“Could we have picked a worse time for a gala?” asked Richard Moylan, president of Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, regretting the disappointing turnout for the institution’s fundraising dinner on Friday night.
He could have spoken for hundreds of nonprofits of all sizes in all boroughs as they confront the high season of the benefit.
The city’s vast and traditionally overstressed nonprofit community is already reeling from the crisis on Wall Street.
“We have been in perfect storms before,” said Lorie Slutsky, president of the New York Community Trust, which distributed US$166 million to 2,500 nonprofits last year.
But given the cratering economy, “many charities rely on year-end giving, so they are nervous about the impact of the market turmoil,” she said, adding that the downturn was having an affect not only on private contributors, foundations, corporations and the availability of credit to nonprofits, but also the viability of government grants and contracts in a time of looming tax-revenue gaps.
Beyond providing services to the young, the elderly, the poor and the sick, the city’s more than 10,000 nonprofit organizations are estimated to have some US$50 billion in annual expenditures and employ at least 500,000 people.
Some 85 percent of the city’s nonprofits have annual budgets under US$3 million, “and most of them don’t have endowments or cash reserves,” said Fran Barrett of the Community Resource Exchange, which provides management and financial help to about 300 community groups. “Some smaller organizations will have to shut their doors.”
If they do, many of their employees, neighborhood residents, “will be needing services themselves at a time when there will be less of them,” she said.
The nonprofits most seriously affected by the economic meltdown depended on donations from financial icons brought to their knees by the crisis, including Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, the American International Group and Washington Mutual.
Citymeals-on-Wheels — a nonprofit that provides 3 million meals yearly for more than 18,000 homebound residents through 83 agencies in the five boroughs — received major support from Bear Stearns and its executives.
The loss of these contributions and others from a variety of donors, including a troubled hedge fund — as well as spiking food and gasoline prices — forced Citymeals to cancel a US$2 million-a-year program in August.
For most of a decade, Citymeals had been delivering a second daily meal, in addition to the standard single-meal delivery, to 1,400 people “who are slipping into malnutrition,” said Marcia Stein, the group’s executive director.
During the first week of the financial crisis in mid-September, “many donors cut their contributions in half,” Stein said. “And after the uncertainty of this week, I shudder to think what will happen next week when we open the mail.”
Similarly, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and other donors affected the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and beyond the possible consequences to its budget, the group had been looking forward to a landmark celebration of its 35th anniversary next year.
“The times make it difficult for us to plan now,” said Margaret Fung, executive director of the fund, which offers educational training and legal assistance to poor Asian immigrants.