Public Policy Forum Blog

Perfect storm of increased need and decreased giving hits area nonprofits

This year’s Report Card on Charitable Giving is different than in past years. In every report prior to this one, we surveyed the same small bellwether group of organizations. For this year’s report, we surveyed a larger number of nonprofits in the region to get a broader picture of what local nonprofits are experiencing. We e-mailed surveys to 391 local nonprofits and received completed responses from 188 organizations for a response rate of 48 percent. Over half (51 percent) of the organizations surveyed were from the human services sector, while 18 percent were arts and culture organizations, 17 percent were education organizations, 10 percent were health organizations, and three percent were in the environment sector. Three respondents were funding organizations. Eighty percent of the 188 responding organizations service Milwaukee County.

Major findings:

  • Sixty-eight percent of organizations report that the U.S. economic downturn has caused giving to their organizations to be less generous than usual. Only seven percent feel that the downturn has caused giving to be more generous.
  • Compared to the first half of 2008, organizations report decreases in total revenue, revenue from donations, and overall staffing. However, they also report increases in actual fundraising efforts.
  • Most organizations say they have had to cut costs due to budget constraints (83 percent). Forty-three percent have frozen salaries, 29 percent have frozen new hires, 24 percent have laid off staff and reduced benefits, 13 percent have reduced salaries, and nine percent have eliminated benefits.
  • Of the organizations that offer direct services to clients, 62 percent report the demand for their services is increasing, while seven percent report the demand is decreasing. Furthermore, 43 percent of these organizations say that the charitable donations designated to meet the demand for these services are decreasing, while 14 percent say they are increasing.
  • Even in these hard times, 44 percent of organizations feel very confident that they can meet the demand for services in 2009 and 45 percent feel somewhat confident. Furthermore, 26 percent of organizations anticipate that the likelihood of their organization’s long-term sustainability is very high, 33 percent report a high likelihood of sustainability, and 34 percent a moderate likelihood.

The report was commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation with sponsorships from Donors Forum of Wisconsin, The Faye McBeath Foundation and United Way of Greater Milwaukee.

Jeffrey Schmidt