Worst of times, best of times

May 13, 2009

The economic climate has been tough on the nonprofit
community. We get a close-up view in West Michigan,
an area that boasts one of the highest per-capital donations in the country.

I get a lot of qualitative feedback on the impact to local
agencies that help children, many of which receive support by Amway through the
One by One campaign. And I get lots of resumes from friends and acquaintances that
are looking for a job.

Because private foundations have lost a lot of the value of
their assets, in some cases 30 to 40 percent or more, they are not giving quite
as much. In most cases, it just means maintaining current commitments only and
not taking on any new projects. Or not funding any large capital (building)
campaigns. But a few are actually going back on their commitments so they can
put capital back in their endowments, just to stay afloat.

Of course, business has been hit pretty hard in West Michigan, especially manufacturing. So giving
budgets are scaled back or frozen in a lot of cases. And with employment up and
the insecurity most people feel about their jobs, personal giving can suffer,
which makes up a large percentage of overall giving to nonprofits.

I see some agencies put on an optimistic (or stoic) face. But
all have been affected. Almost every large organization has had to scale back
on its workforce and perform some dramatic cost savings. Some have done major
restructuring. Some are struggling just to keep the lights on and the doors
open.

I have talked to a few that have used this as a sort of
refiner’s fire where they have had to shed anything that is not core to their mission,
clarify what they are best at, and move in that direction.

We have wrestled with this issue at Amway. Our company is
growing and has actually scaled up its charitable activities over the past
couple of years. So what can we do?  There’s
always a limit to how much you can give, but we have been able to leverage
other means of support – lending our leaders to nonprofit boards, sending teams
of volunteers on community projects, using our expertise to help with
problem-solving.

It’s been a little tough to get people out of the office to
volunteer this year because there are so many projects and initiatives going on
in the company that people are absolutely stretched for time. But, like many of
the nonprofits, it just makes us more focused in where we invest our time for maximum
impact.

I’m sure our community and our country will weather this
economic storm. And it will make us stronger in the end. In the meantime, we are
fortunate to be with a company that is flexible enough to not be pulled down by
the economic cycles. But because of that, we have to step it up a little more to
help those around us.

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