The Economy and It’s Impact on Philanthropy

Last Thursday afternoon, the UJC sponsored the 4th in a series of conference calls seeking to bring current information to the community on how we are being effected by the current global economic climate. Titled, The Economy and It’s Impact on Philanthropy, participants included Richard Berner, managing director, co-head of Global Economics and Chief U.S. Economist at Morgan Stanley; Lucy Bernholz, founder and president of Blueprint Research & Design, Inc; and John Ruskay, executive vice president and chief executive officer of UJA-Federation of New York. The call, along with the previous three, are available in MP3 format here.

In this post, I am going to briefly focus on John Ruskay’s comments, how UJA-New York Federation responded and some thoughts for the upcoming campaign.

This is not to take away form either of the other two speakers. Richard led off with a good, sober background to the current situation, where we are and the shift he sees to a thrift-oriented consumer. You can listen to his remarks here. And Lucy has posted on her own blog, Philanthropy 2173, a concise summary of what she had to say. Also, a good companion piece to this post is ours from yesterday, Economic Crisis Update: The Foundation and Nonprofit Response.

So, let’s move to John. For UJA-Federation NY, like so many others, the 2009 campaign has just concluded. On every front, they encountered a significantly changed environment. It was necessary to both reduce grants and reduce the administrative budget (including staff size). As has been previously reported, the campaign ended up at $136 million – down 11% from the preceding year. The challenges were many, from the difficulty in finding event honorees to long-time donors who found themselves ‘challenged’ in their ability to give.

In the midst of all the current difficulties, John never lost sight of one simple premise, “federation is about global responsibility” and “how we use our funds equals how we are perceived by the community.”

Moving forward, he feels long-term challenges remain. High on the list is the question, how does one create both an inspired community, for today and the future, with less funds. This holds true not only for organizations, but also for our donors. Everyone is reassessing how we use philanthropic funds and what is most essential.

UJA-Federation NY is on the cusp of launching their 2010 campaign. Perhaps the biggest change coming is the introduction of a laser-like focus on how to most effectively communicate to and engage their donors and volunteers while at the same time utilize community resources in the best possible way.

A single focus on how to most effectively tell their story. And, of course, keeping in mind how available funds are actually allocated will be critical to both outcomes and perceptions.

Some good lessons for all of us.

Again, you can listen to all the presentations, and the q and a period, here.