Speakers at The Giving Circles Fall Forum on Philanthropy, Moving Ahead in Hard Times, commanded the attention of everyone in a packed Durant Center Tuesday as City Councilman Rob Krupicka, Assistant City Manager for Community and Human Services Debra Collins, and Terri Freeman, executive director of the Community Foundation for the National Capital Region, described the tough times nonprofits are facing and provided their suggestions for how to deal with the current dismal economic outlook.
Representatives from nonprofits, Giving Circle members and Alexandria Community Trust members were attentive as each of the three panelists described what keeps them up at night. They fielded questions and then went on to describe some of their thoughts on how to approach having an increased demand for nonprofit services with fewer resources to meet those needs. There was consensus among the three panelists that collaboration is essential to the survival of Alexandrias nonprofits.
The Giving Circle of Alexandria, an Alexandria-based philanthropic organization that pools intellectual and financial resources with a strategic purpose to serve the children, youth and families of Alexandria, held the community forum to discuss the realities in serving the citys most vulnerable children and their families in this economic crisis.
The first to speak was Krupicka, who began by saying that we are in a perfect storm economically. It will be 18-24 months, and possibly even years, before we will see the light at the end of the tunnel. Long-term planning a is now a luxury because incredible needs are right in front of us. His key concern is how to protect the health and safety of the community with less money from the city, state and Federal governments, the impact on children as there are more job losses, and the capacity of Alexandrias nonprofits to weather the storm as their donors have less to give.
Second to speak was Collins, who warned that, for the first time, we dont have the basic resources to make a difference. Where do we start in choosing who to give to? Pre-emptive programs are likely to be cut the most. She went on to explain that people who have never sought help are applying for resources they need immediately, and there are no Federal partners to pull resources from anymore. Moreover, she knows that as more people are laid off, they are going to become her clients. With her growing client base, Collins said she is certain that she will need the nonprofit community more than ever and now [they] are stretched too. We are going to have to practice strategic philanthropy.
Unfortunately, Freeman voiced similar concerns to those of Krupicka and Collins. She spoke of specific groups of clients she is concerned will especially suffer such as those who were incarcerated and have been gainfully employed in the construction industry, and seniors who can no longer afford their medicines. Freeman cautioned that although her foundation has had a substantial asset base to work from, it has been reduced by the markets downturn. Moreover, Freeman is worried about how to generate more resources to meet the increasing needs when donors would like to help but cannot give any more. However, she believes that perhaps there are too many nonprofits and suggests that maybe the nonprofit sector needs to re-define itself.
After the panelists provided a gloomy outlook for the short-term, they then went on to encourage and offer some constructive ideas. Krupicka said that Alexandrians need to bring more people out to volunteer and help those in need. More people will be asking how can I help? and individuals and nonprofits need to be ready to respond. He suggested that folks utilize the services of the Alexandria Volunteer Bureau more, increase the use of technology and spend money at local businesses.
Krupicka continued, saying, We need to think about everything as a community. If we do that we will make it through and be better. If each family just spent $50 more each week in Alexandria, it would have a huge effect on helping the local businesses and the citys revenues. Attendee Allison DiNardo seconded Krupickas idea when she suggested that, We need to think locally, shop locally and go out to dinner locally.
Collins continued in the same vein, and said that she believes that priorities will be in part dictated by the inevitable reductions. The city and private sector are going to have to work together to fill in the gaps in services for the most needy. We have a lot of heart, but we will have to work together to get his done, said Collins in summing up.
One of the most radical survival suggestions for nonprofits came from Freeman. She recommended that nonprofits consider merging to survive. Services often overlap, and mergers could allow nonprofits to create shared back-office support for services such as accounting. Freeman did note that it will not necessarily be easy to find common ground, and it is likely we will see closures before we see mergers. Her words of encouragement came as she commented that she has never seen people more willing to talk and work together I believe that peoples capacity is huge I know we will be stronger and better for having gone through this together.
Vice Mayor Del Pepper weighed in at the end of the meeting and stated that this truly is a family and we are responsible for each other. We are small enough to get our hands around the problem. In the end, we will come out a better city and community.
After the session wrapped up, attendees were talking about what the next step should be or the forums usefulness. Glenn Hopkins, the President and CEO of Hopkins House, a nonprofit providing education programs and services to children and their families, said he was pained by the notion that a merger of nonprofits is the solution to our economic problems. The efficiencies created by fewer charities wont necessarily help because there are going to be increased needs and fewer people available to help. This worthwhile session is the first step but there needs to be a continuing dialog.
Similarly, Ken Naser, the Executive Director of ALIVE!, the largest private safety net for Alexandrias needy, stated that he found the Fall Forum useful because he has seen that the hard times have started. We have an influx of new people coming to us for help. Typically, we used to average 21 families a week seeking help from our Family Emergency Food Program, and since mid-September, we have increased to 33 families a week in October.
Holly Sloan Smith, co-president of the Giving Circle, provided a fitting close to the meeting, which summed up what the nonprofits seemed to echo, when she said All of our lives are going to changewith the current financial climate. Out of that will come a new way of working together. We need to focus on the missions and the people. This meeting is a first step.
For more information about the Giving Circle, go to www.givingfullcircle.org.