Associations and Nonprofits Do More With Less

August 2010 Inview

Associations and Nonprofits Do More With Less

Despite anecdotal evidence that suggests a steady loss of association and nonprofit employment and predictions that as many as 100,000 organizations have disappeared as a result of the recession, nonprofits are surviving. A Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Listening Post Project survey conducted earlier this year found the while financial battering and increased demands nonprofits are experiencing on in the current recession are taking a serious toll on both their crucial human resources and their ability to deliver vital programs and services, nonprofits have displayed enormous resilience and a strong commitment to their critical missions. Most organizations are holding employment steady or actually adding staff, according to the Johns Hopkins report, though many of these are finding it difficult to maintain existing services.

Since the recession has increased the demand for critical nonprofit services among individuals, families, and communities, even the organizations that have avoided job losses are likely feeling significant strains as they are being called on to do more without additional resources. Demonstrating this, among the 46 percent of respondents that reported no net job losses or gains over the previous six months, nearly 40 percent indicated that they lack adequate staff to deliver their programs or services, and another four percent noted that they have only been able to deliver their programs or services through the assistance of new volunteers.

Thus, while fewer small organizations reported employment declines, the overall percentage decline in employment among this group of organizations was considerably higher than for the sample as a whole (six percent reduction versus an 0.4 percent increase for all respondents).

Beyond reducing their workforces, even larger proportions of respondents have had to take other steps that are placing serious strains on their employees and, in many cases, on their ability to deliver their mission-critical programs and services. As evidence of this, over the previous six months alone:  

  • Nearly half of all respondents (49 percent) refined job descriptions, often a euphemism for increasing employee workloads and assigning the responsibilities of laid- off staff to the remaining employees.
  • Nearly 40 percent of all respondents implemented a salary freeze and 36 percent postponed filling new positions.
  • Substantial numbers of organizations also took other types of action, including increasing staff hours (23 percent) and cutting or reducing benefits (23 percent).

    Perhaps most significantly, these changes are beginning to affect the ability of organizations to carry out their functions. Nearly 40 percent of respondents indicated that they currently lack adequate staff to deliver their programs and services. This is particularly troubling news in light of the increased stress that families and communities are feeling as a result of the ongoing recession.

    Arts and culture organizations and the smallest organizations report the most severe strains in maintaining their activities, with more than 50 percent of the theaters and museums reporting lack of staff to maintain their existing activities.

    Community and economic development groups, orchestras, and family and children service agencies are not far behind, however, with anywhere from 38 to 46 percent of these organizations also reporting difficulties maintaining their existing services.

    Despite the pressures they are under, the nonprofit respondents exhibited striking resilience, according to the summary report of the study, a testament to their strong commitment and passion for their missions. Far from declining, overall employment among the responding organizations actually increased by 0.4 percent between October 2009 and March 2010. This contrasts with the overall 0.4 percent decline in all private jobs in the country and the 0.1 percent decline of jobs in service-sector firms. In addition to the staff readjustments identified earlier, organizations have also developed a variety of additional coping strategies to make sure the current economic pressures do not impede their ability to deliver their programs/services or respond to growing needs.

    Two key strategies being employed by significant proportions of respondents include increasing reliance on volunteers (34 percent) and increasing reliance on contract or part-time workers (29 percent). These strategies were especially common within the arts fields. Moreover, five percent of all respondents noted that they lost staff but managed to add enough volunteers to deliver their full programs/services.

    Nearly a third of all respondents (31 percent) managed to add or expand programs to meet increased need, far more than the proportion that reduced or eliminated programs (18 percent). More than a quarter of all respondents created new positions (27 percent); and 18 percent of all respondents managed to increase staff benefits or wages.

    Click here to access the entire report.

  • Additional Articles




  • Visit Meetings Mean Business