In November, Westside Holistic Family Services hosted its annual Jazz Fest fundraiser, an event for faculty members of the non-profit organization to mingle with potential donors, backed by the sounds of easy-listening jazz.
But while the event was a success, it did serve as a reminder that even Westside Holistic, which has been a staple of the Austin community for 30 years, is vulnerable to the sagging economy.
“The fundraiser did well, but there were certainly donors that said they would not be able to give as much as they would ordinarily due to the economy,” said Tresa Simmons, resource development director of Westside Holistic Family Services, 5443 W. Huron. “Regular sponsors are concerned about their future finances, so they have begun to curtail their contributions. We are currently meeting our budgetary needs although belts have certainly had to tighten.”
Westside Holistic provides services to Austin and Garfield Park-area families. It’s one of many West Side non-profit organizations suffering through a funding crunch during the current recession. Some community out-reach organizations have scaled back on some of their usual expenditures to keep their operating costs in check. South Austin Coalition Community Council, for instance, has made cuts to its budget to accommodate its community programs.
“We used to offer our employees a car allowance and full coverage insurance,” said Executive Director Bob Vondrasek. “However, due to our budget concerns we have had to cut both in order to assure that we can manage the organization effectively during the economic downturn.”
Vondrasek likened non-profit organizations to a small business that’s forced to make managerial adjustments, including cuts if needed, to keep it afloat. But while Westside Holistic and SACCC have garnered enough private and federal funding to meet its needs, other non-profits, like the former Neighborhood Capital Budget Group, weren’t so fortunate.
The NCBG shut down in 2007 because of dwindling financial support after 18 years in operation. The West Side-based organization’s activities included advocating for school reform, and serving as a watchdog on the city’s use of TIF (tax increment financing) funds and other city spending projects.
Current economic concerns, noted Vondrasek, have curtailed SACCC’s other endeavors, namely advocating for the Good Samaritan Energy Fund, which helps low-income individuals pay some of their heating costs.
“Sometimes, there is so much focus on the budget that working on other initiatives takes a backseat,” he said.
But Valerie Leonard, a community development consultant, insists that non-profit organizations can survive the current financial crisis by maximizing federal funding that is available.
Federal programs, such as the Neighborhood Stabilization Act, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, can serve multiple purposes for homeowners and community groups. It invests $3.92 billion in helping state and local governments purchase, renovate and resell foreclosed homes. Leonard, who’s worked with such non-for-profits as the Young Men Education Network, said such an initiative can benefit non-profits if they can obtain a portion of these funds for other outreach efforts.
“Non-profit organizations that can present advantageous solutions to those issues, like offering residents access to job training in construction to aid with the rehabbing of these homes, will certainly have a leg up on obtaining funds.”