However, because the organization has grown by 40% over the past four years, the 10% cut was more like finding a new benchmark from which to grow again, he says. “Thirty-six people lost their jobs. It’s always bad because it’s somebody’s life, but we were able to make most of the cuts through voluntary buyout plans. Those were people who were ready to do something different in life,” Yarnold says.
For his organization, one of the advantages of the downturn is having the ability to cut costs by bargaining with everyone from phone companies to insurance companies. “We are taking advantage of new technologies,”” says Yarnold, who has headed the organization for four years. “We are doing what a smart business would do, but we just happen to be a nonprofit.” The group has also cut about $1 million in administrative costs, he says.
“We are fortunate, a lot of our major donors were hit hard but for many of them we remain at the center of their philanthropy,” Yarnold says.
Still, to cut costs, the organization will not continue work on at least two issues, including international finance regulations and port pollution. He says: “All of this is responsive to the question that our board asks: “are you certain that you are adding value every time you get involved in something?” So, this was a good opportunity to say, “sure we add value, but can we add more value elsewhere?”
The Nature Conservancy has also made cuts, reducing its staff by 10% because of the recession. “Unfortunately, the recession and subsequent de-clines in revenue require that we implement staff reductions to further reduce expenses. These reductions are designed to keep the Conservancy on a sustainable funding path and positioned well to capitalize on future conservation opportunities. We regret that these reductions were necessary,”” read a statement from Mark Tercek, president and CEO of the Conservancy.
But there may be a silver lining to the cutbacks, layoffs and reduction in advocacy work: Environmental groups are joining forces. The newly opened David Brower Center in Berkeley, California, and the Alliance for Sustainable Colorado in Denver house environmental nonprofits under one roof, giving tenants shared common space, a break on rent and perks such as on-site showers and faster, cheaper Internet service.
“We are able, as a collective, to afford higher speed Internet and lower cost Internet and phone service, which any one of us couldn’t afford alone,”” says Alliance for Sustainable Colorado Founder John Powers. Rents are about 30% below market value, and the nonprofits even score great deals on desks and chairs because one of the 27 tenants has made it her mission to keep office furniture out of landfills, according to Powers. And the benefits extend beyond bottom-line savings. “One of the reasons to get groups together is to be taken more seriously,” he says.
Peter Buckley, the founder of the David Brower Center, understands that concept. In an age when there are dwindling employees in offices and a surplus of open desks, morale can plummet. He says that at the Brower Center there is constant energy.
“My impression is that everybody is very happy being in the building and it’s good for their mission. They are doing better work, more effective work,” Buckley says. “There are meetings and events…film screenings, speakers, all kinds of stuff going on. For me, helping people be effective with their mission is the number-one priority.”