More on the government shutdown and the non-profit sector

shutdown5In yesterday’s post titled “Did fundraising cause the recent government shutdown,” we talked about whether or not fundraising strategies are one of the leading factors contributing to our current situation. Today, I want to stay with this topic and look at how the shutdown is impacting non-profits and what you should do in the long-term to mitigate some of these issues.

Those you serve

Last night, I was watching the news and an executive director of a veterans agency was being interviewed about how the government shutdown was impacting veterans. Throughout the interview, he eloquently talked about the impact on:

  • military support staff
  • vendors
  • contractors
  • VA Hospitals (except for emergency room services)
  • students waiting for G.I. Bill payments for school costs
  • disbursement of death benefits to families

While I found all of this interesting, the thing most interesting to me was how his agency was being impacted. Obviously, informational hotlines are not being staffed in government offices. So, this organization is trying to fill that void and trying to answer their questions or get them the information they require.

All of this got me thinking. How many other non-profit organizations have clients who rely on the government for something? And by “things” I mean benefits, services, etc.

I suspect there are many non-profits whose phone lines and case workers are now working overtime to fill the void normally filled by government agencies.

Funding concerns

shutdown4From what I’ve heard and read, many non-profit organizations are concerned about how the government shutdown will impact their funding. Consider the following:

  • organizations fund their operations with federal contracts
  • states receive federal pass-through money which eventually can put state funding to non-profits in question
  • vendors, who do lots of business with the government,¬†might not be able to continue providing your agency with the services you require
  • donors who work for the government or receive benefits from the government might not be in a position to pay their pledges or continue their support in the short-term

The longer a shutdown drags on, the more pressure will be placed on many non-profit organization’s revenue models.

Human capital

Just the other day, I was speaking with an agency who runs many of their programs with work-study students from the local college. The question they were pondering was obviously, “What impact might the government shutdown have on their situation?

There are government programs like work-study and Americorps that fuel countless agencies’ human resources needs.

Unanticipated consequences

Our system of government is large and complicated. There are countless numbers of programs that non-profit organizations rely upon, and there are millions of individuals who are impacted. Some of these challenges are immediately obvious, but many others will only make themselves visible down the road.

When businesses — regardless of whether they are for-profit or non-profit — operate in an environment of uncertainty, crazy things start to happen. Uncertainty and the human experience mix together about as well as oil and water.

While finance professionals brace for instability in financial markets, so too should non-profit organizations prepare for the obvious impacts and attempt to anticipate unexpected challenges.

What should you do?

While you might feel helpless at a time like this, there are some things you should consider:

  • Pull together an ad hoc committee to assess your agency’s vulnerabilities
  • Revisit your strategic plan and invest some time in contingency planning
  • Engage fundraising volunteers in a discussion about how to shift your agency’s dependence on government funding to other more stable sources like private sector fundraising efforts and specifically individual giving

Has your agency been impacted by the government shutdown? If so, how? What are you doing about all of this right now? Please use the comment box below to share your thoughts and experiences. We can all learn from each other.

Here’s to your health!

Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847

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