Last night representatives from about 50 nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies in the East Bay filled the gym of a local church to learn more about Alameda County's budget woes and what they can do to stay afloat.

The forum was titled “Weathering the Storm: Budget Briefing and Best Practices for Community Based Organizations (CBOs),” and was held at Beebe Memorial Cathedral, which regularly hosts community and political events.

It was sponsored by Keith Carson's office, Alameda County Supervisor for District 5, as part of the Socially Responsible Network, a coalition of community organizations and government entities that gather to meet one another, share experiences and receive updates from local decision makers.

Carson said California's economy is not likely to turn around for another three to five years, so in order to meet continued need for their services, organizations must have “a practical guide for surviving very tough times.”

Frank Russo, Chief of Staff for State Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, outlined the latest budget figures coming from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office, which were released last Friday, May 14.

“I wish I had better news from Sacramento,”
Russo said before outlining cuts Schwarzenegger is recommending to close the state's $19.1 billion deficit, which effect public education, corrections and CalWorks, a job training and welfare program for families, including for 20,000 households in Alameda County alone.

The budget also excludes revenue as a solution, Russo said, and goes forward with a proposed $2.4 billion in new tax cuts.

California's budget “really says a lot about our priorities,” Russo said. “The budget is a moral document. It's about what we care about as a state.”

He said Skinner supports severence fees for oil corporations, taxing Internet sales for out of state companies and restoring income tax rates to their 1990s levels under Pete Wilson.

Highlights of the governor's updated budget can be found on the Assembly's website. The Constitutional deadline to pass the next fiscal year's budget is June 15, but Russo predicted “it may be a long summer.”

Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi said the county would present to the state a balanced budget this June for the 2011 fiscal year, but will have to close a $152.4 million funding gap through increased taxes, program reductions and charging for more services, among other measures.

She said the state has borrowed about $4 billion from local government in recent years in property tax revenue (which is declining) and routinely defers payments by one to four months.

Locally there are nine thousand fewer payroll jobs than four months ago, and overall unemployment stands at 11.6 percent. Government employees will not receive cost of living increases and will fund 10 percent more of their health plans in the next fiscal year. CBOs will still play an important role in providing services; the county plans to contract with about 240 of them according to Muranishi. “They've been good partners with us,” Muranishi said.

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House Representative Barbara Lee discussed the work she is doing at the federal level to bring money and resources to the state and district, including working to appropriate $600 million to invest in a summer youth jobs program to
address unemployment and supporting a bill by House Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-California) to provide $100 billion in aid to local goverments to stem layoffs of teachers, police officers and fire fighters.

“Our work is really just beginning. Thank you for being on the frontlines,” she told the audience.

In break out sessions after the speakers presented, participants learned about fundraising strategies and how to lead organizations facing financial hardship.

Mal Warwick, who runs a consulting firm and authored “Fundraising When Money is Tight: A Strategic and Practical Guide,” discussed six key tactics for successful organizational fundraising:

1. Strengthen the case for why donors should contribute to your organization. Donors want to know their money will make a difference and advance your mission.

2. “Be content with one bird in the hand,” by not putting energy into fundraising events that don't actually raise money.

3. “Cut costs with a scalpel, instead of with an ax.” Examples are reducing your mailing list by getting rid of those who have not donated or engaged with your organization for five or more years, and getting together with other entities to pool printing costs to get a better rate.

4. “Fish where the big fish are,” or in other words, treat donors differently depending on donation level. Those who give a lot of money deserve and want more attention than small donors.

5. Get personal with your donors by learning more about them.

6. Step up your online efforts.

Paula Smith Arrigoni of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, a national organization with San Francisco offices, said in her session that leaders must articulate the organization's accurate financial information to staff, the board and constituents. They must make smart decisions that bring in reliable and recurring revenue while planning for different funding scenarios.

Arrigoni discussed how to do scenario planning as well as how to model a program's profitability by weighing its impact and cost.

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