I don’t love being the nag banging pots and pans shouting about the dismal state of affairs for nonprofits, but here I am (again) being that annoying whining hag with a bullhorn once again. Running a firm that works with dozens of nonprofits each year, I sometimes feel like I am reading the tea leaves early and before anyone is ready to listen. I will make large proclamations and I can feel the eye rolls and the whispers, “it’s not really that bad.”

Listen, I’m not an oracle, just someone who has the benefit of a perpetual focus group of about 30 nonprofits at all times ranging from big universities to itsy bitsy charter schools and a handful of funders. I see in real time what’s happening and people, it’s that bad. And now the media reports are catching up to what I’ve been communicating to my team and clients for months. Nonprofits are struggling. And it’s not in one area – it’s in every area.

The Washington Post recently shared a stunning piece highlighting the substantial decline in volunteerism in America. The number of volunteers dropped by roughly 7 percent between September 2020 and September 2021, according to data from the Census Bureau and AmeriCorps, which is the lowest since the turn of the century. This has a very real impact on program delivery with fewer hands reducing the ability for many nonprofits to deliver on their promises to the communities they serve.

Fundraising is down. For the first time in four decades, individual giving is down. The AFP, or Association of Fundraising Professionals was onto this early. In a Q1 2023 Fundraising Effectiveness Project/FEP report they shared, “a decrease in donors and dollars given was evident across all donor types in Q1 2023, with major donors causing an outsized decline in dollars and donor retention. Paired with a sharp drop in dollars given by new donors, these outcomes set the stage for compounded challenges for the sector throughout 2023.” 

We saw this in action with the results of the 2023 Colorado Gives Day which ended lower than both 2021 and 2022. People are feeling the pinch of harder times across the board with inflation, economic uncertainty and a lack of savings leaving Americans feeling anxious. 

A CNBC Your Money Financial Confidence Survey reported that 70% of Americans admit to being stressed about their finances and a majority said their financial stress has increased since before the pandemic in 2020.

We should expect declines in corporate giving with layoffs. It’s really hard to increase or sustain corporate philanthropy programs while eliminating jobs and the tech industry lost more than 240,000 jobs in 2023. Amazon, Google, Zoom, Meta all made layoffs last year and experts suggest there are more expected in 2024.

We can’t count on the foundations to make up the difference unless we see big gains in the stock market and I’m not counting on that, nor should you. I’m happy to be hopeful, but with the uncertainty of possibly two wars in 2024 and an upcoming Presidential election, we can’t assume market stability or growth.

Remember that, not only is fundraising harder than anyone can recall in the past decade or so, but nonprofits are facing inflation themselves. Imagine you run a women’s shelter that not only has more people to serve, but fewer dollars, less volunteer support and now basics like the cost of food, toiletries and cleaning supplies are more expensive, oh, and you’re knee deep in a nonprofit workforce crisis.

This is the reality of where nonprofits find themselves today. So, now that we’re grabbing a drink and a smoke to make it through the rest of this entirely depressing article, what is it that we can do about it?

1) Hug an Executive Director (I mean it. You think I don’t mean it, but I mean it)

2) Hug a Development Director (Same as above)

3) Give More (As much as it sucks. If you can then do it)

4) For God’s Sake – Volunteer! (I think you can do this)

This means that wherever you can help is exactly where you should help. This is going to be an interesting year, but undoubtedly the first half will be bumpy so let’s commit to one simple place where we can help. It’s the least we can do for those who serve the greatest numbers and make our communities stronger, better and kinder. Godspeed, community warriors! We can do this.