Believing in people to help area nonprofits through the rough patches

Central Illinois has certainly seen its share of troubling economic news over the past few years, from Mitsubishi closing in Bloomington-Normal to the news about Caterpillar relocating its corporate folks, to the ongoing budget struggles within the statehouse. Nobody wants to see businesses close or move, whether it affects a handful of people, several hundred or several thousand.

Illinois’ favorite son, Abraham Lincoln, once said, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”

Increased Challenges to Meet
For those of us in the nonprofit sector, the “real facts” are that these stories and their fallout mean more challenges in how we fundraise and garner support for our many worthwhile endeavors. Area nonprofits have had to take a closer look at their budgets and personnel, with an eye on how they can still deliver both necessary basics and sometimes life-changing programs for the marginalized in society. Whether we are talking soup kitchens or pantries for the hungry, shelters for the homeless, or victims of violence or training programs, they all require resources.

Central Illinois has a well-earned reputation for being very generous to those nonprofits that work to help the hopeless; educate the public; offer arts, children’s and community programs, and so much more. But the bottom line is an increased challenge to the ongoing success of area 501(c)(3) organizations.

We are now forced to slash budgets in an effort to avoid leaving those we serve without a source of support—a lifeline, if you will. Diversification is necessary, as no longer can we just look to one main source like large donors, foundation giving or corporate support. Nonprofits that depend on state funding know that their money, whether received through state grant programs or in reimbursement form, is no longer a 100% guarantee. Nonprofit leaders have to become more visionary than ever, both in terms of programming, as well as hunting for resources.

Creative, Strategic and Engaged
The Salvation Army, like most social service agencies in Illinois, has been affected greatly by cuts in available state funding. In addition to that pressing issue, the delayed payments from the state for services rendered have put a pressing strain on many nonprofits and their financial resources. As an organization, The Salvation Army could never respond to these challenges by compromising the quality of our programs and services we offer—it’s just not an option. The situation has forced us to be much more strategic about our efforts, and has really focused our energy on identifying and securing alternative sources of revenue to minimize that dependence.

One creative initiative The Salvation Army has been using in the Peoria area is our Partners for Good approach. This program enables us to engage local businesses not only for funding, but for other help, including volunteers and in-kind sources of assistance that replace costs we normally would incur each year. We have found it to be mutually rewarding for the businesses and their employees, as well as assisting us through rough patches.

We’ve also become much more active in collaborative advocacy efforts. We’re involved with both the Illinois Partners for Human Service, a statewide organization of more than 700 human service providers, and the Human Services Collaborative here in the Peoria area. We also work diligently with our local and state officials to keep them actively engaged and informed on how the malaise in Springfield affects the most vulnerable across our region and state.

For those who volunteer and financially support The Salvation Army—or any other nonprofit or human service provider in central Illinois—we say thank you. Please continue to come alongside us, and help identify the needs and the means to support these many worthwhile programs. To come full circle, the “real facts” are this: It isn’t about the viability of any individual organization, but rather about the multitudes of people we serve.

We are firm believers in doing the most good, and like President Lincoln, we are firm believers in the people of central Illinois, too! iBi

Rich Draeger, CFRE is the Tri-County Development Director for The Salvation Army in Peoria.