As our state's leaders continue to struggle to balance the budget, one thing is for sure: Social services programs will take a hit.
And that means a two-fold dilemma for folks trying to keep nonprofit agencies afloat. The CEO of the United Way of Benton and Franklin Counties put it best when she called it "a squeeze from two directions."
The demand for help is up in this shaky economy, while at the same time state funding is being cut for many human and social services programs because of budget constraints.
That means nonprofits in the Tri-Cities are feeling the pinch with fewer state dollars coming their way and more folks needing their help.
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As much as we feel for the plight of the nonprofits, it's time for a reality check.
State and federal funding is not going to get any better in the future. It's time to start operating nonprofits more like businesses to preserve the good work they do for the long term.
Human and social service organizations need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and re-examine their missions and purposes.
w Check to see if services are being duplicated by other agencies and consider joining forces to build the economic strength required to serve those in need.
w Find ways to diversify funding sources and remove dependence on government funding for survival.
w Plan for the long term, not just for the year ahead.
If those challenges can't be met, it might be time for some to close up shop. No, we're not advocating for fewer services in the community, just stronger ones.
We're blessed to live in a community that hasn't felt the effect of the flagging economy as severely as those in other parts of the state or nation. And we're home to very generous folks who give their time and money to make sure others find services that they need, from food to diapers to shelter.
But hoping our community will always remain sheltered from the storm does not make for a solid business plan.
By definition, the primary purpose of a nonprofit organization is to serve the public. But that doesn't mean the organizations should be poor and struggling themselves and on the verge of constant failure if the latest appeal doesn't save the day.
That kind of operation doesn't serve anyone for long.
Sustainability is key for nonprofits and that requires planning and creative fundraising. It requires diligence with the budget and making difficult decisions when money is running short.
And it requires a long-term vision to ensure that the organization will be able to serve the community years into the future. And the key to all of these things is money, knowing how to procure it, manage it and save it.
We're not saying that is an easy feat. We know it's not. But it is a necessary one. It's no longer good enough to run on faith that the community will pick up the slack when times are tough.
The Mid-Columbia can continue to be a place where residents care for their own, but that requires strategic planning on the parts of the social and human services organizations filling those most basic of human needs.
The ability to adapt and change is vital in this environment. Our community deserves a safety net for those in need and that only can be provided by strong nonprofit management.
For-profit businesses have had to change their operations and strategies to survive in this economy and nonprofits must do the same.