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Friday, July 19, 2024

Non-profits hurt by ailing economy

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Various industries have been affected by America’s slow economy and the financial downturn is also lurking in many human services agencies.

Meals on Wheels Association of America (MOW) are one of many non-profits who have seen a decline in donations. As a community-based organization, MOW has an estimated 5,000 programs across the U.S. that offer home delivered meals and congregate meals to senior citizens over 60. Although 1 million meals are served each day collectively, Enid Borden, president and CEO of MOW says it’s not enough.

“They’re white and Black; they have money and they’re poor; they’re men and women; it’s anybody and everybody,” said Borden. “We live in the richest nation on earth and yet any given night we have seniors who are going to bed hungry.”

Although MOW provides a necessary and heartfelt service, Borden also states that if it weren’t for the nutritionally balanced meals MOW provides, many seniors would not be alive. Because of the organization’s economic downturn, even more seniors may go to bed hungry.

While it takes an average of $5 per person per meal, which includes the raw food and transportation, many local MOW branches are either serving fewer seniors or shutting its doors due to lack of funding by local entities and state/federal grants.

“I’ve been here for 16 years and I’ve never seen it as bad. Most of the volunteers are seniors themselves. They’re living on fixed incomes too. They have to make a decision and say, ‘Do I volunteer or do I eat?’” said Borden. “We’re talking about the people who raised us. Think about grandma and grandpa going hungry. Shouldn’t be; shouldn’t be.”

Organizations like Meals on Wheels may be losing funds and volunteers during hard economic times, but organizations like Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana aren’t really feeling the heat.

According to Cindy Graham, vice president of marketing for Goodwill, although the organization has seen increases in transportation costs for goods and students of Goodwill’s charter school, Indianapolis Metropolitan High School, Goodwill has seen steady numbers in donations and sales in their retail stores. Goodwill projects it will generate $53 million for this year.

“What the retail operation provides to us is a pretty stable financial engine that gives us the ability to focus the funds generated onto our mission and not worry as much as other non profits might have to about where day to day operational funding is going to come from,” said Graham.

With organizations spanning from weak to thriving, Melissa Brown, associate director of research at The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, states the reason why some are going into the hole is because of funding difficulties. Many non-profits falling through the cracks are also losing volunteers who are themselves struggling during tough economic times.

What may be ironic to some is that people who are most likely to give to non-profits are not only more aware of the need, but tend to have lower incomes. Not to say that those with higher incomes don’t support local non-profits, but Brown states, they don’t support with large donations. Plus there are more people with lower incomes.

Non-profits are also feeling the squeeze from city, state and federal budget cuts.

Brown further explains that non-profits undergo popularity trends with donation increases to the organization of the hour. Financial donations may further fluctuate based on branding, perception, amount of media coverage, support by a high profile individual, word of mouth, location, feedback to those who have donated or people’s own experiences.

Ellen Annala, president and CEO of United Way of Central Indiana, says the non-profit sector is resilient and there are strategies non-profits can implement to stay afloat. As an organization whose major source of funding comes from corporations and their employees, Annala suggests organizations self evaluate, gather evaluations from volunteers and refocus their finances on the necessities.

Borden suggests increasing volunteer support while Brown advises organizations to hit the streets and alert their community.

“People are motivated to give based on the need they perceive, the effectiveness of the organization on meeting that need and their trust in the organization’s ability to manage the funds responsibly,” said Brown. “The organizations have a responsibility to work with the media, send letters, e-mails, etc. to present the extent of the problem.”

As the economy goes down, the need for human services goes up. Some non-profits are surviving today’s economic storm while others are steadily sinking. Experts encourage citizens to see where there’s a need – not only to keep worthwhile organizations alive but also to support non-profits because helping others makes you feel good.

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