Friday, July 4, 2008

Non-profit angst

As a member of an all-volunteer non-profit board, I keep an eye on news about other non-profits and charities. While there are mission differences between general non-profits and actual "charities", there are great similarities in the issues dealt with by all of them.

According to an article in the Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle), Seattle and Portland both struggle with the financial health of their charities.

Seattle ranked near the bottom of a list ranking the health of charities in the nation's largest cities, according to a recent study.

According to Charity Navigator's ratings of the financial health of charities in the 30 largest U.S. cities, Seattle's overall rank was No. 25, above only Detroit, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Charlotte, N.C., and Portland, Ore. Miami, San Diego and Houston were the top three cities in the New Jersey-based charity evaluator's rankings.

The rankings are created by Charity Evaluator by evaluating the financial health of 5,300 U.S. charities. The criteria include: performance, fundraising efficiency, fundraising expenses, program expenses, administrative expenses, primary revenue growth, program expenses growth, and working capital ratio.

Seattle ranked No. 28 in fundraising efficiency and program expenses, with Charity Evaluator writing: "High fundraising costs continue to damper Seattle's overall ranking ... The less efficient allocation of expenses demonstrated by charities in Seattle as compared to those in other cities causes this market's overall ranking to stay among the bottom 10."

I subscribe to the Charity Evaluator, the largest such organization in the country, and most used.

Managing a non-profit (volunteer or otherwise) is a fairly intimidating task. There is a tremendous feeling of responsibility that comes (it better come!) with making decisions about money that comes from the community. There are alot of expectations from that community, and taking on the above-mentioned responsibility means finding the best and most beneficial ways to fulfill those expectations.

When I look at things like the quoted article, I wonder what puts Portland so far down the list. The article is about Seattle's low ranking, but note that Portland is even further behind in the financial strength and operation of its charities. Again, although we are a non-profit and not a direct charity, I know our organization is reaching the stage where we have to evaluate where we are going in the future, and how best to get there. We have alot of options opening up for us that weren't there before, and deciding how best to take advantage of that, continue strengthening the organization, and hopefully become the resource to the community that we have the potential to be, is a serious undertaking. It's really exciting to be a part of that, but it's really scary too.
And here is the rest of it.

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