We asked what made nonprofits most proud in their response to the economic crisis. The graphic above shows the words that were mentioned most frequently in the 1,315 responses. The larger the word, the greater the frequency. What follows are just a few of the many extraordinary stories people told.
"I'm most proud that we were nimble enough to secure alternate financing when some sources fell through. Overall, it did not hurt our program too much and we're recovering well now. The staff really pulled together and managed the organization well over this difficult year."
"We retained all staff, maintained pension and actually were able to close on two multifamily properties, increasing net income. Unfortunately, executive director took a salary hit, we froze salaries and required employees to pay more for health benefits. This will stay through 2010."
"We were able to expand our services, hire more staff, and still raise approximately 95% of the revenue we needed to break even. As a mission-based organization, we must respond to and address the needs in the community. We cannot turn our backs on clients who need help in avoiding foreclosure and we must continue our affordable housing development activities to provide homeownership opportunities to first-time homebuyers and to create meaningful change in the neighborhoods we are serving."
"Survived national economic collapse... restructured finance department... better monitoring of finances... more board involvement..."
"I'm proud of our openness and transparency about our fiscal situation. And I'm proud that our board and staff are now working more closely together."
"We were able to end FY 2009 with a modest surplus ($25,000) as a result of early interventions, worst case scenario modeling, conversations with funders and constituents."
"We doubled our operating reserve when we had a cash surplus at the beginning of the year."
"We maintained a break even position for 2009 when we expected that we might have a 15-30% deficit. We did this through tight expense control and additional fundraising to offset losses of expected funds."
"We were successful in maintaining a balanced budget, secured a new organizational capacity building grant, utilized excellent, free coaching and worked unending hours to review every line item in the budget and save dollars through changing payroll services and health coverage benefits. We avoided a 29% increase in benefits and continued to essentially provide the staff with the same level of health insurance coverage - just in a different structure! This was a major key success for us this year and something I am personally very proud of discovering, by thinking outside the box, once again!"
"We scrutinized every expenses in every contract and grant and micromanaged our budget at multiple levels and bid out all major expenses including benefits and audit. It saved us significantly. We did scenario planning and understood our options but (at the end of the day) we were at the mercy of the economy and government budgetary choices."
"We renegotiated several vendor contracts to reduce expenses; we added technology resources so that staff could work more efficiently and we could achieve increased outputs without increasing staff; we renegotiated several 'fee for service' contracts to increase revenue."
"We stayed closely connected to community members and local businesses, maintaining contributions."
"Our staff made a number of personal sacrifices so our organization could continue its programs."
"We are partnering with another related agency for a significant portion of our mission. We are also positioning ourselves to increase our ability to qualify for an additional funding source."
"We are proud that our internal financial forecast done prior to 2009 enabled us to be prepared for the downturn. We also were able to streamline our operation and stick to the plan."
"Realistic and robust 24-month cash flow planning process instituted. Continued focus on sustainability of each program - despite frustration of reducing services in order to be sure programs are scaled appropriately to available resources."
"We are working to diversify funding to reduce our reliance on government funds."
"We are proud that we maintained staff levels, salaries and benefits throughout the 2009 year and were not significantly impacted with government and foundation grant cuts. We also made sound and safe investment decisions that allowed us to earn investment income and protect principal. We are financially sound entering into the 2010 year - which we anticipate will be our most challenging year, even tougher than 2009, as we may see government grant curtailments and it will be a tough fundraising environment."
"We focused resources on obtaining new contracts/business to balance the lost business we expected. We have established systems to continually search for ways to be more cost efficient and clinically effective. Staff are involved and creative in this activity."
"Increased capacity by adding volunteers and developing additional program collaborations. Acquired… technology to improve quality, efficiency and measure outcomes."
"We have a solid group of volunteers that get involved when needed....We were able to stretch our budget, increasing total income and expenses by 20%. The down-side is that we are still in the "what we can afford to do stage" rather than the "what needs to be done" or "what we would like to do" stages."
"Reductions in hours, benefits, and pay were applied evenly and fairly across all staff; senior management made a concerted effort to maintain open and honest communication with staff."
"We improved our visibility and media relations significantly, and sharpened our marketing materials."
"As our finances have become tighter we have had to become more resourceful to make sure the needs of our clients are met. Just because the funding is not there does not mean the need goes away. If anything the need for our services is even greater then before."
"We did not run up any debt and ended the year in the black despite losing several grants we hoped to get. We kept our expenses minimal and conducted two successful events that both showed a profit."
"In late July we reduced staff from 9 to 3. We were very open about layoffs and program closures, so many were in the process of finding other jobs. Keeping the doors open while other organizations had to close became the main focus. We lost a major government contract and had to make significant shifts in programming in order to sustain ourselves and keep services for clients."
"We are most proud to have closed the year with an impressive operating surplus at a challenging time. Our flexible strategies for program delivery and an organizational culture of adaptability coupled with mission focus have been essential to our ability to respond to the demand for our services."
"The staff and volunteers provided volunteer time to do fundraisers...to keep programs going to meet increased volume of persons needing services."
"There is little to be proud of, other than surviving, and much to grieve."
"We were able to convince some foundation donors to cover grant reductions of other foundation donors. We are less optimistic that we will be as successful with the foundation community in 2010. We have added more corporate people to our board and expect new networks to be helpful in accessing corporate and individual donors."
"Our individual giving campaign, which consisted of small donations from our members, far exceeded our projection, by almost 100%. This is not a lot of money, but showed that our constituents value our services."
"Greater attention has been paid to forecasting and our board and staff have become smarter in reviewing financials."
"Launched new income-generating initiatives."
"We are sharing office space, overhead and personnel with sister nonprofit; strengthening Development Committee and cultivating major donors with help from outside Development Assessment funded through... a foundation; piloting fee-for-service for core programs; exploring local and national collaborations; diversifying funding streams; board member challenge grant (first matching grant for board gifts)."
"Our strategy was six-fold. First, we aggressively monitored and reduced expenses by extending major exhibition periods, freezing hires and wages; and reducing performing arts programming, mailings, printing, travel and advertising. Second, we increased individual giving through Trustee and Overseer as well as non-board contributions, which thus far has proven successful. Third, we leveraged the energy and excitement surrounding our popular programs to maintain and build membership, attendance and visibility. Fourth, corporations and foundations that supported us for capital campaign and endowment were approached for general operating support. Fifth, we continue to focus on maximizing earned revenue opportunities, through admissions and retail sales.... Finally, repayment of capital loans continues to be a priority."
"We successfully navigated through a major downsizing, including addressing staff anxiety and morale; and negotiated with our landlord for half our lease space at no penalty."
"Board and staff developed and pursued strategy to sell building that will allow us to get cash while allowing us to stay there for the next few years...."
"Developing more creative and expansive ways of engaging with our audience and outreaching to new potential audience via more social networking, adding in more post-play discussions to interact with our audience, creating more fun/social ways to engage with our audience, and engaging more of our long-time audience members via volunteer/production opportunities."
"While restructuring our revenue model, we discovered opportunities for revision and development of our programs to increase revenues, increase access and increase capacity. What started as an attempt to cut costs, pinch pennies and squeeze out extra revenues became a mission-fulfilling program development campaign that now promises to bring our services to more people in a way that is more viable on both the earned and contributed side of our income statement."
"Merged with a larger, more stable organization with similar mission."
"1. We have been able to maintain our full staff and not lay-off anyone. 2.Communicated with staff formally and informally openly, often and with purpose. 3. Involved everyone, including clients, in fundraising. 4. Developed more partnerships, networks, and creative collaborations."
"We did strong forecasting to help us make decisions based on our economic situation so that we would not have to come to drastic decisions at the last minute."
"As the chief executive, I was extremely honest with our staff and laid all the cards on the table. We identified strategies to save $$ that we all could live with, and this helped all of us to remain engaged in our work and support for our agency. We took reduced work weeks and rolling furloughs for 3 months."
"Currently creating a financial development plan for better planning of potential income. ALWAYS looking for program partners with mission match. Discovering new sources of income."
"We really got a handle on where we were spending money through budget analysis, which enabled us to make or find painless cuts and avoid cuts that would have eliminated staff or hurt our core programs."
"I am proud that several senior staff and middle managers volunteered to forgo any raises so that lower-paid staff could get raises, albeit small."
"We reaffirmed our commitment to our strategic plan, which includes some major new curriculum development work. We also took a careful look at expenses and cut expenses thoughtfully mid-year with everyone bearing the burden appropriately--e.g., freezing staff salaries, and cutting slightly senior team salaries. Finally, we increased our business development staff to increase our earned income."
"With a bloated expense structure before the crisis, it was imperative that the organization get expenses in control and pursue a reduction in force. Our forward-leaning stance allowed us to be VERY pro-active in securing onward employment for those staff, greatly reducing the trauma to the organization. Management's familiarity with best practices re: furloughs and reductions in force was also VITAL as there was not time to start from scratch."
"The board is more engaged in the budgeting process and has committed to establishing an appropriate reserve fund in the annual budget. We have been able to conduct our season this year debt-free, although we have qualified and have available a line of credit."
"We merged a smaller organization into our own, increasing our audience and our funding base while enabling their programs to continue to operate."
"We changed our programming to include more popular fare, and have improved subscriptions and individual ticket sales. We are producing with less but not allowing the audience to see what we have cut."
"One healthy organization formed a partnership with another organization to save it from closing down."
"We are most proud of the board's involvement in worst case scenario budgeting and taking a hard look on how to streamline and cut expenses without sacrificing programs."
"We had a fierce determination not to sacrifice the mission of our organization, the quality of our work, or the artists who make the work possible. Over 45 creative strategies were implemented to reduce costs and increase income without compromising any of these things, and we not only did so, we ended FY2009 with a budget surplus, allowing us to reduce our accumulated deficit."
"We did a much better job in ensuring that 3rd party payers (insurance companies) were more effectively billed for services rendered. We were much more effective in scheduling client visits and staff assignment, resulting in a 22% increase in fees-for-service. An increase in Fees for Service results in an improved self-sufficiency and reduced reliance on donations and grants."
"Carefully defined the core mission and reduced the operation to support the core - that is, while continuing to fulfill the mission we reduced expenses to meet the projected decrease in income."
"WE DIDN'T GIVE UP."
"We responded quickly to economic situation. Remained positive. Became more proactive in telling our story. Board & volunteers more engaged. Exercised frugality but not at the expense of our mission."
"Most proud of our continuing ability to meet the needs of a vulnerable, failing and impoverished population--and to communicate the challenges openly to leadership staff and volunteers."
"In spite of a significant reduction in funding and a consequent reduction in staff, we were able to preserve most programs and services. However, we recognize that staff are going 'above and beyond' to make this so and we realize that, without a significant change such as a merger, we will ultimately need to cut back services significantly."
"I'm most proud that we had reserves to rely on during this time and that we have been able to keep our services going strong."
"With our worst-case and best-case scenarios, we were able to put off hiring new staff until we were more sure of income."
"We have seen a significant increase in the number of clients we are serving. We have restructured some of our programs and found ways to increase cost-effectiveness in order to serve clients in rural areas that would otherwise have remained underserved."
"We've restructured the board -and thus doing so have a stronger base. With the new board direction, we were able to secure a couple of larger donors, communicate better within our organization, and make all necessary alterations to the organization to stay afloat (cutting hours, bare bones concerts, finding free or reduced advertising, etc.) Most importantly, we are in the black again."
"Took on a "thrive" vs. "survive" attitude and rallied board members, staff, volunteers and donors to do the same. Placed funds in interest bearing reserve account. Began to establish stronger banking relationships."
"That we survived severe state cuts in funding."
"Responded nimbly to the crisis by maximizing revenue and shedding costs in ways that made us stronger overall, i.e., didn't just cut but made deliberate shifts in resources to position ourselves for growth post-recession."
"We foresaw the coming economic crisis and reduced our dependence on state funding completely. We collaborated more closely with like organizations to share back office costs. We maintained our mission but initiated a program that no other like or competing organization is doing to set us apart and to create brand recognition. We support our people so no one has left voluntarily."
"Every staff member is actively engaged in reducing expenses from printing on "recycled/reused paper" to using technology (webinar) to reduce travel expenses."
"The staff and I pulled together to weather the storm. Although we were in a belt tightening mode, we chose to use it as a time to reassess and try new and low-cost programs, some of which were quite successful. The hardest part was making the decision to cut some staff hours temporarily, but we were able to restore them 9 months later without losing any staff."
"Everyone on the staff responded to the need to tighten our belts. Significant saving were realized as staff renegotiated contracts; kept an eye out for all waste; and took on additional responsibilities, all while maintaining high morale."
"Proud to have survived!"