Crucial time for charities

Posted by Laura Otten, Ph.D., Director on December 26th, 2009 in Articles, Thoughts & Commentary

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With the economic downturn staring us in the face, it’s hard to feel charitable even during this season of giving. But this has been a grim year for charities, just as it has for individuals and businesses. So charities are hopefully and anxiously anticipating this crucial period of year-end giving, traditionally fueled by goodwill and the promise of tax deductions.

If you’re wondering how you can afford to give to charity, I would ask how you can afford not to. Nonprofits enrich us with a wide array of services. They take care of those who can’t care for themselves; provide many with essentials such as food, clothing, and shelter; and lift us up through the arts, after-school programs, open spaces, and more.

As Peter Singer asks in his book The Life You Can Save, how many cups of designer coffee did you buy this week? How many bottles of water? If you answered one or more to either, you have disposable income that could be invested in your community.

You can be as strategic about your charitable giving as you are about other financial decisions. With a variety of Web-based independent charity evaluators, including Guidestar, Charity Navigator, and the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, you can scrutinize charities’ expenses, salaries, directors, and more.

It is a cruel irony that, as the economy worsens and support for nonprofits dwindles, demand for many nonprofits’ services increases. Bridgespan, a nonprofit consulting group, recently found that 93 percent of charity leaders surveyed had been affected by the economy, up from 75 percent a year ago. Almost half had dipped into reserves, more than 40 percent laid off staff, and 58 percent saw more demand for services.

Early results of a survey of Delaware Valley nonprofits, conducted here at La Salle’s Nonprofit Center, are similar: 44 percent said they are worse off than they were six months ago, 50 percent had to dip into reserves recently, 28 percent laid off staff, and 59 percent have seen more demand.

Could you meet a 60 percent increase in demand for your services while your capacity to deliver them was being reduced almost daily? Could you continue to nurture, inspire, encourage, support, and serve?

The charitable sector doesn’t say no to those who need it, whether it is being funded at 100 percent or 60 percent. That’s why nonprofits and their communities need you to buy one less cup of coffee or bottle of water and donate that money to charity instead.

Laura Otten is the director of the Nonprofit Center at La Salle University’s School of Business. She can be reached at [email protected]/  This commentary was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on 12/21/09

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.