Groundbreaking report says most local nonprofits have recovered from the Great Recession

The report below documents the results of a survey of the top executives at 79 nonprofit organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin. The BizTimes Nonprofit Survey asked the executives to assess their charities’ financial well-being and describe their needs. The survey was sent to the organizations that had compiled listings in the BizTimes Nonprofit Directory at The groundbreaking project was conducted as a service to the community. The survey was conducted by advanced journalism students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The UWM students in the “Advanced Reporting” class who conducted the survey and collected remarks from the nonprofit executives and others in the industry were: Marley Flueger, James Gutierrez, John Kroeger, Jacob Larsen, Samantha Nash, Aubree Omachinski, Christine Pedretti, Maxwell Thiesenhusen, Harrison Turner and Kyle Zittel. The students compiled the special report under the direction of BizTimes executive editor Steve Jagler, who taught the course.

– The editor

The majority of nonprofit organizations in southeastern Wisconsin have recovered from the Great Recession and most expect more donations in 2013 than they received in 2012, according to a new report.

The first BizTimes Nonprofit Survey was conducted by a class of advanced journalism students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (see accompanying story). The survey asked the top executives at organizations listed in the BizTimes Nonprofit Directory to assess their charities’ financial health and document their ongoing needs.

Executives from 79 nonprofit organizations responded to the survey.

According to the report, 62 percent of the respondents say their organizations have recovered from the Great Recession that caused great duress for most of the charities throughout the region.

Furthermore, 71 percent of the responding organizations expect to receive more donations in 2013 than in 2012.

The percentages of positive respondents in the survey surprised many executives in the nonprofit industry.

“The nonprofit sector gets hit later and takes longer to recover,” said Deborah Fugenschuh, president of the Wisconsin Donors Forum. “I’m surprised that people are so optimistic. People didn’t stop giving because they wanted to stop, they just didn’t have the resources. As the stock market comes back, individuals and foundations will return to their previous giving level.”

“The survey results illustrate that the nonprofit sector remains resourceful and responsive to community needs, even in times of economic downturn, when the demand for our services grows,” said Amalia Schoone, president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) Southeastern Wisconsin.

The resurgence in donations is reflective of Milwaukee’s generosity, according to Mary Lou Young, president and chief executive officer of the United Way of Greater Milwaukee.

“The survey also clearly illustrates that the need for services is as great as it has even been, and businesses are searching for ways to make these dollars reach farther,” Young said.

Like their counterparts in the for-profit sector, many nonprofit organizations have been forced to do more with less.
“The fact that 92 percent of area nonprofits surveyed said they collaborate with other nonprofits shows that our community knows that in order to make real change, we all have to work together,” Young said. “Collaboration is truly the key to community-wide change.”

Collaborative efforts will remain a vital strategy for the nonprofit sector, according to Vicki Lipinski, marketing and fund development director for Stillwater’s Cancer Support Services.

“It is through collaborative and thoughtful partnerships with other organizations and agencies that we are able to find funding,” Lipinski said.

People hit hardest by the recession depend upon the efforts of nonprofits that provide access to basic services such as food, housing and medical treatment. Nonprofits that tend to those basic human needs saw a burgeoning demand for their services during the recession as people lost their jobs and their health care benefits.

Nancy Major, executive director of Safe Babies, Healthy Families, said, “There is a far greater need for our services than what our financial resources can keep up with. As much as we fundraise now, it is not even close to what is truly needed.”

Karen Tredwell, the executive director of the Food Pantry of Waukesha County, said fiscal government restraints have made life difficult for many nonprofits.

“Many of the other programs that our clients rely upon have seen a reduction in funding, primarily less money from government grants,” Tredwell said. “Consequently, there is more competition for funding from resources. We have seen the need for our services increase while the resources have diminished.”

“The greatest challenge for Make-A-Wish Wisconsin is reaching every medically-eligible child throughout Wisconsin to grant his or her one true wish. This year alone, more than 500 Wisconsin children will be diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition qualifying them for a wish,” said Forrest Doolen, public relations manager for Make-A-Wish Wisconsin.

On the flipside, organizations that provide human services often take priority for funding among donors. That trend has placed great pressures on charities involved with the arts and culture.

“Since the recession, more money has been given to basic needs and the homeless because they’re dealing with the fallout of the recession,” Fugenschuh said. “I believe the arts are a basic need, but that’s a tough argument sometimes when people need homes, food and shelter. The arts sector has really taken it on the chin.”

Barbara Leigh, the producing director of the Milwaukee Public Theatre, said, “Our mission and greatest challenge, is to build community through the arts by making them accessible to people of all ages, abilities, cultures, income levels, in the midst of a serious economic downturn,” Leigh said.

A creative approach to securing funding kept the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum afloat when many traditional sources were forced to reduce contributions , said Fern Shupeck, executive director of the Milwaukee facility.

“Thanks to an entrepreneurial program, our organization has been able to decrease its reliance on contributed support,” Shupeck said. “As a result, the recession did not have a significant impact on our operation and fundraising.”

The Great Recession and other challenges forced some nonprofits in the region to rethink their business models.

“Over the past two years we have strategically evaluated all facets of our organization and have made some significant changes in how we do business. By focusing on board development, internal leadership and ensuring we have the right people, in the right positions, believing what we do, we have set the stage for a bright future,” said Erin Gutsmiedl, vice president of client relations at The Lutheran Home & Harwood Place in Wauwatosa.

Many nonprofit executives in the survey reported needs for more effective and engaged board members, more volunteers, additional staff, new equipment and additional space.

Also, 73.4 percent of the respondents also said they need a more effective marketing or social media plan.

“We have great people and services. We have trouble reaching as many people as we would like, and getting our story out,” said Emily Levine, executive director, Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin.

Ann Nischke, the associate director of mission advancement at Wisconsin Lutheran High School, says that, in response to an increased demand for volunteers, her organization is trying to tailor volunteer-participation to today’s fast-paced world.

“People’s time is very precious today,” said Nischke. “We’re trying to make our volunteer jobs ‘bite-sized’ so they fit in today’s busy professional life.”

Some nonprofits may still be headed for the heap of fallen programs, despite best intentions.

“We are anticipating that we might not make it through our next season,” said Char Manny, artistic director of the Soulstice Theatre in St. Francis.

Despite all of the challenges and obstacles, other executives such as Tredwell remain optimistic.

“While I am concerned about the availability of support and resources for our program and for other programs, I still believe that we will emerge from the economic strain as a strong agency,” Tredwell said.

“We’re on the road to recovery, I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re on our way,” Fugenschuh said.

This report was compiled and written by UWM journalism students Marley Flueger, James Gutierrez, John Kroeger, Jacob Larsen, Samantha Nash, Aubree Omachinski, Christine Pedretti, Maxwell Thiesenhusen, Harrison Turner and Kyle Zittel.

The survey says…

The following are the results of the 2013 BizTimes Nonprofit Survey, which gauged the financial health and needs of nonprofit organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Has your nonprofit organization recovered from the Great Recession?
Yes: 62% No: 30.4%

Does not apply because the organization did not exist in in 2008-2009: 7.6%

Does your nonprofit organization expect to receive more donations in 2013 than it did in 2012?
Yes: 70.9% No: 29.1%

Is your nonprofit organization adding to its staff in 2013?
Yes: 43% No: 57%

Does your nonprofit need more volunteers from the community?
Yes: 81% No: 19%

Does your nonprofit need more effective board members?
Yes: 73.4% No: 26.6%

Does your nonprofit need a more effective marketing or social media plan?
Yes: 73.4% No: 26.6%

Does your nonprofit need to upgrade its equipment?
Yes: 57% No: 43%

Is your nonprofit’s work space sufficient?
Yes: 69.6% No: 30.4%

Is your nonprofit collaborating with other nonprofit organizations?
Yes: 92.4% No: 7.6%

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