Island’s not-for-profits bracing for hard times

November 2, 2001

by Mark J. Grossman

On Oct. 10, nearly 23,000 people in the greater Bellport community became the newest victims of what we now call the Sept. 11 tragedy. That’s the day that I, along with six other colleagues on the South Country School District Board of Education, voted to raise school property taxes to meet the state’s budget shortfall.

The 4 percent increase went beyond the 8 percent hike anticipated in the budget that voters approved May 15. But we had little choice. Our budget is very lean. And the state’s recently proposed $500 million supplemental budget, aimed at helping to make up for the shortfalls in the “bare bones” budget put in place to function for the perpetually late state budget, will fall woefully short of filling the revenue gap for schools and not-for-profits alike. And with tax revenues down since Sept. 11, the prospect of squeezing anything more from the state seems very unlikely.

So, in order to make ends meet, school districts had little choice but to go to the hard working taxpayers to make up the difference between the “bare bones” state budget and what they would have normally gotten in aid, a nearly $1 million difference in the case of South Country.

But what about not-for-profit organizations that rely on government funding? While school districts have the option, though unpleasant, of garnering needed revenue from taxpayers, not-for-profits have no such option. In fact, most rely solely on government funding and philanthropic donations.

Unfortunately, the reality for many small not-for-profits is bleak. Take, for example, the Boys & Girls Club of the Bellport Area. ¬†They may have to lay off several key staffers who work directly with the young people, severely curtailing services in the community. Or the large, not-for-profit Federation of Organizations: it plans to shut down its Senior Respite Program, which helps provide support for adults who care at home for their aging parents or spouse. Organizations such as these don’t have many places to go to make up for government shortfalls.

Sure, not-for-profits still have the private sector to turn to, but that world has changed as well since Sept. 11. The softer economy is sure to make corporate donors and foundations more cautious about charitable giving. Many philanthropists have seen a big drop in their once robust portfolios, and that will certainly translate into a drop in donations. And everyday donors, even those of modest means, have poured more than $1 billion into various charitable funds for victims of Sept. 11. That’s a good thing. With some 5,000 families and 10,000 children impacted by the loss of life in New York City and Washington, the need is great. But, as the controversial departure of Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy demonstrates, many Americans are becoming concerned about how this unprecedented level of philanthropy will be managed and whether the funds they contribute will make it into the hands of those who need it most.

In the meantime, not-for-profits on Long Island brace for what may be the toughest times ahead. And the result may be that many of those who weren’t on one of the airplanes or in the twin towers, or who didn’t even have a loved one who died in the tragedy, will become Sept. 11’s latest victims.

Mark J. Grossman is CEO of Grossman Strategies, a Holtsville-based public relations firm with a client concentration in not-for-profit organizations.