In the spirit of Lent and these lean economic times, we recently asked several of our non-profit partners what they’ve gone without and how life’s been without it.

IMG_0433In the spirit of Lent and these lean economic times, we recently asked several of our non-profit partners what they’ve gone without and how life’s been without it. The idea was to start a conversation on some of the creative ways Alaska non-profits are doing more with less. Here’s what the organizations had to say:

Sarah Henning with the Anchorage Museum: To keep our costs down, the Anchorage Museum’s marketing department is making a concerted effort not to create so much printed material. Last year we invested a little money to revamp our online events calendar, making it more intuitive and easier to search, as well as redesigning it to make it more attractive. Then we were able to scale way back on the flyers, invitations and other mailers that used to be our standard way to inform people about our events.

Our web traffic spiked after the revamp: we now see an average of 16,000 unique online visitors a month, and the second most popular page (behind our home page) is our events page. Our return web visitor rate is at an all-time high.

We’ve also cinched our belts on the design front. We’ve developed templates for most of our publications, including our ads, which keeps our design costs down and has the added benefit of cementing our branded image.

Attendance at our events is consistently as good — and often higher than – the years we relied more on printed material. The added bonus: It feels good to be kinder to our environment.

Ellen Krsnak with Catholic Social Services: We needed to cut a vacant part-time human resource administrative assistant position. In order to get the clerical tasks accomplished we moved the HR office downstairs behind the receptionist desk. Our receptionist occasionally has down time but needs to stay close to her desk to answer phones and greet visitors. Our receptionist is now doing the HR clerical tasks. It provides greater job satisfaction for her (she likes to stay busy and feel productive) and much needed clerical support for the HR manager.

Basically we made two important changes to make this situation successful. The receptionist’s supervisor changed to the HR manager, and the HR office moved so files could be reasonably close to the receptionist desk.

Adele Groning with Bunnell Street Arts Center: The national recession affected Bunnell Street Arts Center through cut or reduced corporate, foundation and government grants, and significantly less sales of artwork, our main fundraising mechanism. But our leadership, both board and staff, took the economic downturn as a challenge to reach out to individual donors and an opportunity to reaffirm the board’s role as a fundraising and financially responsible entity. The board sent out an annual appeal at the end of 2010 that raised $10,000 in individual donations and a second letter campaign in the Spring of 2011 has already raised nearly $4,000 towards our annual membership drive. The donations range from $20 to $1,000, but the goal is to broaden our membership base at whatever level a donor is able to give.

Ultimately, we realize that to weather an ever-changing economic climate, our own house must be in order: (1) We are halfway to our goal of having a six-month operating reserve. (2) We have a savings account to accept donations towards an endowment for long-term stability. (3) Our board has adopted a greater fundraising role. (4) Where possible we have trimmed expenses such as moving away from printed newsletters to more adaptive and less expensive e-newsletters and also designing our exhibition postcards in-house. Lastly, (5) while we have not cut programming, we have designed sustainable programs that support themselves through ticket sales, donations and sponsorship.

Annette Evans Smith with Alaska Heritage Center: By developing a full-range recycling program at the Center, we were able to reduce our dumpster charges by a third in the summer (our peak time) because we were able to eliminate one whole dumpster from our site.

Mona Painter with Cooper Landing Senior Center: Cooper Landing Senior Citizens Corp. Inc. (CLSCCI) owns and operates, Senior Haven, two senior housing units with a total of 12 apartments. Senior Haven is funded by rental payments. Fuel costs this winter are of great concern. Heated sidewalks were a feature in apartment advertisements and originally considered an important selling point. They turned out to be a major fuel burner. After assessing the situation with residents, and assuring that snow removal would take place as soon as possible, the CLSCCI board turned off the sidewalk. Residents sweep and shovel snow, the general maintenance contractor removes snow, and several volunteers pitch in to keep the sidewalks clean and safe.

Cutting fuel and electric consumption is also accomplished by turning thermostats down in the heated garages, the common rooms, and the office. When residents are away for a period of time they are asked to lower their thermostats to 50 degrees.

Another large CLSCCI expense was maintenance of the emergency generator. Travel expenses for a maintenance/repairman coming from North Carolina to Anchorage added a big chunk to the bill. CLSCCI found a local man with the expertise to handle the generator. He is reliable and quick to arrive on the scene and has already saved CLSCCI many hundreds of dollars.

Deborah Lyons with Sitka Trail Works: “Lent is a period to practice habits that make us stronger in spirit. This goes for individuals and organizations too! Traditionally Lent is a time to give things up that are indulgences so that resources can be reallocated to those in need (Almsgiving), we give up things that distract us from God, allowing for more time spent in our private spiritual conversation (Prayer) and we become more conscious about the food we consume, limiting the size of meals and giving up meat on Friday so that we learn to exercise discipline over our appetites and we nourish the spirit more consciously. (Fasting).

Sitka Trail Works has recently made some tough decisions to exert discipline over the operating budget and we are fasting by cutting back on the following:

  • We eliminated a position that duplicated services that our partner organizations can provide: Trail mapping and other trail management functions. This helped control our appetite to provide all things to all trail partners.
  • Our newsletter is our most effective fundraising tool, but also the most expensive. This spring we eliminated an indulgence by printing the newsletter in black and white instead of color and we obtained a more accurate mailing list, thus cutting down on the volume of the mailing and avoiding duplication. We are using the resources saved by those efforts to improve the trail information on the website where it is accessible to a wider audience of trail users. (Almsgiving)
  • We have our most important conversations with our members, the trail users that we serve. Their enthusiasm keeps our organizational spirit alive.

    This year we plan to improve the quality of conversation with our members by better utilizing the opportunity to communicate with them during the Saturday Guided hikes. This means getting to know them better personally and understanding why they enjoy the trails and what they need us to do.”

Do you have any budget trimming advice you think might be useful to others? Please share.

Photo: on a recent trip to Sitka, Program Officer Chris Perez (center) got a first hand look at the work of Sitka Trail Works with Executive Director Deborah Lyons and Board Chair Brian Hanson.