Non-profit charitable organizations provide a wide range of valuable services, often helping people at the most difficult points in their lives. Given that funding to non-profits is voluntary, it is important for the public to have a high degree of trust and confidence in such organizations. A new survey of Pennsylvania non-profit organizations finds those involved in the sector see room for improvement.
The 2008 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey conducted by the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc. in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Association of Non-Profit Organizations found the vast majority, 75% of non-profits, feel the public has a "medium" level of trust in their sector. Fifteen percent say they feel public trust is "high," while 10% said the public has a "low" level of trust in their efforts.
Overall that is a rather positive assessment. However, it is tempered by the fact that 35% feel the level of public trust in charities has gotten worse over the past few years, while 29% say they see an improvement. Another 30% say the level of public trust in non-profits has remained constant in recent years.
Joe Geiger, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations, attributes the dip in trust over the last years to highly visible scandals that have occurred in the sector. "When a high profile individual or organization behaves badly, it creates doubt about how others are behaving," Geiger explained, "Leaders of charities in the way of executives and board members rise up out of the communities from where they come. There are bound to be some mal-intended individuals looking to take advantage of an opportunity."
Geiger added that "Overall, the charity sector is highly ethical and efficient in their delivery of mission."
Non-profits do feel they are better equipped now to fulfill their organization's mission than they were in past years. Thirty percent say their ability to succeed at their core mission has improved, while 21% say they are less effective; another 48% said their ability to fulfill their mission remains about the same.
Funding is always a major issue for non-profit organizations. Forty-two percent report their funding levels stayed about the same in 2007 as they were in 2006, while 35% said their funding increased and 20% reported a drop in funding. Looking ahead to 2008, 52% say they expect their funding to remain about the same, 27% expect to raise more money while 19% expect to have to get by on fewer dollars.
Survey respondents (65%) indicated they believe their own organizations' efforts at communicating with the general public are effective. Most (40%) say they interact with the news media "several times a year," while 26% said they communicate with the news media "several times a month." Those communications, however, usually have little to do with public policy issues. Only 38% say they use such vehicles as news releases and public service announcements to reach out to the public on state policy issues.
Pennsylvania's new lobbyist disclosure law impacts non-profit organizations that interact with state government. Fully 50% of those surveyed by the Lincoln Institute say non-profit organizations should be exempt from provisions of the lobbyist disclosure law; only 31% say they should be covered.
Only 11% of those organizations responding to the survey said they have registered under the lobbyist disclosure act, with 58% saying they do not understand what is required by the law. Meanwhile, 27% say they have lobbied the federal government on a public policy issue during the past year, while 44% have lobbied state government, and 32% lobbied their county or municipal government. Looking ahead, 53% say they expect to lobby some level of government during 2008.
The non-profit sector shares a key set of financial challenges with their for-profit and public sector brethren: health care. The cost of health care is skyrocketing. Fifth-six percent of the non-profit organizations participating in the Lincoln Institute/PANO survey reported their health insurance premiums increased by up to 25% during the past year, while 11% said insurance costs escalated between 26% - 50%.
Eighty-eight percent of the non-profits say they currently provide health insurance coverage to their employees. Of that number, employers at 35% of the organizations pay the full cost of the premium, 49% split the premium costs with the major share paid by the employer. In an effort to reduce costs, 21% of the organizations said they have changed insurance companies, 13% have increased co-pays, 10% have raised the amount of employee contribution, and another 10% have increased deductibles.
Another challenge facing the non-profit sector is recruiting and retaining qualified staff. Forty-five percent of the survey respondents said they are having difficulty hiring/retaining staff. The biggest reason for this problem is that non-profits often offer lower salaries. Fifty-one percent said that is the reason for their staff recruitment/retention difficulties. Another 23% reported that for-profits offer better benefit packages.
Recruitment of good board members also remains a challenge for many in the non-profit sector. The main reason potential board candidates give for not serving is a lack of time (50%), while 39% are already committed to other organizations.
The Lincoln Institute/PANO 2008 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey was conducted electronically February 4, 2008 thru February 26, 2008. A total of 138 organizations responded to the survey by the response deadline. Complete numeric results are posted at www.lincolninstitute.org.