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By: Catherine Siebel, Impact Assessment for Foundations and Nonprofits
On June 10th, ACN hosted its Annual Meeting, featuring the program, “A Panorama of the Nonprofit Sector: What to Know and Do Within the Changing Landscape”. For the first time, we invited nonprofit organizations to what has traditionally been a members-only event. What phenomenal energy! With a crowd that was nearly evenly split between ACN members and nonprofit organizations, I was thrilled to watch friends and colleagues greet one another and to witness new connections being made.
Equally exciting was the programming, which exceeded our already-high expectations. Moderated by the exceptional Delia Coleman (I routinely tell anyone who will listen that you don’t understand what a skill it is to moderate until you’ve seen Delia work a panel), our group discussion ranged from the difficult to the optimistic – and spanned both theoretical and practical considerations.
A key – and anticipated – point of discussion at the event focused on past and future budget cuts, and what that means for the sector. Judith Gethner noted that Human Service funding in Illinois has decreased by 29% since 2009 – and now faces cuts of hundreds of millions of dollars through the current budget negotiations. Sharon Bush commented: “This is more real than it has ever been. You’re going to be cut beyond the bone.” Asked what kind of changes this dire climate is fostering, the panelists provided a wealth of information. A few key points:
So what can nonprofit leaders do in response? How can they effectively meet their mission while managing a competitive and uncertain stream financial future? A few down-on-the-ground thoughts from our panelists:
Throughout this compelling discussion, something that struck me over and over was the breadth of expertise that’s required in this changing landscape. At various points throughout the conversation, a variety of knowledge was deemed necessary to deal with these tectonic shifts. A few examples included impact measurement, social enterprises, strategic planning, board development, policy advocacy, data analytics, marketing/branding, and financial planning. No Executive Director can be expected to be experts in all of these areas while running their organization. And yet – this is precisely what they’re being expected to do. As the newly elected President of ACN, I’m proud to say that experts in every single one of these areas not only comprise our membership, but were represented in the room last Wednesday. Our members – averaging over 11 years of experience in nonprofit consulting and spanning more than 20 areas of expertise – provide such an incredible resource to the nonprofit community.
With this in mind, I’ll finish with hopefulness by echoing Mr. Weinheimer’s sentiment: “It’s going to be tough. But I’m optimistic that the sector will come out stronger on the other side.”
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