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Nonprofits gear up for recession

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Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In the past two months, the Family Violence Prevention Center of Orange County has seen a 10 percent increase in clients, and a 20 percent increase in the number of services they are requesting.

Raleigh-based Urban Ministries of Wake County, which distributed 227 tons of food in the fiscal year ended July 1, 2007, saw a 20 percent increase in demand for food in the last half of 2007.

And the Triangle Community Foundation in Durham says the nonprofits it funds face escalating needs from constituents.

“Nonprofits are being asked to do more and more with the resources they have,” says Andrea Bazán, the foundation’s president. “The nonprofit sector is becoming more of a safety net.”

With the economy headed for a recession, nonprofits are preparing to cope with rising demand for services, higher operating costs, and donors who may be more reluctant to give, nonprofit leaders say.

“Domestic violence affects people across the socioeconomic scale, but disproportionately it affects people in difficult financial straits, and makes it more difficult for them to leave their situation,” says Linda Frankel, executive director of the Family Violence Prevention Center. “As the economy worsens, our folks may be more vulnerable.”

Bazán says the Triangle Community Foundation, in addition to making grants to nonprofits, is working to help them develop long-term strategies to secure the resources they need.

“They are up for the challenge but also needing some more sustainable, reliable funding,” she says. “Foundations need to play a role there and facilitate some other streams of funding.”

The foundation, for example, has worked to help develop collaborative funding strategies for a new alliance the Volunteer Center of Durham is organizing to support mentoring programs, for efforts by the Executive Service Corps of the Greater Triangle to provide technical assistance to local nonprofits, and for a coalition in Wake County working to end homelessness.

The foundation, which made grants totaling over $13 million in 2007, the most ever in a single year, also received more gifts in the last three months of 2007 than in any previous quarter.

With over $140 million in assets, up from $100 million in September 2005, Bazán says, the foundation continues to focus both on donors and nonprofits, while keeping track of the economy.

Anne Burke,  says Urban Ministries, which served just over 15,000 clients last year and expects it will need additional funds to help meet rising demand for services, plans to add a third special fundraising event this year, along with “more assertive outreach to donors to keep reminding them we’re here and need their help.”

But with a “bottomless pool of people who could come to us all the time” for services, she says, “we’re never going to be able to serve all those people.”

Frankel says the Domestic Violence Center, which serves 650 to 700 clients a year, is trying to hold down spending and, for its budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, will build in anticipated increases in costs, particularly for insurance and utilities.

And with a challenge gift from an anonymous donor, the agency aims to net $60,000 from a Mother’s Day fundraising appeal.

“There are many nonprofits in our community, and we’re all vying for the same dollars,” she says, “so that makes it difficult for us.”

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