New GuideStar Report: The Effect of The Economy on the Nonprofit Sector

Almost everyone has felt the effects of the less than stellar economic performance in the first half of this year. This is no less true for the majority of nonprofit organizations as seen in GuideStar’s report on The Effect of The Economy on the Nonprofit Sector for the first half of 2010 released last week.

Nonprofit organizations have been particularly affected this year on two fronts. With unemployment rates barely moving and the number of people coming off of jobless benefits rising, folks have increasingly turned to local community organizations to help fill the gap in services that they can no longer afford. Sixty-three percent of surveyed organizations reported an increase in demand for their services between January 1, 2010 and May 31, 2010. At the same time, more than 40% of organizations reported a decrease in donations and other funding streams. The strain on nonprofits has been so high that 17% of organizations had to cut programs and services and 8% said they were in imminent danger of closing.

From flickr user jasoon (Creative Commons)

If you’ve been considering donating to an organization whose work you support, you might want to consider donating now. You can find financial information on the nonprofit of your choice at

If you’re worried about the nonprofits in your community but not currently in a position to donate, there are other ways to help. About a third of organizations reported that they have increased their reliance on volunteers as a way to support their programmatic work and not cut services. You can search for a local volunteer opportunity here — and remember, volunteering is a great asset in career development if you find yourself temporarily out of work.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: The Economic Downturn – Good for Volunteers, But is it Good for Job Seekers, Too?

By Steven Joiner, who loves numbers.

A recent study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies found that increased volunteer support has made it possible for many nonprofits to maintain or increase the number of people they serve. My colleague Amy Potthast recently posted a great overview of this study as well as some other research on volunteer support during recent tough economic times. Check out her post on The New Service Blog for more.

The numbers that popped out to me when I read the Johns Hopkins report were: 80%-90% responding organizations reported maintaining or increasing their use of volunteers through increasing the number of volunteer hours (84%), maintaining or increasing the sheer number of volunteers (88%), maintaining or increasing the capacity to recruit volunteers (83%), or increases in volunteer contributions (83%).

These numbers got stuck together in my head with some recent data that I saw in the Nonprofit Employment Trends Survey. The report shows that there is a 20% decrease in organizations that intend to create new full-time positions and an 18% increase in organizations that intend to downsize or layoff staff.

So, how does this all relate?

The work of nonprofits still needs to be done even if you don’t see an abundance of nonprofit job openings. The truly unique inroad to nonprofit work is this middle area highlighted by these reports: a reliance on volunteers to continue pieces of a nonprofit’s mission that would otherwise go neglected due to constrains on staff time, size, and resources. It isn’t that volunteers are replacing paid nonprofit staff, it is more that nonprofit staff see volunteers as a vital piece of the work they do, the projects they coordinate, and the outreach they aspire to. Sometimes an organization has no choice but to break up some of the responsibilities that would otherwise be covered by a position currently iced by a hiring freeze and find talented people to help move pieces of these projects forward.

A very common thread throughout our Career Corner series is getting out there and getting involved in intentional ways. We never say to volunteer in order to get a job; rather, volunteer to get out there and get involved. Do what you love and what you love will come back to you…sometimes through paid employment.

So, given that the employment trends show a tightening of paid positions and the volunteerism data shows a stronger reliance on donated time and talent, ask yourself this question:

When nonprofits start being able to hire again, would you rather be on the radar as a dedicated, reliable volunteer during tough, belt-tightening economic times or a cold resume arriving in a hiring manager’s inbox at the first hints of sunnier fiscal horizons?

Then ask yourself: If you were that hiring manager, whose resume would you spend more time with? (Here’s a hint for you: What Nonprofit HR Wants.)

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: What if You've Just Joined "Club Laid Off"?

Advice and perspective from Meg Busse.

From Clementine Gallot (Creative Commons)

I won’t be so flip as to say that getting laid off is in vogue, but it’s definitely becoming more acceptable and in the current economy, more understandable. This doesn’t mean it’s easy to deal with or a pleasant topic of conversation at the Saturday BBQ.

However, that should be your primary goal: to have your next career move be a topic of conversation at the Saturday BBQ. And Sunday supper. And every other event where you’re surrounded by friends and family who would like nothing more than to help you find a job. Because with employers using their networks to find candidates, word of mouth will be your best job search strategy.

So how do you bring up the subject? I have a ridiculously smart and witty friend who was recently laid off from her nonprofit job. This is the first paragraph of the email she sent out to everyone in her network:

Club Laid Off has a new member…me! It’s super exclusive, like only 8% are allowed in across the whole county. I’m choosing to look at this as an opportunity of course, as you all know I’m a glass-half-full girl…and am hopeful that an even better opportunity will be coming my way. Until then, I’ll available to wait at your house for the cable guy or any other chores that your pesky job gets in the way of.

Her next paragraph briefly outlined some of her skills, as well as examples of positions and companies she’s looking into in case anyone has any connections that might be of use.

What are some of the reasons this is brilliant? First of all, my friend controls the spin and tone of the announcement, and doesn’t have to tell everyone individually. Her message is simple, funny, and makes it easy for friends and family to respond to with condolences/congratulations, offers for assistance, and specific contacts. With one email, her network is officially leveraged and she can follow up with more targeted requests and conversations.

When I moved a few years ago, I was unemployed, switching careers, and in a city where I didn’t know anyone. I leveraged my network to the best of my ability, but realized that I just basically needed to meet new people. To pay the bills, I worked a retail job while volunteering with organizations I thought were interesting and with people I found fascinating. This approach not only allowed me to grow my network, but to gain skills (such as grantwriting, strategic planning, board service) that strengthened my resume.

These are two tips, but there’s a slew of advice floating around about what to do if you’re unemployed. Here are some of my favorite pieces:

And if you’re employed but have friends who aren’t, read this article on how to support a friend who has been laid off.

All tips aside, it’s good that some of the stigma of being unemployed is gone. This doesn’t help the financial realities, but it does make the transition and job search process a whole lot easier.

How about you — are you unemployed? Know folks who are? What are your tips?

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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Career Corner: The Nonprofit Job Search Just Got Tougher.

By Meg Busse.

I was talking with my neighbor the other day and he told me that at this time of the year, he reminds himself that it’s okay to be a bit more lethargic, introspective, and even inclined to just stay in bed. Apparently, it’s residual from when we used to hibernate. So while I don’t usually get sick or feel down during the winter, I have been noticing I’m a bit slower these days. And apparently it’s not just in my head. Well, it is, but in a very real sort of way.

From Flickr user Dan McKay (Creative Commons)

So this seasonal slowness is partly why I’ve been procrastinating on writing this blog post. But I’ve also been procrastinating because I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around a career post when unemployment is at its highest in anywhere from five to 26 years, during a time of the year when most organizations don’t post new jobs due to holiday schedules as well as waiting on end-of-year giving, and when our current economic situation is making nonprofits even more risk averse than they usually are.

So based on the current situation, what can you do right now to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time when that next great job comes along?


Assess your situation.

If you have a job, you may want to hang on to it for a while. This may not be the best time to give two weeks notice and begin your search for a more fulfilling job.

If you don’t have a job, find one that will pay the bills. While the typical job search takes from 4 to 6 months, there is nothing typical about today’s job search. Spend your energy finding something that will allow you to support yourself (and your family) so that you have a bit more flexibility as you continue your search for a different kind of job.

Figure out how you will stand out in an incredibly competitive job market.

While knowing that you want to “work in the nonprofit sector” or are looking for “a career that does good” or need “a job that means more than just a paycheck”, these are not compelling reasons for a nonprofit to even give you a second glance.

One of the best ways to stand out as a candidate is to be able to clearly and concisely explain why you are a great fit for each job you apply for. The only way to get to this point is to know not only what you want but what are your strengths and qualifications.

Give yourself the gift of some introspective time this holiday season. Yes, it may feel like a luxury. But actually, it’s the “socks and underwear” of the job search; it’s an absolute necessity. Check out this post or this post for two self-assessment exercises that will help you move from “I want to work in a nonprofit” to a statement such as, “I am seeking a job in a small- to medium-sized nonprofit that focuses on educational advocacy on an international level.” Your next line should be, “Do you know anyone I should talk to?”

Know who you know.

Networking is the way to find and get a job. Period. For some of the best and usually not-the-same-old-same-old networking advice, do a search on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist blog for “networking.” Peruse the post titles and read at least five. At least. Then read this Idealist Guide chapter for nonprofit-specific networking stats, advice, and techniques. If you’re still hankering for more, here’s a podcast to tune in to.

What you will read and hear over and over is that it’s all about who you know. This is why the holiday season is a perfect time to begin, continue, or focus your job search. With a specific ask (see above section), your family, friends, colleagues, coffee shop baristas, bartenders, grocery store baggers, pet walkers, and children’s teachers will be thrilled to tell you about their friend/partner/sibling/neighbor who you just “have to talk to.”

So as the seasonal slugginess sets in, the economic crisis continues to dodge and weave, and the nonprofit sector regroups after a rough end-of-year giving season, take advantage of the next few months to identify your career goals, hone your message, and utilize your network. And every once in a while, give in to the hibernation urge at this time of the year and take a power nap.

[This blog entry appeared on an older version of Idealist; any broken links are a result of having re-launched our site in Fall 2010.]

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