Nonprofit Strategies

Nonprofit revenues are recovering but still below pre-recession levels

Special to The TribuneAugust 28, 2013 

Barry VanderKelen

Charitable giving — and overall revenue — to nonprofits is increasing, but they aren’t expected to return to pre-recession levels, adjusted for inflation, for six to seven years, experts say.

For example, total revenue to nonprofits in San Luis Obispo County in 2007 was $373.2 million. Adjusted for inflation to 2012 (the most recent complete year for inflation figures) that 2007 revenue equals $410.5 million. Yet as of this July, total revenue to nonprofits in SLO County was $410.4 million. So today’s dollars are just now reaching pre-recession buying power, according to the National Center for Charitable Statistics.

That means that nonprofits are still facing difficult choices about what programs and services to support.

Some have reduced staff. Some have sent out more mailings and created more special events to raise money — even conducting them in the summer, a time when there used to be few events. Still, nonprofits overall are reporting that attendance at events is declining.

In other words, nonprofits are working harder to stay even. There is little capacity to increase programs and services. Demand for services remains high.

Economists forecast a slow general economic recovery through this year and next. As personal wealth recovers, more major gifts may flow. But major gifts are generated by relationships, relationships built and sustained by board members and staff. Consumer confidence is slowly improving, which bodes well for annual gifts and events.

Now, more than ever, nonprofits need a clear road map for how to endure. A strategic planning process will help initiate organization-wide discussions of what can be done — and what can’t. Everyone must focus on slow, steady progress.

Barry VanderKelen is executive director of The Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County. Reach him at

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