Nonprofits cope with recession

Most nonprofits are used to coping with tight budgets, and faith-based nonprofits live even closer to the edge. But economic recession tests the capabilities of nonprofit managers and the commitment of donors to an extraordinary degree. Many fear that disappointing results during the holiday giving season could be devastating.

Historically, research shows that recessions have little effect on faith-based giving, at least initially. But the depth of 2009’s recession and the spike in requests for services posed a double-barreled challenge for nonprofits.

One of the few bright spots was a rise in volunteering — though even that good news was tempered by the reality that rising unemployment and fewer job prospects for college graduates were contributing causes. An official for Catholic Charities noted that in many cases volunteers became clients. And consider that for the first time in memory, the Salvation Army had its trademark red buckets out on the street corners in July 2009. Add to that the lingering effects of the stock market drop on big donors, as well as stock-related scandals like the Bernard Madoff swindle that devastated many Jewish charities, and the concerns become clear.

This source guide provides resources to cover nonprofits in times of economic downturn.


Think tanks and watch-dog organizations

  • Center for Effective Philanthropy

    The Center for Effective Philanthropy conducts research and gathers data on nonprofit groups to help philanthropists make effective donations. In October 2009, the center hosted an event in San Francisco titled “Foundation Effectiveness in a New Reality.” Contact through the website.

    Contact: 617-492-0800.
  • Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy

    The Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy at the University of Southern California conducts research on philanthropy and nonprofits. The center maintains a list of experts on philanthropy, both national and local.

  • Center on Wealth and Philanthropy

    The Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College, a Jesuit school, examines the relationship between spirituality, wealth and giving. Paul Schervish is director.

  • Charity Navigator

    Charity Navigator is a watchdog group that keeps an eye on nonprofits and charitable organizations. It has a database searchable by religion.

  • Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal

    The Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal encourages donations that support small, local, often faith-based grassroots associations.

  • Heyman Program for Philanthropy and Fundraising

    New York University’s Heyman Program for Philanthropy and Fundraising provides professional development training for nonprofit executives, employees and volunteers.

National sources

  • Mary Jo Bane

    Mary Jo Bane is Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at Harvard University and co-coordinator of the Program on Religion and Public Life.  She is co-author of Lifting Up the Poor: A Dialogue on Religion, Poverty & Welfare Reform. A former assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, her work focuses on poverty, welfare, families and the role of churches in civic life.

  • Stanley Carlson-Thies

    Stanley Carlson-Thies is founder and senior director of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance, which has called for a “Fairness for All” approach to religious freedom and LGBTQ rights. He previously worked on faith-based initiatives for the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

    He contributed a foreword to Start and Grow Your Faith-Based Non-Profit: Answering Your Call in the Service of Others.

Regional sources

In the Northeast

  • Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society

    The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York has done research into philanthropy among some religious and ethnic groups in the New York area. Kathleen D. McCarthy is the director.

  • Pat James

    Pat James is the press officer of the Salvation Army’s Northern New England Division, which covers Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

  • Maine Philanthropy Center

    The Maine Philanthropy Center is an association of grant makers in Maine. The association offers a resource titled “Philanthropy in a Changing Environment” and recently held an event with breakout sessions outlining how nonprofits could work together and on how they can benefit from merging.

  • Bryan Stone

    Bryan Stone serves as associate dean for academic affairs, director of the Center for Practical Theology and a professor of evangelism at Boston University’s School of Theology. He researches congregational development, urban ministry and theology and popular culture.

    He teaches a course on faith-based nonprofit organizational development. He can discuss the history and importance of religious nonprofits.

In the South

  • Center for Nonprofit Leadership & Service

    Baylor University’s Center for Nonprofit Leadership & Service emphasizes faith-based nonprofits in its study and research. Jim Roberts is the director.

  • Pam Erickson

    Pam Erickson is vice president of procurement and corporate relations of Operation Blessing International, listed by The Chronicle of Philanthropy as one of the 400 largest nonprofits. It is based in Virginia Beach, Va.

    Contact: 757-226-3440.
  • Cindy Fuller

    Cindy Fuller is the press officer for the Salvation Army’s Arkansas operations.

  • Margaret Linnane

    Margaret Linnane is executive director of the Rollins Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla.

  • Score International

    Score International sends Christians on short-term ministries. It has a four-star rating from Charity Navigator and is based in Chattanooga, Tenn.

  • Carolyn Tripp

    Carolyn Tripp is a marketing professor at Southeastern University, a Christian school in Lakeland, Fla., where she focuses on marketing for Christian nonprofits.

  • Robert Wineburg

    Robert Wineburg is the Jefferson Pilot Excellence Professor of social work at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro who has looked at IRS investigations of churches for political activities related to elections. He is the author of the Faith-Based Inefficiency: The Follies of Bush’s Initiatives, and he has been writing comprehensively about faith-based politics and social services since the Reagan era.

  • Danny Wuerffel

    Danny Wuerffel is the founder of Desire Street Ministries, a Christian ministry devoted to rebuilding impoverished New Orleans neighborhoods in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

    Contact: 678-681-3979.

In the Midwest

In the West

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