Nonprofits serving more with less

When times get tough, many people turn to local nonprofit organizations, such as food shelves or job placement companies for help. But during this recession, money has been tight for nonprofits as well, and many of them are having trouble making ends meet.

Several local nonprofits have seen an increase in need and a decrease in funds since the recession started and they’re looking for new ways to save money while still providing quality services.

Dean Weigel, director of Loaves and Fishes at 1917 Logan Ave. in Lowry Hill, said his organization is helping more people since the economy tumbled. Loaves and Fishes provides meals for members of the community at no charge at locations throughout Minneapolis and the metro area, including St. Stephen’s Church in Whittier. Meal services jumped 20 percent between October 2008 and the same month the previous year, Weigel said.

“Overall, there are significantly more people,” Weigel said. “There’s definitely more need.”

Weigel said that while need has increased drastically, money is down, as is volunteering. He said almost all of the organization’s budget comes from philanthropic donations by businesses and individuals, and there has been a decrease in funds.

“Most of the nonprofits are facing this problem,” he said. “But it’s hurting.”

Not only has Loaves and Fishes seen an increase in the number of people taking advantage of the free meals, but Weigel said there have been different people than before.

“We’re seeing more kids and families, and many more people who are out of work,” he said.

Most nonprofits are facing more demand and less money than they’ve seen in a long time, according to Jon Pratt, executive director for the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Pratt said the effect of the recession on Minnesota nonprofits has been “atypically quick and sharp.”

“This is the biggest shock to health and human services in 50 years,” he said at a recent United Way-sponsored meeting where nonprofits discussed the economic situation.

Tom Stinson, Minnesota’s state economist, said at the meeting that this would be the longest and deepest recession since World War II, and he expects recovery to extend through 2012 with a total loss of seven million jobs nationally.

“And that’s assuming the stimulus package works,” Stinson added.

Opportunity Partners, a Minnetonka-based nonprofit with a branch at 3420 Nicollet Avenue South in Lyndale that helps people with disabilities find jobs, has faced a unique challenge in this recession.

“There have been challenges with job placement for our clients,” said Sue Hayes, vice president for advancement at Opportunity Partners. “Employment has slowed down.”

Many nonprofits, including Opportunity Partners, are hoping money from the stimulus package will help with the burden. But Christina Wessel, a member of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits and the deputy director for the Minnesota Budget Project, warned nonprofits about relying on that money too much.

“Any money from the stimulus package will be gone by 2011,” Wessel said. “And a lot of the money has strings attached as to how the policy makers can use it. There are going to be cuts in health care and health and human services.”

Many people are urging nonprofits to consider mergers or strategic alliances with other similar nonprofits, and Weigel said Loaves and Fishes has benefited from this.

He said the nonprofit is part of the Hunger Initiative Steering Committee, a group of 14 hunger-related agencies that work together to eliminate hunger. They also work with Greater Twin Cities United Way.

But Hayes said the ultimate solution is to get the message out.

“The bottom line is that this burden needs to be shared,” she said. “People need to know what kinds of challenges nonprofits are facing and help out.”


Loaves of Fishes: The organization’s mission is to provide nutritious meals to people in need throughout the Twin Cities and develop partnerships with organizations working on helping
people become self-sufficient.

Opportunity Partners: The nonprofit provides job, housing and education services to people in the Twin Cities with developmental disabilities, brain injury, autism and other special needs.