First Future: The Miraculous Rescue

September 29, 2009

As the recession deepened following the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, I outlined four scenarios facing the sector. There is now enough anecdotal evidence to assign tentative probabilities to each one.
My first scenario involved a miraculous rescue of some kind. Perhaps government would step up with an emergency loan fund; perhaps foundations would raise payout rates or dip into assets; perhaps unemployed Americans would create a vast army of volunteers to help other unemployed Americans. With notable exceptions such as the Gates Foundation, which raised payout, the miraculous rescue has yet to appear. The probability that it will arrive is zero. Nonprofits need to stop deluding themselves.
There have been small favors here and there, however. Some nonprofits may find contracts for weatherization, housing rehabilitation, and job training in the Obama Administration’s $787 billion stimulus package. Some may also find a new AmeriCorps volunteer or a tiny grant for capacity building in the Serve America Act. But it is still unclear just how much of the stimulus will actually make it to nonprofits, and whether Congress will provide the funding to implement the Serve America Act. Even if the money comes, it will run out quickly. Although the volunteers may stay, the amount of episodic engagement appears to be rising, as young Americans show up for a day or two now and again, then disappear.
Tomorrow: The Second Future.
Monday's post: Anecdotes ≠ Data. And Yet . . .

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