Sunday, December 18, 2011

Tough Times for Non-Profits

Did the Recession Really End?

We received a media release on Friday that is a sign of the times.  InterAct Cleveland (formerly East Side Interfaith Ministry) is closing.   Twenty years ago, there was the East Side religious collaboration, West Side Ecumenical Ministry (WESM), and the Interchurch Council.  Now all are gone.  What happened?  They were all collaborations built on a foundation of providing food to the hungry and they grew to serve the social service needs of Greater Cleveland.  WESM grew into a huge organization and in 2011 merged with the Center for Families and Children to become a too big to fail non-profit.  The other two went out of business.  The Interchurch Council closing was messy with a large debt and the transfer of their emergency shelter to the Salvation Army (Zelma George) after the Hunger Network split off from the Council. 

InterAct is citing the lack of foundation support, contributions from local religious organizations drying up, and individual donors turning to other organizations.  The Board statement says that this unstable funding has resulted in the inability to keep or attract quality staff.  The statement on the InterAct website says that the Board has analyzed their situation and concluded that the agency is not viable in the long run. My experience is that they have not figured out how to promote themselves as an essential service in Cleveland.  I am sad to see the organization go out of business.   

I remember Lyn Cooper and her crowded office on Euclid Ave.  I remember the food program donated by the Cleveland Clinic over on Carnegie Ave.  I remember Tony and Suzanne in the newly renamed InterAct as our downstairs neighbor on Perkins.  They partnered with NEOCH and other social service providers on the Homeless Stand Down and moved it to the winter.  For the past six years, they have brought a great deal to the Stand Down, and made this a huge event for homeless people in Cleveland.  Sr. Donna, Pam, and Toni took the lead with the Stand Down and expanded it to three days.  I remember the great work that they did to calm the community after the attacks of September 11, 2001.  They moved over to Franklin Circle Church and struggled to find their footprint in Cleveland.

Does this mean religious groups of different faith traditions have outgrown the need to meet at the same table or have we outgrown this need in Cleveland?  Does it mean that different religious organizations cannot figure out a way to sit together and work to maintain a corporation?  Are the values of diverse religions not compatible with those of non-profit organizations?  The "one religion non-profits" like Lutheran Metro Ministry, Catholic Charities and Jewish Community Foundation, are not struggling and are moving forward during this stormy weather.  What has happened in Cleveland that we do not see the value of multi-denominational religious organizations?

This morning, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the Freedom Museum is in trouble and could close by the end of 2012.  How could the a freedom museum in the United States at the same time as Time Magazine identifying the protestor as the "Person of the Year" be in danger of closing?  This is insane that we could lose the Freedom Museum!  The Museum documents the history of the underground railroad and the critical role Ohio played in assisting slaves to freedom.  I think that both InterAct and the Freedom Museum have a needed role in our community.  It is a bad sign that we cannot sustain these social service and cultural institutions.

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