Non­prof­its re­think ap­proach as donor de­mands add to chal­lenge

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - COMMUNITY NEWS - By Mon­ica Wil­liams

Non­prof­its are be­holden to donors who can make com­pet­ing de­mands on their re­sources. While donors often in­sist that 100 per­cent of their do­na­tions go to the peo­ple be­ing served, non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions strug­gle to pay for op­er­a­tions, to meet in­creas­ing needs in the com­mu­nity and to re­port back on the work they do.

Last week’s news of Care Com­mu­ni­ties hav­ing to dis­solve for lack of funds, as well as news of the Health Al­liance for Austin Mu­si­cian’s fi­nan­cial strug­gle to meet a grow­ing need, demon­strate the para­dox­i­cal de­mands made on non­prof­its to­day.

When it comes to mak­ing do­na­tions, some peo­ple believe “over­head” is a dirty word. Most non­prof­its rely on a va­ri­ety of sources to fund op­er­a­tions, but for Care Com­mu­ni­ties, for ex­am­ple, many of those sources were in jeop­ardy. As a provider of ser­vices to peo­ple fac­ing a se­ri­ous ill­ness with lit­tle sup­port, Care Com­mu­ni­ties op­er­ated in a re­gion with a grow­ing se­nior pop­u­la­tion and an in­creas­ingly dis­persed poor pop­u­la­tion, all amid un­cer­tain fed­eral, state and city health care fund­ing.

“Sev­eral mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances have led us to this point,” said Mary Hearon, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Care Com­mu­ni­ties.

Andrew Le­vack of St. David’s Foundation said the prob­lem is not an iso­lated one.” Right now, all health and hu­man ser­vices non­prof­its are be­ing chal­lenged to grow and serve a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion with in­creased needs,” he said.

“Non­profit work is re­ally chal­leng­ing work,” said Le­vack. “There are in­cred­i­ble de­mands to do sev­eral things at once be­cause you are a ser­vice provider and you have to have high qual­ity of ser­vice. Yet you also have to raise money and be a good stew­ard of funds. It’s just like any busi­ness in that there are so many as­pects to it.”

At the same time donors are re­luc­tant to fund op­er­at­ing costs, they also de­mand that non­prof­its are trans­par­ent about how every dol­lar is spent. Foun­da­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies re­quire that the or­ga­ni­za­tions they fund re­port on their ef­fect on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. In­di­vid­ual donors, too, want to see data on the non­profit’s im­pact.

Su­sanne Wilson of Wa­ter to Thrive said that ac­count­ing for every dol­lar is a corner­stone of her or­ga­ni­za­tion’s mis­sion, but that the level or re­port­ing re­quired can be another ex­pense that non­prof­its can’t af­ford. “We don’t al­ways have time to do the re­search,” said Wilson, “be­cause we’re do­ing the work.”

The chal­lenge forces non­prof­its to adapt their or­ga­ni­za­tions to the needs of the peo­ple they serve as well as to donors’ needs. David Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of United Way for Greater Austin, said, “I think we have to re-think how we give, and in­stead of just ask­ing that it not go to over­head or ad­min­is­tra­tion, start ask­ing more about the long-last­ing im­pact of the ser­vices we are fund­ing as donors.”

For AIDS Ser­vices of Austin, that meant giv­ing up a pop­u­lar fundrais­ing gala and fo­cus­ing in­stead on in­di­vid­ual giv­ing that puts the mis­sion first. “Peo­ple were walk­ing out of the event not know­ing what we did,” said Paul Scott, the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. “We’ve had to shift how we fundraise so peo­ple have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of what we do.”

Smith agreed that both donors and non­profit groups have to adapt to the com­mu­nity’s needs. “We can do this, but only if we come to­gether and let go of some of our older no­tions of what giv­ing is about. It’s an in­vest­ment that af­fects and en­riches not just those in need, but all of us.”


Care Com­mu­ni­ties, which was part of the States­man’s Sea­son for Car­ing cam­paign, op­er­ated in a re­gion with a grow­ing se­nior pop­u­la­tion and an in­creas­ingly dis­persed poor pop­u­la­tion. It folded be­cause of fund­ing is­sues.

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