The Lean Years – Strategies for Survival

Before our focus tuned to the Madoff crisis or the current war, we were already knee-deep in a recession that was effecting our donors, grantees and the broader community. To help gain insight, Natan and The Samuel Bronfman Foundation hosted a discussion last month, The Lean Years, to offer different perspectives on the current crisis and how it might affect small entrepreneurial non-profits. Both organizations are deeply invested in creating a vibrant Jewish future and as such sponsored the dialogue to help examine the breadth and depth of the continuing situation we are all experiencing.

We’ve been a bit pre-occupied and have not had the opportunity to share thoughts with you – but everything said that night is still timely. This is the first of several posts where we will bring you some highlights in the hope you may find the information useful in your own organization.

The first presenter was Hildy Simmons, currently a private strategist and the former head of corporate philanthropy at JPMorgan. Even though Hildy’s work is on the donor side, her message is applicable to the broader nonprofit community.

Some take-aways:

  • This is a moment to take stock – know what you are supporting and why.
  • This is not a time to launch multiple ventures – if you do pay extra attention to sustainability.
  • Be clear about your priorities.
  • If you can, step-up-to-the-plate and do more.
  • Make sure your supporting organizations know what resources you have to offer; while money is usually the first thing, what else is in your “toolbag” (i.e. technology).
  • Help people think and strategize.
  • Look for opportunities to create philanthropic “fly paper” – how to make things stick.

Concluding this section of her presentation, Hildy tells us all to ask what we can to to be helpful. This is a time to provide advice – including, if applicable, suggesting a merger, closing up shop or some form of smart collaboration with another organization.

She suggests that if as a donor you have the ability to make multiple year commitments, do so – tell people what to expect. If you will not be making new grants, let potential applicants know. We all need to remember, no one likes surprises.