Wednesday, September 01, 2010
The challenges of simple timing. . .a challenge to you
I think I've learned some important lessons about "the poor" and what it takes to stay engaged in the battle against poverty.
The picture is not simple.
There is no romance to be found here.
The people are wonderful, as I've written here on many, many occasions.
But the work is very hard, and that in numerous ways..
Ironically, the more effective an organization becomes, the more difficult the challenges. Things change as you figure out how to relate to more people in a more efficient and effective manner.
The cycles of difficulty become predictable.
We're in the midst of just such a cycle that exemplifies the challenges of which I speak.
Here's the equation:
Increasing opportunities to serve and to assist in solving the problems facing our poor neighbors come in many forms--partnership offers, new funding opportunities, public grants and contracts. Each of the opportunities reveals yet another step toward assisting more individuals and families. Still, no matter how promising or effective, the funding backing each new option never covers all of the costs associated with the endeavor to be funded.
Add to this reality the fact that most funding from both public grants/contracts and some foundations arrives only after the work is completed. In other words, most of these funds involve a reimbursement process. Depending on the fund--and there are many, the payback can be anywhere from days to months in length. For some reason the State of Texas is the most notorious in this regard. We've carried accounts receivable owed to us by Texas for as much as 5 months!
During that "waiting period," organizations like Central Dallas Ministries must carry the expense and endure the cash flow pressure for work already successfully completed.
Add to this reality the seasonal nature of private donations. No matter what the economic conditions, the second and third quarters of the year are always the toughest.
We're in the midst of that calendar reality just now.
Add to this the dismal situation in the current national economy, a reality that hasn't hit Dallas as hard as other cities, but has affected our psychology and our decision making about philanthropy.
Finally, we face the fact that the economic downturn has definitely affected those at the bottom of the economy, as is evidenced by the amazing increase in people who are coming to CDM, many for the very first time, seeking assistance, opportunity and hope across each of our program areas.
Of course, these folks are the whole point of our existence!
Currently, we are working hard to raise capital dollars to build what we refer to as an "opportunity center" in S. Dallas near Fair Park. The time is right for this effort thanks to a large donation for the purpose and to a corporate partner who will help us bring jobs and economic development to this part of south Dallas for the first time in decades.
Every day we work hard on this important new development--a development that will impact our economy for the better and lift countless individuals and families from below the poverty line. And, our business plan once in the new center provides for more sustainable financing since we will have partners who actually pay us rents!
But, all of this exciting new development doesn't pay the bills for our already bustling, growing work. We face a virtual constant, especially at times like this: we need to increase our unrestricted operations funding as never before to strengthen the stability of our organization.
We must develop our means to survive the challenges of, well, the challenges of simple timing,
now and for years to come!