And so we begin…by Anne Yurasek on February 13, 2008
This is the inaugural entry of the FIO Partners Blog…FIO Perspectives.
My hope is to share what will become a “journal from our practice”…a place to record what we are learning from our firm’s work with nonprofit organizations, foundations, and government in the US and Canada. Let me start by giving you a sense of three places where our firm has worked with several organizations in a single community. Each has its own distinct and quite exceptional set of challenges and the nonprofit, foundation and government managers in these places do so in particularly demanding contexts.
Rhode Island is our home base and its state government is facing the worst deficit in its history. The recently published “Governor’s Budget”; offers nothing but draconian cuts to social service spending and threatens to de-stabilize several components of the civic sector. The Legislature will have more to say about how this deficit will be dealt with but the battle is on to pit one group of vulnerable people against another in a resource war like no other…the elderly in nursing homes, the developmentally disabled, the mentally ill, the children of illegal immigrants, etc. The agencies that serve these constituents are facing losses of 30% due to the increased cost of energy and health insurance coupled with revenue cuts of 20%...all of which will come due in the next 18 month period. I suspect our Rhode Island work will be about consolidation and alliances, about retrenchment, about influencing public policy and about managing in a crisis environment.
We have worked in New Orleans for over seven years, watching with horror when much of what was accomplished before Katrina seemed to wash away over night and have also watched with awe at what has returned. Here it can be clearly said that among the unsung heroes of the recovery of New Orleans are the nonprofit managers, both service providers and foundations, who have effectively restructured their services and investments to assist in the reconstruction of an entire city, of an entire society. However, a new challenge has now arisen: the withdrawal of national funds that flowed into the city since Katrina has begun. The sector will need to continue its reinvention to adjust to a new city with different demographics in an economy that is affected by the housing crisis and pending national recession. It continues to be our privilege to help in any way we can.
Calgary, has, in the words of some, experienced its own kind of Katrina…not overnight but in the last few years since oil was discovered in northern Alberta and this small western City best known for its annual rodeo has taken on many of the characteristics of a gold rush boom town. The challenge for nonprofit managers here is keeping a hold on its workforce. Signing bonuses for pizza delivery persons are not unheard of. The price of housing has skyrocketed, if it can be found at all, despite a building boom that is astonishing to those of us who arrive every few months to find a city with a larger footprint, extending further and further into the surrounding hills. It is almost impossible to find an apartment, condo, or house that is affordable for someone who works in a group home for the developmentally disabled or supports someone with mental health problems. There is funding but services need to be redesigned to adjust to far fewer available workers.
These are the contexts for much of our work. There is a reason that the Chinese say that “May you live in interesting times” is a kind of curse. Clearly the sector’s managers in each of these locations understand the truth in that. From our vantage point, though, we see the coping strategies, the tenacity, the passion, the conviction to continue the work. It is my hope we can bring to our readers that understanding and share what we are learning about managing in this swiftly changing world.