Seattle must remain a safe harbor for nonprofits
During this economic downturn, nonprofit organizations are likely to struggle with fewer resources. Guest columnist Kathy Porterfield suggests that business people can engage more with nonprofit agencies to help them weather the challenges.
Special to the Times
THE financial storm that has battered the business sector now threatens the nonprofit community as well. But if early signs are any indication, Seattle is answering the challenge.
The Seattle Times notes that donations reached $668,208 for its Fund for The Needy campaign, surpassing the goal of $525,000. This speaks to Seattle's heart, showing that even in the depths of an economic crisis, we remain committed to helping those in need.
In this economic climate, however, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain our commitment to our communities. With economists and others projecting the downturn to last well into this year, many leaders of nonprofits may still have to ask themselves some serious questions, such as: Can we rely on individuals and businesses pinched in the economic downturn to continue their extreme generosity, or do we revise operating and program plans to match smaller budgets?
A critical and strong piece of Seattle's commitment has been volunteerism, as demonstrated by its high ranking as the fourth-most-volunteering city in the country. One key to maintaining the volunteer commitment is continued collaboration between the for-profits and nonprofits. Seattle has had a deep business community with the skills and experience to help nonprofits address their financial challenges, and the people have a passion for volunteering. Now, our business community has been hit hard by layoffs. For these affected individuals, volunteering offers a chance to keep their skills sharp, to network, to remain engaged in a passion while pursuing employment and to help nonprofits at a time when they need it most. And for those who have jobs, many of the same benefits apply.
Before moving to Seattle last fall, I spent 27 years in Anchorage serving as a board member for many organizations, ranging from the YWCA of Anchorage to the Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association. I understand the challenges nonprofit organizations face and the value the business community can bring. For example, one of my KPMG colleagues, Kayreen Handley, sits on the accounting and finance committee of the Seattle Ronald McDonald House and is working closely with leadership on budgeting.
As business leaders, we need to work to ensure continuing levels of volunteer support to help mitigate, to the extent possible, the impact of the downturn on nonprofit education, food, shelter, clothing and arts programs that are part of the fabric of our Emerald City.
Business leaders and volunteers at all levels should feel encouraged to reach out to nonprofits and the nonprofits should reach out to the business community. As the year goes on, it may be more difficult than in the past. When many businesses are trying to manage their own way or help their customers in difficult times, thoughts may not turn as readily to the needs of nonprofits. But Seattle's record of volunteering has set the bar very high and it's important we keep it there.
In addition to strategy and financial experience, many nonprofits are in dire need of marketing and communications expertise. For it is during this time that nonprofit leaders need to maximize their brand appeal, making sure that they are conveying the right message and that timing is right for that message. During uncertain economic periods, many organizations make the mistake of not communicating enough. What extra support do you need during this time to get people thinking about donating?
It's critical that the business community not only maintain volunteer commitments to nonprofits at existing levels but step up where needed. As business leaders involved in nonprofit organizations, we should engage with management of nonprofits to discuss their plans. Does a nonprofit have the funds to operate the next 12 to 18 months in the face of reduced donations and endowments? Is their business plan realistic? In this environment, many nonprofits are facing near-term deficit spending that will reduce their available cash and unrestricted net assets. What happens in the long term?
The Seattle business community can help nonprofits navigate the difficult times. It's an investment in our community that is now more important than ever, and one which we must continue to make.
Kathy Porterfield is the managing partner of KPMG LLP's Seattle Office.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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