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Region's Nonprofits Braving Recession

Region's Nonprofits Braving Recession

December 01, 2009

A prolonged recession has not discouraged Charlottes-ville-area nonprofits from reaching out to the community in new ways while keeping budgets in line.

Cristine Nardi, executive director of the region’s Center for Nonprofit Excellence, said a challenging economy often lessens revenues while increasing the community’s demands on nonprofits. However, Nardi said, local nonprofits remain strong.

“Nonprofits aren’t blithely dancing through this recession,” Nardi said. “For the most part, we as a sector are able to rise to the occasion. Part of the reason for that is that we’re used to being conservative and strategic about the kind of ways we serve our mission.”

The health of local nonprofits has an impact on the economy. According to a 2008 report by the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project and the Connect Network, nonprofits in the city and the counties of Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna, Louisa and Nelson generated more than $934 million in revenues, or 3 percent of the state’s nonprofit revenues, in 2005. Nardi said the region has more than 700 nonprofits.

Recessions command creativity and innovation for both nonprofit and for-profit agencies, Nardi said. They also don’t necessarily stop agencies from implementing previously planned programs. At Literacy Volunteers of Charlottesville/Albemarle, volunteer tutors are reaching out to employers and offering their services to employees who need English language skills or literacy education.

Jackie Bright, the agency’s executive director, said the group also is talking to local businesses to allow students to take a tour of their stores so they can apply their newfound knowledge in a real-world setting. “I’ve really made it a priority since I’ve come here,” Bright said of working with businesses. “We wanted to show the value of what we can bring to this community.”

The recession inspired the Charlottesville Free Clinic to re-evaluate the terms of its expansion. Erika Viccellio, the agency’s executive director, said the clinic chose to spend $500,000 to expand in its current location rather than raise $5 million to build a new structure. If the clinic hadn’t expanded, Viccellio said, the agency might not be able to provide people with the services they need.

“For us, the space was the constraint,” Viccellio said. “Unless we did the expansion, we weren’t going to be able to have dental services during the day. By staying in the health department, we put very little money in the building side of it and we put more into services and helping people.”

Nardi said one of the best practices of a nonprofit is to keep in touch with the community and find out what people need.

Keeping that line of communication open is one of the successful strategies of the Senior Center Inc., said executive director Peter Thompson. He said nonprofits should stick to their mission and focus on what they do best to make it through the recession. Keeping a rainy day fund also has helped the center keep programs going.

“It has been raining a lot lately,” he said.

Thompson said the Senior Center is taking advantage of opportunities to interact with the community and seek revenue. The center will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2010 with a Feb. 6 James Bond-themed dinner dance called “Martinis, Bikinis and Lamborghinis.”

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