By Mark J. Pierman
If you asked nonprofit executives what is the biggest challenge facing their agency, I would estimate that 99 percent would say “funding”.
It probably is the biggest challenge facing every agency.
Funding has been an issue the past several years and is not going to improve much over the next several years.
The biggest challenge, however, is not funding but the other issues surrounding it, and how we react to them.
This is a perfect opportunity to revisit our strategic plans and revise them to reflect new assumptions and projections about finances, programs and services, and the needs of the community. We may have to shorten the time horizons by which we plan and learn how to be more flexible.
Social service agencies are being asked to accommodate additional demands for service with less capacity.
Agencies have to assess which services are most important to the community and avoid the temptation to abandon preventive services in favor of those that will address an immediate crisis.
There has to be a balance that needs to be communicated to funding sources.
Advocacy becomes an integral activity for each of our agencies. Agencies must increase advocacy efforts for the people we serve, including actively opposing funding cuts that decimate basic services to our most vulnerable populations and supporting public policy that removes barriers to service.
We need to find ways to partner with other agencies to save valuable resources currently funding agency infrastructure that can be used to fund direct services.
It is time to explore creative ideas such as joint supply purchasing and other services that will reduce these costs to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
These times will test even the most seasoned leaders. Agency executives must provide the leadership needed to guide their agencies through these difficult waters with strength and purpose because our communities need our services more than ever.
I have heard many executives say this is the toughest time they have encountered in their career.
We must find the support from other executives and support our staff that provides such valuable service on a daily basis.
Last of all: Keep a good sense of humor. That is a secret weapon in this battle.
There are certainly many challenges facing us over the next several years. We have no choice but to address them head on and discover the opportunities that will position us for the future.
Mark J. Pierman is president and CEO of United Family Services in Charlotte, N.C.