The Sky is Falling! What Programs are You Cutting?

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Written By: Marlene Mulligan, Design and Development

“What the…???” Is that your reaction to this title? Yes, I am trying to be provocative, but I’m also serious.

We know what’s coming. And if you don’t, it must be your first rodeo or else you’re in one of the lucky charities that has adequate, stable funding to meet your needs even through an economic downturn. Every time there is a downturn, which all indicators are pointing to, nonprofit sector funding takes a hit the following year. This autumn marks the one-year anniversary of the oil price nose-dive and corporations and governments alike are sharpening their budget pencils and thinking markdowns. They have to. And so must many of us leading and governing nonprofits.

I talk to lots of folks in the sector in Calgary and I know many of you are currently in the process or have already sharpened your pencils. For those who haven’t or are dreading it, I want to send a note of encouragement. Based on personal experience at Propellus, and elsewhere, I know times of uncertainly like this can be really stressful, but they can also be really empowering for your board and staff if engaged appropriately.

Stopping doing stuff is not always a bad thing. There can be a myriad of reasons why our organizations get into programs and this economic period is a great opportunity to step back and ask ourselves which programs are having the greatest impact on our mission today and for the foreseeable future. With this clearly in mind you can make strong business decisions. And by strong business decisions, I mean choosing work that has the most impact on your mission. Believe it or not, I’ve witnessed cases where programs are more meaningful to staff and volunteers than to those they serve!

There are lots of ways to recalibrate your nonprofit, but one that Propellus has used and can be applied in a super simple way, is the sustainability matrix from the great little ‘tool-book’, Non-Profit Sustainability- Making Strategic Decisions for Financial Viability. Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 10.22.28 AM

I hear stories from some organizations that governors and leaders are encouraging behavior like creating new initiatives or running events to try to make ends meet when the books are looking like they are going to be in the red. Propellus does not recommend this and we believe your donors wouldn’t either.

Research (Root Cause, Statistics Canada, Association of Fundraising Professionals) over the past five years has shown consistently that donors are less and less interested in sponsorship and events and more and more interested in impact, evidence and transparency. If your organization isn’t building this capability, now could be the chance to blow the wind in that direction. Or you could be looking at whether or not there is a ‘market’ for your impact i.e. social enterprise/ earned revenues. Either way, stability will certainly come from the ability to adapt and to think about long-term trends and not just short-term booms and busts.

Every organization has its own unique funding mix so changes in funding trends can affect us differently. It’s possible that going through a program review doesn’t result in cutting programs. It’s possible you end up with even more funding because you can articulate your programs and their impact differently or better than you have before. Where ever your organization is with cost cutting and program alignment, if you want to get stronger, we’re here to help.

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