Nonprofit Strategies: Recovery seems to be under way

Is the local nonprofit community recovering from the Great Recession? Some signs say no while others say maybe.

Data from the National Center for Charitable Statistics show that overall revenue to nonprofits in San Luis Obispo County is still $15 million below pre-recession levels. Yet the gap seems to be closing. Donations haven’t fully bounced back. And the investment and interest income is less than half of pre-recession levels. Also, net income from special events remains down, but special events generate about 1 percent of all revenue.

Furthermore, the Nonprofit Support Center reports that more than a third of local nonprofits reduced staff in 2010. With overall revenues down, it is unlikely that employment levels have increased in the past year.

There is a big “however” to these disconcerting reports:

The Consumer Confidence Index rose 15 points in November after six straight months of steady declines. This bodes well for year-end giving.

Reports released earlier this week suggest that U.S. retail sales are rising. People may be willing to spend money rather than hunker down.

November employment was stronger than expected and continues a positive trend. This helps strengthen consumer confidence.

What more needs to happen for a full recovery?

The unemployment rate needs to keep declining. As more people are employed, there will be more consumer spending and higher consumer confidence. Donations should rise as unemployment rates fall. The pool of volunteers will decrease as more people find paid employment.

As donations increase, nonprofits can hire more people. The recession has forced nonprofits to streamline operations, and staff will be able to work with more efficient systems supporting them.

Finally, staff and board members need to create ways to refresh and renew after a very difficult period.

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