CARS HOMES JOBS

Sluggish giving tough on nonprofits

Thursday, November 29, 2012
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Penny Holmes sees the results of a national survey of nonprofits reflected in Schenectady, in her Hamilton Hill Arts Center: Donations are even with last year or down slightly, while the need for services in the community continues to grow.

“Absolutely,” she says when I ask whether the findings ring true.

The survey is from GuideStar, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit best known for its online repository of financial information on charities — primarily the Form 990 that tax-exempt organizations file with the Internal Revenue Service.

A key finding is that nonprofits are still experiencing aftershocks from the Great Recession.

“Overall, the responses are in keeping with the tepid recovery … that the economy has seen thus far,” Chuck McLean, GuideStar’s vice president for research, said of the survey, which was released earlier this month.

“Sluggish giving from individuals combined with a slow economic recovery means the nonprofit sector has a ways to go to return to levels of giving seen before the economic meltdown,” he said.

The survey, conducted over two weeks in October, yielded 500 usable responses, GuideStar said. It was the 11th annual survey done by the organization.

According to GuideStar, two-thirds of the responding nonprofits reported decreasing or stagnant contributions in the first nine months of this year versus the same period in 2011.

And of those reporting a drop in giving, 12 percent said contributions had decreased “greatly,” according to the survey.

Asked what caused donations to slide, nearly 77 percent of respondents said gifts from individuals were smaller; 75 percent also said fewer individuals gave.

At the same time, though, the nonprofits saw an increase in demand for their services, GuideStar said. Nearly 38 percent of respondents reported demand increased modestly while 26 percent said it rose greatly.

Overall, GuideStar said, the responses for 2012 mirror those from a year earlier. And that, said McLean, who crunched the survey numbers, shows a sector “where things are not getting much better or much worse, at least from a financial perspective.” For Penny Holmes, though, that’s just a part of the equation.

Executive director of the Hamilton Hill Arts Center since May 2011, she spent 13 years as chief professional officer at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany and six at the YWCA of Troy-Cohoes, including a stint as acting executive director.

“This is the first time it’s so much in my face,” Holmes said of the needs to be met. “It’s not hidden … you can see it in the community.” The Hamilton Hill Arts Center is a small nonprofit; its annual budget is about $180,000. Holmes is the only full-time employee, although she’s aided by four part-timers, a nearly full-time intern and many volunteers.

The center, which began in 1968 as a drop-in arts program for at-risk youth, promotes awareness of African and African-American arts and culture. It offers gallery shows, educational programs and social events for children and adults.

Donations from individuals make up a small percentage of the center’s budget, but Holmes said they are flat or down this year, just as the GuideStar survey shows. Yet the center’s annual Gala & Silent Auction on Nov. 1 — a prime fundraiser — outperformed other years. Grants also support the center’s work.

“It’s the nature of our business” as a nonprofit to always be bootstrapping, she said. But a lackluster economy can take its toll. “It’s hard,” Holmes said. “We’re high-need on every level.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at marlenejkennedy@gmail.com.

 
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