Survey: Christian Nonprofits Relying More on Volunteers in Hard Times

Facing economic hard times, many Christian nonprofits are turning to volunteers for help with the work load, a new survey found.

One out of every five Christian nonprofits is reportedly relying to a greater extent on volunteers to offset the economic downturn, according to a study conducted by J. David Schmidt & Associates for the Christian Leadership Alliance.

The study, entitled "Economic Outlook Survey: The Recession's Impact on Christian Nonprofit Organizations," found that the top ways Christian nonprofits are trying to make ends meet include instituting a hiring freeze (reported by 36 percent of the groups interviewed), reducing full-time staff (28 percent), and reducing, eliminating or delaying outside counsel/consulting expenses (27 percent).

Other ways these groups are responding to financial hard times include reducing travel (52 percent), freezing pay raises (44 percent), cutting the overall 2009 budget (43 percent), reducing or eliminating training expenses for fiscal year 2009 (29 percent), and freezing infrastructure expenses (28 percent).

"For many Christian nonprofit organizations the economy has had a major impact," commented Frank Lofaro, president and CEO of Christian Leadership Alliance. "In fact, compared to one year ago, some 73 percent of nonprofits with investments said their portfolios and endowments are down, and some 51 percent said that reserves have diminished."

The organizations' budget vary vastly from annual budgets under $1 million (reported by 22 percent of surveyed organizations) to budgets of $30 million or more (nine percent). But the majority of responding organizations have annual budgets from $1 million to under $10 million (52 percent).

Based on the study, the Christian nonprofits hit hardest by the economic downturn are those that have annual budgets under $1 million. They were slightly more likely to report decline in donations.

Overall, nearly half of the responding organizations (48 percent) said donations were down from a year ago. Forty percent of the organizations said they had less cash on hand. And 51 percent said their reserves were down.

But only slightly more than a fifth (21 percent) of the respondents said the financial troubles have had a high impact on their organization. Nearly half (48 percent) said they felt the impact is somewhere between low and high.

Surprisingly, about a third (31 percent) of the responding organizations said the economy has had low impact on their group.

Despite the difficult times, Christian nonprofit leaders say they are not discouraged. Three-quarters of respondents expressed high morale regarding their organizations' situation.

When organizational leaders were asked what helped them through difficulties, they said it was belief in God's faithfulness, according to the survey.

"If there was one theme that kept coming through in respondent comments, it is that Christian charity and church leaders have a strong sense of a larger story," " said consultant David Schmidt, whose agency conducted the research. "They seem less rattled and remain confident in God's provision and care, despite being stress-tested by their circumstances."

Findings are based on 250 responding organizations out of nearly 1,000 surveyed in April 2009. The groups represent a broad range of Christian organizations including camps and conference centers, denominational offices, mission and outreach agencies, publishers, professional service firms, social service organizations, colleges/universities, broadcast ministries, and churches.

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