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 1,935 responses. The larger the word, the greater the frequency. What follows are just a few of the many stories people told.
2011 survey generously supported by Bank of America Charitable Foundation
"Our non-profit responded by expanding our services. Thanks to the committment from staff, donors, volunteers, and community members we were able to expand services by 70% since January 2010."
"Created a formula for calculating reserves that will adjust as our business grows; created a financial 'model' that incorporates projections for the next 10 years for our business; improved our 'audit readiness' through internal testing and monitoring...'audit ready all the time'; provided financial training to all management that greatly improved business acumen effective budgeting; established a process for determining lease versus buy of property; improved our receivables tracking and collections process to reduce/contain the number and amount of our receivables; improved internal controls regarding incoming checks; moved to paperless paydays for employees."
"We experienced a large increase in the number of people we served, and did not have a shortfall in revenue. We raised more money in 2009-2010 than ever before. 2010-2011 is looking good as well!"
"Running an analysis of grant-funded programs vs. non-grant-funded and prioritizing elimination strategies in order to reduce the overall annual expenses by 30%."
"We built and maintain staff consensus on how to deal with these issues through full transparency and regular discussion."
"We have worked diligently to implement the key goals of our strategic plan. New leadership with focus on key goals (rather than being fragmented by too many activities, or repeating ones without critically measuring their past success/failure) has resulted in a record number of new members in 2010, an increase in active volunteers to help carry the load, and funding pledges or donations that require us to perform in order to reap their benefits (i.e., membership and capital matching campaigns). All of this has strengthened the organization and infused it with a renewed sense of vitality, despite a depressed economy and problems with vandalism that were very time-consuming and expensive. Eventually we would love to have at least a part time paid staff, but at this point we recognize we need to continue strengthening our core activities with volunteer effort. Leadership emphasizing a few key goals and a strong core of new and long-standing volunteers came together to make a diffence, as they were working toward specific objectives: Increased membership, increased publicity, focus on core revenue-generating activities."
"We are still operating in spite of losing half of our income."
"That we have been able to keep our doors open."
"Due to 30% decrease in funding due to grant reductions, we have realigned our work. In doing so, we were able to keep all current staff, but did not fill 1.5 open positions. In reallocating expenses we have been able to bring student workers in to help cover some of the work that was left open by the vacant positions, but we also merged events--instead of doing multiple one day events we are doing one large two day event this spring."
"We are adopting a model that allows us to serve more groups but with less intensive services. We will need to evaluate our success to determine whether or not we can have the impact we are hoping for with this approach but it is the right thing to do in response to community demand and community need."
"Increase board members attention to business and involvement in committee work. Increase number of volunteers assisting with office support and program support. Increase project management and time management abilities of staff and volunteers."
"Our income did not contract despite not meeting revenue goals for individual small contributions."
"We were very proactive in reducing staff and overall expenses as well as defining what are our core service offerings. This helped when we lost 85% of our funding in October 2010. There is uncertainty how we will make it through this fiscal year, however, at least a number of decisions were made prior to the crisis."
"One nonprofit working in our area (arts) went out of business, and we took up some of the slack. The public was so appreciative and wanted our services so badly that they contributed far in excess of the amount we needed to pay for the services we were able to provide. LESSON: The arts are not a luxury. The public considers them a necessity for survival." "
"Staff who had been laid off came back to the office and volunteered their time to continue working with the people we serve."
"We set up a series of "triggers", or financial markers throughout the year, which were tied to a series of budget cut -- 4 or 5 thru/out the yr. This gave board and mgmt the peace of mind to know we had a plan if we were faced with bad financial news--without having to implement the cuts until necessary. We made all our financial goals and didn't have to implement any of the cuts. We, in fact, had our best year financially in 20 years!"
"As the need for improved equipment and added transmission costs became apparent we were able to use wisely the funding we had to make the improvements."
"Our expenses are at a bare minimum. We have ran this way for 3 years and we are still puttering along. However, what is happening is that I am using my personal funds to pay for things like office supplies that I used to have a budget for. You do what you have to do to stay open."
"We have streamlined our operations as much as possible and are keeping our head above water in a very difficult climate."
"We have increased our volunteer workers with interns from a local university, providing the students with real world varied experience and the organization with much needed people power and fresh ideas."
"We developed a management plan to reduce fringe benefits, eliminate some positions, reduce operating costs, freeze hiring and raises. It was the only way to try and survive otherwise, we could have shut down."
"Most proud of the way the staff has come together, made huge sacrifices, increased their workload so as not to compromise our program offerings - all the while, reducing expenses while increasing revenues. Most proud of the staff's 'We Can Do It' attitude. In addition to the budget amendments, the organization became debt-free."
"Increase program size to build up fee for service revenue. This responded to an increasing need for more youth served, as well as confirmed our ability to increase program size. We increased earned income revenue. Used consultants for financial management to reduce staffing costs and increase efficiency. "
"Fortunately we had done a 'house cleaning' prior to the recession. As a result we have been able to maintain staff levels and benefits, although raises have not been given. When possible, staff is given a bonus."
"Exceeded fundraising goal, expanded education services, explored new revenue opportunities and identified one area to pursue, and expanded recruitment of the next generation of Board members."
"We are the only HIV surviving agency in [our county] due to our sound financial practices. It is very hard on staff the increase of clients and the grantees's requirements."
"Successfully managed cash flow issues brought on by a delayed State Budget."
"We cut costs and streamlined our program model to be more efficient, by outsourcing a component of our service for school partners to take on, which has worked very well. We are a leaner, more nimble organization now as a result."
"We reduced expenses and were able to end the FY in the black despite a very difficult fundraising year. We 'turned the corner' in terms of engaging our board in fundraising - they see they MUST be actively engaged with fund development along with staff and are taking actions."
"We came close to closing and the community, being as great as it is, stepped up and helped us to stay open!!!"
"Developing a new working model for the company. Working with other theaters locally to assist in reducing administrative costs while increasing public awareness."
"...We survived almost 4 months without our major income source from the [State Education Department] by laying off 2/3 of the staff and operating on minimal expenses... Our laid off staff put in over 1000 hours of volunteer time during that period. All of the staff except 8 teachers were laid off, the exec director worked without pay for the entire time and took a... second mortgage on her home to keep us from going under. It was a terrible situation, 4 bridge funding resources, 11 banks and 3 law firms and numerous individuals and foundations were contacted for help. No one would help..."
"We have gone back to the basics, of establishing and fostering a closer relationship with our funders. We have mapped out the important aspects of our program, providing our funders with a value and benefit proposition that show a better return on their investment. Our programs serve as an example that not only help the community but can help impact our funders' day to day business. "
"We were able to restructure loans to allow for an expanded amount of time to repay in full."
"We made the finances more transparent to all of our employees at the company — we give regular updates with full financials, just as we do at the Board level."
"Ability to maintain core activity (includes maintaining staff) despite less funding, less revenue, and especially less unrestricted funding."
"We were able to secure private funding to increase rather than decrease services to target populations in the wake of government funding cuts."
"We have developed and implemented contingency plans that have helped us keep costs down and have increased our fundraising."
"We did A LOT more with less money and people."
"We survived. This was accomplished through restructuring, moving out of expensive office space, sharing space with another nonprofit, cutting pay, and, a SWOT analysis for strategic planning. Board was fully involved."
"Took aggressive action to move forward with new and innovative services rather than "hunker down"; create a new 5 year plan to map out the long term adjustments based upon the external environment; dramatic increase in efforts toward public awareness and fundraising resulted in increased revenues from philanthropy; made a commitment to resist layoffs, and managed to do so in all but two cases; reorganized our method of providing employee health benefits, resulting in 30% savings."
"We anticipated risks ahead of time. Set aside adequate reserves."
"Continued quality services even though the uncertainty around funding and cash flow gives us pause - we are actively seeking to diversify revenue streams and our board understands that we may need to invest in program development in order to end reliance on specific funding sources."