Coping with Cutbacks

The Nonprofit Guide to Success when Times Are Tight

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 9, No 2 (Fall 1998)

Emil Angelica and Vincent Hyman Review by Deena Epstein

1997, 114 pages, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, Publishing Center, 919 Lafond Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota 55104-2198, 1-800-274-6024

This practical guide moves the conversation about government cutbacks and a more competitive funding environment beyond the "Woe is us, how will we ever survive" quicksand in which many nonprofits still find themselves stuck. Although the book seems to be most applicable to social service agencies, the authors—one a consultant and former nonprofit manager, and the other a writer on social issues—offer some generic advice that could benefit arts organizations as well.

In a section entitled “How To Engage the Community,” the authors urge organizations to begin looking outward, not just inward, for solutions to their problems by articulating their values, mission, and vision to a broader community and by engaging other segments of the community to work with them to further their mission. An example given is that foundations can be involved in community conversations in ways beyond grantmaking, such as convening organizations around shared concerns, using their good name to leverage other funds, and conducting studies that cut across a sector or sectors.

The final sections of the book provide a helpful framework for how to generate and implement strategies to deal with a variety of challenges, not just funding. The advice begins, not surprisingly, with “Know Yourself” and calls for examining everything from the organization's mission to its decision making style. Clarifying the problem comes next. Detailed worksheets are provided to help organizations work through these steps. Assistance also is provided in developing a work plan and establishing criteria for success. A chapter on understanding and crafting cutback, structural, and engagement strategies includes a strategies checklist and material gathered from interviews with nonprofit managers, journal articles, and other sources.

This book, published by the Amherst Wilder Foundation with additional funding from the Edyth Bush Charitable Foundation, does not provide any quick fixes for tight times. However, it does offer valuable assistance to nonprofits willing to tackle the hard work required to take a fresh look at themselves and to think creatively about how to survive in a changing environment.

Deena Epstein