Chicken Little was wrong

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on April 18th, 2008 in Thoughts & Commentary

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To most, if not all, in the nonprofit sector, September 11th was doubly devastating.There was the sense of horror, loss and disbelief that everyone in this country suffered.And later there was the fear for the health and well-being of their own nonprofits. Would it survive? Would donors be willing to give to 9/11 efforts as well as the organizations they had given to before? Would they, depending upon their mission, be able to handle the increase in demand for services as people tried to cope, or the loss of demand as people hunkered down in their offices and homes? Would the sky really fall?

chicken littleFor some, the sky did fall. But post 9/11 analysis revealed that to the extent the sky fell, it was due to the economy tanking and not 9/11. Despite the fact that this news came out fairly quickly, we saw a 9/11 effect on the behavior of nonprofit employees. They hunkered down in their offices, afraid to come out, afraid that the organization would somehow fall apart at best, or at worse, disappear, if they left.And in so doing, they missed the very opportunities they should have been out seeking.

The Nonprofit Center’s 2005 Nonprofit Wage and Benefit Survey for the Greater Delaware Valley, revealed that 82% of the responding organizations pay for professional development “when funding allows.”Eighty-six percent pay for attendance at professional conferences (one source of professional development), again when funding allows, and 69% pay for professional memberships (another source of professional development), again, you guessed it, when funding is available. Read “when funding allows/is available” as so long as economic times are good.It is safe to say that it is “common fact” that professional development lines in budgets are the first to go at the first sign of tight financial times.

Is this the wisest response?Or, is this the classic response of nonprofits who don’t understand the basic business principles of it takes money to make money and return on investment? Though Ben Bernanke tells us we are not in a recession, everyone else with any financial savvy says we are.But this is not the end of the world.Not only is it not the time to retreat, it is the time to push forward.Seek new ideas, reinforce skills and develop new ones, build networks and collaborations, buy the loyalty of your employees.Now, more than ever, is the time to be an open, flexible, learning organization.

The sky is not falling, nor will it. Unless you let it.

The opinions expressed in Nonprofit University Blog are those of writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of La Salle University or any other institution or individual.