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How do we keep nonprofits from becoming non-existent?


All God's children get weary when they roam, don't it make you wanna go home.

DEC, 28, 2011: I don't see dead people, but I do see this:
There is a nonprofit in Watertown whose financial committee met in late December in a semi-panic, not sure if the organization would have enough cash to make payroll in January.
There is another nonprofit in town that has whittled its debt from $40,000 to $18,000 but isn't celebrating because the deep well of resources it has aggressively tapped from its benefactors has just about run dry.
There is another nonprofit in town that recently took on extra programs, or baggage shall we say, and is now taking on water. The agency keeps a happy face on for the public but behind the scenes is bailing as fast as it can.
There is another long-serving nonprofit in town that has been slowly eliminating programs throughout the north country and has no assurance it will be in business in five years.
And there is another nonprofit in town that has such a serious roof and parking lot issue that if it must develop a capital campaign, knowing full well the community is still paying off the capital campaigns of Samaritan Medical Center, the Y and the Carthage library.
This news isn't really new. Three years ago Watertown Times' reporter Nancy Madsen produced a five-part series on nonprofits. Here are the first two paragraphs of the first story:
With little fanfare, north country public charities have relentlessly grown over the past decade into an $800 million industry that employs 12,000 people and serves senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease, uninsured children with autism and everything in between.
But the north country's dependence on nonprofits for services and jobs is being jeopardized by the nation's financial crisis, as 2009 is expected to bring major cuts in government funding and fewer private and corporate donations.

If you add 2010 and 2011 into the second paragraph, you can do some simple math and assume that our nonprofits' financial problems are three times worse than they were in early 2009.
And you can also insert the fact that our local businesses are just about tapped out in how much more they can give. Listen and you can hear the echo: “How many more nonprofits are going to ask me to donate to their golf tournament this year?”
Listen and you can hear individuals mutter among themselves: “I just can't pony up more cash for every semi-formal silent auction they hold around here every week.”
When Will Rogers said, “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat,” he was foreshadowing much of the world we find ourselves in today. The rugged individualism that the internet fosters – we chat but don't speak, we visit but don't meet – is speeding up the fraying of the fabric of our communities.
Sure, we all click on the “Like” button on Facebook. But instead of joining organizations that work to prevent local crises, we simply vow that we will rise to the occasion if a crisis erupts. That sounds fine on paper, except for the paper that lists the declining rolls of volunteer fire departments. Then again, maybe a neighbor's house burning down is no longer considered a crisis to the neighbors.
If our nonprofits go belly up in the coming years, we will blame Obama, Wall Street and China. But is there some way we can bring attention to the issue now? Or would we rather wait for the obit-style headline about the death of a nonprofit and then whine that there is never any good news in the paper?
Because nonprofits belong to no organized party, they have trouble hanging together to avoid hanging separately. Yet is there some way our nonprofits can be linked together so that all the behind-the-scenes stuff, such as payroll, fund appeals, etc., can be consolidated? Is there a way more of them can share a roof and heating bills?
Watching our school districts atrophy as they avoid consolidation is a preview of coming attractions for our nonprofits. But politicians and labor unions can kick the can down the road for several more years to keep governments from facing reality. Our nonprofits can only call United Way and ask for a larger piece of a shrinking pie. The math doesn't work.
If you look at the history of the north country, you learn quickly that many of our nonprofits were created before state and federal financial commitments found them. Our rugged individualism back then was as a rugged individual community.
We might not be that community anymore. And you won't need a sixth sense to see where our nonprofits are headed if we don't find a way to work together soon.

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