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Nonprofits running on empty

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PJ staff report

Nonprofits and their employees are “stretched to the breaking point” by the troubled economy, and although adapting to the strain and digging deep to address rising demand for services, they need some relief to sustain their work, a new report says.

Nearly 40 percent of nonprofits lack adequate staff to deliver their programs and services, and nearly a third have seen net reductions in their workforces from October 2009 to March 2010, says the survey by the Center for Civil Society Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

Still, 23 percent of 46 nonprofits participating in the survey, which was conducted in early April, reported employment gains during the six-month period, while another 46 percent report no change despite facing expanded needs.

The rising pain for nonprofits follows earlier cuts: A previous Hopkins survey found 34 percent of nonprofits eliminated staff and 41 percent put off filling new positions between September 2008 and March 2009.

“The pressures on nonprofits have accelerated and are clearly taking their toll,” Lester Salamon, author of the report and director of the Center, says in a statement. “Organizations have show enormous resilience and commitment to their critical missions, but this has come at a price.”

Forty-nine percent of nonprofits in the most recent survey had “refined their job descriptions,” often a way of saying they had increased in employee workload and assigned responsibilities of laid-off staff to remaining employees, while 39 percent had instituted a salary freeze and 36 percent had delayed filling new jobs.

Another 23 percent increased staff hours, an additional 23 percent cut or reduced benefits, 12 percent increased non-program work for program staff, and 12 percent reduced wages.

Only 15 percent of nonprofits surveyed agreed the recently enacted Federal HIRE Act, which provides exemptions from employers’ portion of patrol taxes totaling 6.2 percent of salaries, would spur their organizations to hire new workers in 2010, while 42 percent doubted the law would lead to new hiring.

Many nonprofits believed the Act does not provide enough relief over enough time to affect their ability to hire new workers, the report says.

“Although America’s nonprofit organizations continue to display remarkable resilience in the face of withering economic circumstances, the pressures on nonprofit organizations have accelerated and are clearly taking their toll,” the report says.

“Even organizations reporting no reductions in staff are feeling squeezed due to increased needs on the part of those they serve,” it says. “Signs of staff burnout are therefore increasingly in evidence and sizable proportions of organizations are finding it difficult to maintain their existing levels of operations in the face of escalating demands.”

The report calls for renewed attention to “policy measures that can help sustain the critical safety net that nonprofits provide in many communities.”

While the HIRE Act is “a step in the right direction,” many nonprofits are “unaware of it, and those that are aware are finding its incentives too limited to have much effect.”

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