Although no one could foresee the specific resolution of the debt ceiling crisis, it was unfortunately a foregone conclusion that any resolution would include hundreds of billions of dollars of budget cuts to programs that serve the most vulnerable in our society. History offers numerous examples of what to expect next. The nonprofit sector – community organizations, schools, food banks, health care providers, economic development programs – will all be expected to do more with less.
It’s bad enough that the nonprofit sector has been AWOL in the national debate about spending priorities, permitting ideologues backed by special interests to hold sway, rather than the community activists with hands-on experience and knowledge of the human impact such cuts would have. But what’s even worse is the failure of most nonprofits to aggressively invest in building their own capacity so that they might have even a chance of meeting the challenges of the future. The urgency of immediate human need always makes investments that won’t pay off until the long-term seem like a luxury. But in fact such investments are a greater necessity than ever before.
Many of the budget cuts will not take place immediately, and their impact will not be felt for even longer. So it is not too late for the leadership of every nonprofit to ask the following questions:
- What services are we willing to defer in the short-term so that we can invest in building the capacity necessary to serve more people and/or have greater impact in the long-term?
- Do we have a plan to diversify revenues beyond the government grants and traditional philanthropy on which we’ve depended?
- In the course of pursuing our mission have we created assets that have a marketplace value and could therefore be leveraged and monetized?
- Do we have clarity and precision around the question of what success looks like and, if so, are our resources aligned with our strategy to achieve a specific and measurable outcome?
- What changes in public policy are essential to achieving our organization’s mission, and have we communicated that as effectively as possible to the appropriate stakeholders?
Nonprofits need to demonstrate a more acute awareness that they don’t operate in isolation from the political and economic changes sweeping the nation. They may not be able to prevent such change, but they can more purposefully prepare for it.
How does your organization answer the five questions above? And are you doing what might be instructive to others? Please post comments below.