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Nonprofit CEO’s: Doing More with Less

Sitting in the catbird seat, watching the painstakingly-slow economic recovery.  Meanwhile, more families face foreclosure on their homes. And federal/state/local belt-tightening is in progress.  Progress?  All this leaves me in a state of perplexity: how best to advise nonprofit leaders operating in this 21st century reality of trying to Do More with Less?

Nonprofit Chief Executive Officers are facing tough challenges: how much can we cut from our operations without undermining our capacity to deliver the services we feel compelled to provide?  Among the health and human service organizations substantial government cuts in funding for basic services to low-income folk (home energy assistance, women-infants-children financial support, food stamps) will  push  demand for service while at the same time supply of dollars at best stays level with the previous year.

How do leaders lead in challenging times like these?

To play pollyanna makes no sense.  The Pied Piper of Hamlin’s merry tune caused the rats to follow him from the village. That must have been one merry tune. Or, Mr. Piper was attracting the crowd to Happy Hour at the bar on the edge of town.

It’s time for leaders to take inventory.  Nonprofit CEO’s must look at their salary and benefits package (as lean as it may be) and with staff as partners, determine if there aren’t ways for the next two or three years to trim some costs without undermining the capacity of the community benefit organization to deliver.

The Nonprofit CEO must also engage the board leadership to explore revenue opportunities. Are there fundraising activities that may have worked in the past that should be re-initiated?  How might donors respond to a second appeal this year?  Should we consider a telephone appeal to lapsed donors?  The new fundraising effort must focus on the rising demand for service. It’s not about “poor us, the struggling nonprofit.”

The CEO should also discuss opportunities for advocacy work with the board.  To let the debate about cutbacks be monopolized by those arguing for “less government” and “living within our means” is to cede the public arena to one point of view. Respected leaders, staff and volunteer, need to find ways within IRS limits on 501(c)(3) regulation on advocacy, to stand up for the needs of their clients in non-political terms.  During the Great Depression of the 1930’s, the economy was in the tank. But  leaving people to starve was not a viable option.

In my view, there is no one better than the nonprofit CEO to get staff and volunteers organized to assure that this group is doing the very best it can to stand up and deliver the mission as best as possible.  Yes, some costs must be cut. At the same time we must askAsk donors to respond to urgent need. Ask elected officials to look at the burgeoning need.

We all need to learn to Do More with Less.

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