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Apr 3

Nonprofit Roller Coaster Roller Coaster

Roller coasters are still one of the most favorite rides at amusement parks. I am sure you remember the thrills and nervousness you felt from riding a coaster – hands high in the air, screams at high octave notes. Heart racing. Blood pumping. Angst building with each approaching hill. Climbing and climbing – finally at the top! Your body’s rising from the seat as you take that first big drop – whew you survived the big one!

Simply managing a nonprofit in today’s unknown financial environment can be an extreme roller coaster ride in itself. Up and down each year — stumbling and searching for solutions to remain sustainable. Listening to the economic strategists that flock our airwaves can be quite stressful – constantly leading us to believe that Wall Street will soon climb again and survive its current financial turmoil.

However, there is the nonprofit that depends on this same Wall Street and corporate America for donations, grants, and sponsorship. Will they survive the ride? What about the foundation that receives most of its revenue from individual contributions or investment returns? Not to mention those annual conferences that once registered thousands and made up 65 percent of an association’s operating budget — can they make up this loss revenue?

These are the tough questions that nonprofit execs and boards are asking themselves on the blunt end of a financial tsunami. Nonprofit experts are sounding the alarm – that no sector is immune to this economic downturn – all are feeling the impact. The same impact causing staff layoffs and many budget cuts. Even worst, some nonprofits are closing their doors. What is more alarming is that many grassroots organizations that provide direct services to the communities in which we live, such as homeless shelters, schools, hospitals and day care centers are suffering most; thus, these services are drying up.

Looking back at the scores of organizations that managed to survive similar situations during the Katrina disaster, ‘9-11 attacks’ and the ‘ blunders’, I am sure some wish there were other ways to get the adrenaline pumping versus getting on the roller coaster yet once more. Many paused then and recognized that they needed to change their business practices to ensure they remained sustainable. Yet, there are some of those same organizations that did not learn much from their past narrowing escape. In fact, the organizations that sat back and didn’t keep an eye on the finances and prepare for a time such as now are in major trouble. They are stuck on the roller coaster – just waiting for the ride to come to an end.

Nonprofit organizations can survive this roller coaster ride simply by seizing the opportunity to develop a value-added business plan that will position itself for sustainability. Organizations must make some tough business decisions. It is imperative that these decisions create a sense of purpose for its members and sponsors while diversifying their funding base to actually survive this one. It’s time for nonprofits to reinvent themselves and create a value proposition to ensure sustainability.

Organizations rising to the occasion are now on the economic roller coaster — taking each hill with angst and the adrenaline is pumping — they remain unruffled. They are developing new strategies and revising their fundraising plans. You see, organizations rising to the occasion understand that every roller coaster eventually comes to a stop at the end of the ride. You can get off or decide to ride it again.

Tangie Newborn, a seasoned nonprofit expert, is president of Immense Business Solutions, a full-service consulting and management firm headquartered in the Washington, DC Metropolitan area and satellite offices in the California Bay area.

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