released on how the economic downturn is affecting nonprofit organizations. Our survey of nearly 3,000 nonprofits from the period October 2008 to February 2009 found that more than 50% had experienced a decrease in funding in comparison to the same period the previous year. We found this to be noteworthy since charitable giving usually increases during the last quarter of the year (“the giving season”), and historically giving has been increasing year to year. Many nonprofits reported that demand for services was up. The most surprising finding to me was that, even though revenues were down for most, very few nonprofits had made adjustments in either their service levels or their operational expenses. That suggests some bad times ahead for many. You can download the full report here (it’s free).
The reaction from the radio stations was mixed. Some were very sympathetic and saw the double whammy of increased demand for services and declining revenues as alarming and a serious problem. On the other hand, one reporter asked me, “What’s the news angle here? Everyone is experiencing hard times, why should nonprofits be any different?” Almost every reporter I spoke to, I think, saw nonprofits as nice to have—charities doing nice work—but very few saw nonprofit work as essential or vital to society. This suggests nonprofits have some serious work to do in communicating their value.
Almost every reporter asked what happens next. It is easy and obvious to say we all need to dig a little deeper and do a little more in our personal donations. But I found myself emphasizing two points: in this new era, nonprofits are going to need to be more efficient and more effective. They will need to demonstrate their ability to make an impact like never before.
Second, donors will need to be more thoughtful about how they allocate their scarce dollars and make sure their dollars are going to the highest-performing organizations. It sounds like GuideStar’s Theory of Change, doesn’t it? (Read our mission statement and see if you agree.)