I am in my last “official” real weeks of being an employee of our favorite NonProfit, and the talk of the day is the economic mess. To be broke in a nonprofit isn’t really news, but what’s different is that the places out there– the For Profits and the Foundations– are all freaking out at once with financial woes of their own. Big news in our little circle is always whose gala had who at it and what auction items sold. Nonprofit groups host gala fundraisers with fancy food for exorbitantly priced tickets and then entertain their guests with silent auctions, live auctions, and (usually) a cash bar. Except who’s going to pay for $125-$200+ tickets these days? And no one can afford to spend money on an auction after they’ve put all that money down for a ticket, which basically just covers the chicken and the rented sound equipment.There are, of course, individuals who will pay exorbitant amounts of money out of loyalty to a particular cause, or in my observation, a particular individual who cares about a particular cause. Somehow spending money on an event seems to be a more personal way of supporting a friend than a straight donation to their organization. For instance, I have a friend who is Artistic Director of a theatre around here. They recently had a gala. It is unlikely, were I to receive an annual appeal letter in the mail, that I would write a couple hundred dollar check for this theatre (or honestly, any organization). But my buddy came to OUR gala last spring, and he’s really freaking awesome, and I actually do believe in the work he does– so I bought a ticket and attended, unable to bid much at all on auction items for fear I’d never make rent this month. It meant something to him, and I wanted to “help”– but I don’t think ultimately my type of loyal attendance-ship is what these type of events are really supposed to target. It would be better for me to send the $150 check directly and let them save the money on my pasta dinner…
These kinds of events are traditionally held together by corporate sponsors, who buy up tables and fill them with their employees and friends who happily consider getting drunk for a cause as a perk of their employment and bid up signed photographs of ball players “for the kids,” in many cases for organizations they have had little to no personal contact with themselves. But when times are tight– and scary– as they are now, the corporations don’t want to spend money on a party. They don’t have the ability to budget for additional charitable giving when they’re contemplating layoffs. So the funding stream runs dry here, as it already has in earned income categories as well as other kinds of foundation support.
So the question is, if the NonProfits’ business plans are all driven on the assumption that they will just get by (as many of them could only “just” do when times were supposedly good) through these types of funding that simply won’t be there now: what happens to all the social services they provide? What happens to the PEOPLE who depend on those services for support, enrichment, and basic livelihood?
But really, what can be done then?