Survey of the Social Sector: Rising Demand, Resource Gaps, and Opportunities

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The Center for Non-Profits has been surveying the New Jersey non-profit community at least annually since 2001 to gauge the effects of the economy, funding and programmatic trends, and other issues in our field. This year’s report, New Jersey Non-Profits 2017: Trends and Outlook, based on the responses from 300 organizations, reveals familiar themes as well as some new concerns and opportunities.

Rising Demand, Lagging Funding

Similar to prior surveys, three-fourths (75%) of responding organizations reported that demand for services had increased during the past year, but only 40% reported increased funding during the same period. And while 76% expected demand to continue rising in 2017, only half expected their funding to grow. This persistent gap has significant implications for the ability of non-profits to provide needed programs and services when more is being expected of them by the government and the public.

Concern about Capacity, Infrastructure

2017AnnualSurveyRpt_CoverInfrastructure, capacity and financial concerns dominated the issues identified by organizations as the top challenges facing individual non-profits and the sector at large. These included:

    • Financial uncertainty
    • Corporate/Foundation funding
    • Attracting/retaining stronger boards
    • Branding/communications
    • Non-profit infrastructure
    • Ability to hire/retain good staff
    • Federal & state government funding and fiscal policy

Less Optimism about the Future
Less than half (48%) of nonprofits indicated that their overall circumstances had improved over the past year, notably lower than our survey of two years ago (57%). They were more guarded about their outlook for the future, with about half (53%) predicting improvement in their organizations’ circumstances in the coming year, down from 64% in 2015.

In open-ended comments, non-profits voiced a number of reasons behind their concerns, such as:

  • Proposed government policies, budget cuts and their impact on non-profit programs in communities
  • The need to shore up non-profit infrastructure and provide adequate overhead funding
  • Calls to simplify the government contracting system and for payments that cover the costs of providing services
  • Concern about federal proposals to permit partisan political activity by 501(c)(3) organizations
  • Concerns about federal tax reform and possible curtailing of charitable giving incentives
  • Shifts in individual organizational leadership, leadership development, adaptability to the changing environment

What Can We Do?
Given the seismic shifts in our external environment, the current anxiety is hardly surprising. While many of the survey findings are not new, they’re especially troubling on the heels of our long, painful efforts to recover from the 2008-09 financial collapse – a path that has been especially slow in New Jersey.  Calls for non-profits to “do more with less” are already becoming louder, while government leaders are explicitly and implicitly suggesting that non-profits and philanthropy can fill gaps left by proposed funding cuts.

So what can non-profits and their supporters do?

Educate.  We need to ensure that public officials, the media and the public recognize how important non-profits are to the social and economic well-being of our communities, state and nation. Now is not the time to be humble or timid.

Advocate.  Remember, it’s legal and appropriate for 501(c)(3) public charities to engage in advocacy and limited lobbying. If we don’t stand up vocally and consistently for our organizations and constituencies, no one else will. There’s too much at stake for us to sit on the sidelines.

Partner.  Finding new partnerships and strengthening existing ones is vital, and not only in times of resource scarcity. It’s also sound practice that leverages efficiencies and strengthens clout.

Invest. Capacity building, technology, communications, planning, professional and leadership development, diversity and equity, are just some of the indispensable investments needed for success.

Give. Philanthropy certainly can’t fill all the gaps, but funding – especially unrestricted support – is crucial. Volunteer assistance, provided it fits with the organization’s needs, is also vital.

Finding efficiencies and leveraging resources is clearly essential, and non-profits have a long history of doing both.  But we can’t keep accepting “doing more with less” as the main solution.  Let’s stand together and call for more.  The communities and causes we serve depend on it.

Linda M. Czipo is President & CEO of the Center for Non-Profits, New Jersey’s statewide umbrella organization for the charitable community. Through advocacy, public education, technical assistance and cost-saving member services, the Center works to build the power of New Jersey’s non-profit community to improve the quality of life for the people of our state. 

New Jersey Non-Profits 2017: Trends and Outlook was made possible by the generous support of Sobel & Co., LLC, Certified Public Accountants and Advisors.  The report is available at www.njnonprofits.org/2017AnnualSurveyRpt.pdf.

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