A periodic message from Community Foundation Board Chair, Gerry Amodio, and President, Jim Williamson
(December 17, 2009) Dickens had it half right when he wrote, "These are the best of times, they are the worst of times."
To that point, just over a month ago, 50-plus staff and volunteers from more than 30 area nonprofits gathered at The Stanley Center for Learning and Innovation in New Britain to hear something they already knew -- these are "Tough Times" requiring "Tough Decisions." You could say that this workshop, our third since May in partnership with our friends at the American Savings Foundation, was the "tough love" edition of the series, as it focused on doing the things no one wants to do when the revenue and expense numbers refuse to match -- cut staff, reduce benefits, close programs, re-negotiate leases and make the other hard choices required to preserve a nonprofit’s core mission.
Our purpose in offering these educational opportunities was to create a conversation in our community about doing the business of serving others differently. We are providing all with a continuum of examples they can build from, ranging from formal collaborations with other agencies to a complete merger of effort where warranted. From what we’ve heard so far, the result has been several promising discussions now underway between various area nonprofits. And, we are working quietly with some of those groups, offering advice, ideas and encouragement. Should some of these talks come to fruition, any one of them could result in better, more efficient service to our local residents by saving money and preserving core programs. Gratifying as that is, we know it is only the beginning, as we already have a strong sense that this is work we will be engaged in for several years to come.
We believe that this focus on technical assistance is coming at exactly the right time, as nonprofits will be struggling even more to adapt to the state budget cuts which are sure to come out of the Legislature’s Deficit Mitigation work. Even with the Governor’s 5% Rescission of state department budgets in November, most nonprofits with state contracts aren't yet sure they will be affected. Sadly, most state departments will likely have to go back to the drawing board again, once the Legislature and Governor agree (if they can) on how to balance a state budget that now looks to be out of whack by at least $500 million. With the “low fruit” in that budget already picked this summer, they will be making even more painful cuts to programs our communities have come to depend on.
Here at the Community Foundation, we are preparing for that time as best we can. We have husbanded our unrestricted grant budget by being more selective in our decisions this year – fewer new programs have been funded, for example, and we’ve become more intentional and focused when making these important community investment decisions. We’re asking tougher questions of all our grantseekers to test their planning assumptions, and working closely with many to refine their plans and improve their chance for success. The result has been better grants, we think, and a bit of carryover funding from this year to next, which will allow the Community Foundation to better help those nonprofits which have already explored all the alternatives and made some tough decisions.
We continue to work with the American Savings Foundation to determine what our next steps should be to keep this new conversation going, and are surveying workshop attendees for their own suggestions. We are also opening discussions with other regional funders to explore the potential for a more collaborative approach in our respective technical assistance efforts. We hope to know more in the next month or two, and will report it when we do.
In the meantime, we intend to help lead the conversation about our communities’ need for a “new way” to more efficiently address the growing issues facing our families in basic support, access to quality education, affordable housing, jobs, the arts, quality youth programs and services to our seniors, just to name a few. It’s not an easy conversation to have with some when they are still focused on returning to the status quo. But, if we are to help our nonprofits successfully move through these “worst of times” to a new definition of the “best of times” for our area’s families, it’s the kind of hard work we believe you expect of us.