Help Nonprofits Do Their Work, Without (Too Many) Conditions

It's been a challenging year for Child and Family Services, with revenues decreasing and regulatory requirements increasing.  It feels like nonprofit business as usual, with both these issues faced by nonprofits of all kinds here in northern Michigan and throughout our state and nation.  Many of us have as our mission society’s biggest, most intractable human challenges—poverty, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, clean, safe water. 

We are fortunate to live in a generous community.  We reach out to people who care about the children, youth, and families we serve every day, and they reach back with their time (thousands of volunteer hours each year), money, and a few dozen cookies for the golf outing.  We strive to always be good stewards of the resources entrusted to us.  We need to be more creative about how we do so, and we invite other nonprofits to join us in a conversation about this.

The people I know who do charitable work do it because they want to help people and make the world a better place.  They provide quality programs while wondering whether the grant or contract that helps fund them will dry up because someone will decide that the priorities are different next year.  They work with people who are not in a position to pay for their services, so fundraising is a constant need and a constant source of anxiety.  Will it be enough?  Will the community feel strongly enough about our mission to help us keep our programs alive and well by donating to us? 

While nonprofits would love to just continue to meet our missions and the money be damned, that is neither responsible nor possible.  Nonprofits should act more like businesses, people say to us.  But most businesses simply raise the prices of their goods and services, while we are often unable to charge for our services what they cost to provide.  Venture capital isn’t available to us.  Most federal, state, and private grants and contracts require local matches that can’t be guaranteed from year to year. 

We all regularly reassess the world we live in and adjust to fit the economic realities we face.  But we also must decide what services and programs are important to us, and then help make them viable by supporting them.  Otherwise, more and more important nonprofits will be forced to respond by cutting services or closing their doors.  And if that happens, are we prepared for the consequences—more people in our emergency rooms, in jail, or on the streets?

Wouldn’t it be something if we could concentrate even a little bit more on fulfilling our mission, rather than worrying about where every dime is coming from?  Wouldn’t it be great if we could pay the people doing difficult work the salaries they deserve, and offer them decent benefits?  What kind of a society do we want to be?  We hope it’s the kind that believes in a commitment to helping care for those in the greatest need—and being willing to walk the talk.