01/23/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Not For Profit Outlook: Pinching, Stretching, Tightening Belts

Layoffs. Downsizing. Penny pinching. Stretching every dollar. If there's a money-saving strategy that works, not for profit organizations across the country are employing it. For when economic times get tough it is often not for profits who feel it the most. "People want to give, they really do. But let's face it," one non-profit board member said, "if a family is deciding what to cut to make ends meet, contributions can be among the first to go."

America would be a vastly different country without not for profit institutions. From pet shelters to arts institutions, from medicine to politics, non-profits provide much needed services across every sector in every state. They feed the homeless and take care of abused children. They provide healthcare in rural areas and after-school activities for inner city kids. But until the economy turns around, not for profits are in for a rough ride.

Drawing attention to poverty is the goal of HASPA, Homeless Advocates and Service Providers Association based in Phoenix, Arizona. Auburn McCanta founded HASPA "with the thought of providing an opportunity for the thousands of American volunteer homeless advocates and service providers to share their best practices, current news, and communicate with one another in one convenient online spot." But, Auburn adds, "It's very hard to foster and encourage any extra activity when nonprofits serving individuals who live in deep poverty are also themselves joining the ranks of the underfunded and unemployed."

An ad for a local foodbank appearing during the Phoenix evening news confirms the need for services; it states that one out of every five Arizonans lives in poverty. HASPA's founder knows not for profits who care for the homeless need every penny they can get. Siting St. Mary's Foodbank in Phoenix as an example, she said: "They're under tremendous strain to feed and care for a growing population of hungry people." And she doesn't see any change in the immediate future. "With Arizona now looking forward to a Republican-controlled legislature, encouraged by an agreeable Republican governor, I doubt funding for nonprofits will improve. Before the election I tried in vain to locate even a modest plan to fight poverty from John McCain. He had nothing and I'm afraid his lack of interest in solving Arizona's homeless issues translates to our legislative leaders across the state." But this advocate for the homeless is still upbeat: "I hold good thoughts that Obama's comprehensive Poverty Plan will not only be a topic of discussion, but will also be implemented in theory and practice."

Wingspan has been helping the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community in Tucson for over twenty years, providing services that include a youth program, health care provider training, and crisis intervention and support for victims of violence. They too are not immune to the effects of the economic downturn. Said Executive Director Jason Cianciotto: "Like many nonprofits that provide an array of social services, budget cuts at the state, county and city level are forcing us to re-examine the funding structure that support vital and life-saving work. In the New Year, we plan to apply lessons learned from the online organizing and fundraising success of the Obama campaign, re-enforcing that every donation is treasured and important, no matter the size." Cianciotto is using a bit of creativity to encourage donations too. A

fter the recent opening of Milk, the biography of Harvey Milk released by Cinemark, Wingspan started a donation drive with a twist. "For every donation made online, we are sending a postcard to the CEO of Cinemark saying that the donation to Wingspan was made in his name. You may recall that the CEO of Cinemark gave $9,999.99 in support of Proposition 8, and we heard from the community that they wanted to send a message that it was wrong for him to support anti-gay policies and then expect to financially benefit from a movie about one of the greatest heroes of the LGBT civil rights movement. We even had an anonymous donor step up and offer a challenge grant towards this effort. The response so far has been extremely positive."

Some not for profits have responded to the economy in a tried and true way: by cutting the bottom line.Tohono Chul Park in Tucson, Arizona, is one of those. Despite being a favorite among locals and named one of National Geographic's top secret gardens, the Park is feeling the pinch and responding with job cuts. Some long-time park employment positions are being eliminated, while others will see their hours reduced beginning in January.

Even the most loyal supporters of not for profits are taking a long hard look at who they support. One such supporter, a former president of a not for profit performing arts organization, understands the need more than most but admits this year is different.

On my kitchen table I've got a stack of requests for end of the year donations, from all the organizations I support both locally and nationally. It's not that any of them are less deserving. Not at all. I wish I could give to every one of them. But this year, with things the way they are, I have to be more discriminating.