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Home > Research Articles > Non-profit groups are finding innovative ways to stretch the tight dollars

Arizona Republic

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Just when we need their help the most, non-profit groups are facing big financial challenges

A struggling economy is squeezing contributions. Meanwhile, the budget deficit is eliminating state funds for all types of programs, from child care to recreation.

Yet with state unemployment up more than 300 percent in the past two years, more Arizonans need a helping hand from our non-profit organizations.

If this were a holiday movie, the townsfolk would all show up with their nickels and dimes to bail out struggling charities.

And we can help by digging deeper into our pockets and purses. Our New Year's resolutions should include extra volunteer time for local causes.

But non-profit organizations must also figure out how to stretch their dollars to carry on their critical work of helping the needy, enriching our culture and improving our quality of life.

A large crowd of executives from the non-profit world gathered at Friday's Fall Nonprofit Forum, put together by Arizona State University, The Arizona Republic and Valley of the Sun United Way. There they showed that there is plenty of interest in figuring out how to do just that.

These key tactics for surviving, and even thriving, emerged from the conference:

• Focus on the core mission and eliminate everything else. That led Ballet Arizona, on the verge of financial collapse two years ago, to take the painful step of switching to recorded music. Live music is far superior, but the show can go on without it.

• Look for donations in kind. One resourceful fund-raiser at the conference has rounded up everything from paint to air-conditioning service.

• Use technology. E-mail is a great way to communicate at virtually no cost. A Web site can be a lot more than a brochure, with such services as a searchable index for resources. Two new Internet sites will help non-profits tap into free software and technical help.

• Tighten the organizational belt. Caroline Newsome of the Self Employment Loan Fund charted out the work and staffing when the group hit financial bumps. She found that some jobs could be made part time or consolidated. Evening workshops worked fine without an assistant to help the instructor.

• Collaborate. The Childsplay theater group has teamed up with the Arizona Mental Health Association to present a play about teen suicide at schools, followed by a program on depression and how to seek help.

Now, there's even a new online guide to help non-profits link up: ww.azpartners.org.

It was produced by Teen Lifeline and Not My Kid, non-profit groups that received a $30,000 grant funded by The Republic, Arizona Public Service and United Way, to figure out how to work together.

Originally, the two organizations expected to boost their efficiency by sharing office space and other resources. Not My Kid is mostly an Internet-based information source for parents (www.notmykid.org), while Teen Lifeline operates a suicide hotline with peer counselors.

After evaluating the best way to meet their goals, they decided instead to operate under an organizational umbrella called Partnership for Adolescent Resources through Training Networking Education Referrals and Support (a long name that just happens to have the acronym of "partners"). They expect several other youth-oriented groups to join them.

The lesson: Be ready and willing to change.