U.S. Nonprofits Stressed but Surviving, Survey Finds

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Philanthropy News Digest |

Eighty percent of U.S. nonprofit organizations are experiencing fiscal stress, with close to 40 percent reporting that the stress was “severe” or “very severe,” a new survey released by Johns Hopkins University finds.

Based on a survey of 363 organizations as part of the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Listening Post project, the report found that factors contributing to the “perfect storm” affecting nonprofits include declining revenues (51 percent), rising health benefit costs (57 percent), declining endowment values (80 percent), and declining government support (35 percent). Organizations responding to the survey differed widely in size, covered all regions of the country, and represented such diverse fields as children and family services, elderly services and housing, community development, education, and arts and culture.

Despite the ongoing challenges confronting nonprofits, more than two-thirds of the organizations surveyed indicated that they have been “successful” or “very successful” in coping with the fiscal crisis. That finding is consistent with patterns seen in previous recessions, in which nonprofits boosted employment while for-profits cut jobs, suggesting that nonprofits are a counter-cyclical force in the economy.

“Our nation’s nonprofit organizations are displaying exceptional resilience in the face of enormous fiscal challenges,” said Lester M. Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, which conducted the survey. “Nearly three-fourths of the organizations reported being able to maintain or actually increase the number of people they serve, and this was especially true of service to vulnerable populations.”

Still, the news is “mixed at best,” said Peter Goldberg, chair of the Listening Post Project steering committee and president and CEO of the Milwaukee-based Alliance for Children & Families. “Resilience in the face of crunching challenges inspires pride in the sector,” he said, “but also a deep concern about future capacities of nonprofit organizations to fulfill their missions.”

The full text of the report, Impact of the 2007-09 Economic Recession on Nonprofit Organizations (34 pages, PDF), is available at the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies Web site.

“”Perfect Storm” of Fiscal Stress Hits Nonprofits.” Johns Hopkins University Press Release 6/29/09.

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