PA Nonprofits Continue to Struggle

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

What difference does a year make? When it comes to the economic health of Pennsylvania’s nonprofit organizations the answer is: virtually none. Results of the 2013 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey found slight improvement in some areas, minimal back-sliding in others, along with an overall picture that remains about what it was one year ago. And that is suffering from a perfect storm of static or declining private funding, government cuts, and heavier demand for services resulting from the continued sluggish economy.

On the core question of whether nonprofits have the ability to fulfill their organization’s mission, 53% said that ability is about the same as it was in past years. Twenty-five percent say they had a greater ability to fulfill their mission in 2013, but 22% said their capacity had declined. That leaves the sector as a whole with about the exact same ability to full its collective missions as at the end of 2012.

Generally speaking, 61% said that business conditions in Pennsylvania have remained about the same as they were one year ago. Sixteen percent have detected improving business conditions (down from 21% last year) while 24% say the state’s business climate has gotten worse, exactly the same as the 2012 survey. Optimism over what the New Year might bring is down slightly. Twenty-seven percent expect the state’s business climate to improve in 2014, down from the 34% who expressed optimism headed into 2013. Twenty-two percent expect the Keystone state economy to get worse over the coming 12 months, up from the 19% that forecast declining economic conditions at the end of 2012.

The nonprofit sector saw some slight improvement in overall hiring in 2013. While 54% said employment levels at their organization were about the same in 2013 as in 2012; 21% said they employed more people this past year, up from 18% who claimed higher employment levels at the end of 2012. The number of nonprofits reporting a decline in employment levels dropped from 26% last year to 24% in 2013. Looking ahead, 21% forecast adding employees in 2014, while 12% expect to employ fewer people.

The slow economic recovery continues to impact a substantial majority of Pennsylvania nonprofit organizations. Sixty-five percent reported the economy has a somewhat negative impact, 17% said that impact has been significant. Only ten percent reported the sluggish economy as having had no impact on their operations in 2013, while 11% said it has had a positive impact.

Forty-one percent of the nonprofits report their income from all sources in 2013 stayed about the same as it was in 2012; 26% reported an increase in income; 34% reported declining income – with 10% saying they have suffered a significant decline. Looking ahead to 2014, 50% say they expect funding to remain about the same; 28% expect to experience a funding increase; 21% are bracing for declining income.

As a result of economic woes, 30% of the organizations participating in the 2013 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey said they were compelled to lay-off staff; 36% reduced employee hours and 9% cut salaries. Another 26% reported cutting or eliminating benefits, 40% were forced to discontinue some services while 39% increased services to deal with heightened demand. Twenty-three percent said they had to borrow operating money in 2013, and 41% cancelled or postponed expansion plans.

State government funding decreased at 27% of the nonprofits and increased at 8%. Funding from the commonwealth remained static at 25% of the organizations. Another 40% reported that they do not receive funding from the state.

Another concern for nonprofits is the potential loss of the federal charitable tax deduction. Seventy-eight percent said the loss of that deduction would have a negative impact on their fundraising – 42% said the impact would be "significantly" negative. Eleven percent felt such a change would have no impact on their ability to raise funds. Less than 1% view such a change in the tax laws as positive.

Trust Issues

At a time when many nonprofits are being called upon to provide services to people dealing with the effects of the Great Recession and subsequent sluggish recovery, the nonprofit leaders taking part in the poll rated public confidence in charities as "medium" (66%), while 15% said public confidence is high and 10% worry public confidence is low. A plurality (44%) say public confidence in nonprofits has remain "about the same" over the past few years, while 31% say confidence levels have dropped and 17% think public confidence in nonprofits has improved.

Some leaders in the nonprofit sector are suggesting a rebranding by using the term "community benefit organization" which more accurately reflects the role of nonprofits. Of those surveyed, 48% said they are familiar with the term; 28% said they have heard the term, but are not clear about its meaning; another 24% have never heard the term. Forty-six percent of those participating in the survey said they find the term "community benefit organization" to be more attractive than "nonprofit organization"; 32% found it to be less attractive; and 14% felt both terms were about the same.

Health Insurance

Like the for-profit sector, nonprofits continue to grapple with providing health care coverage to their employees. Seventy-nine percent of the nonprofits participating in the poll said they currently provide health insurance. Sixteen percent said they have no plans to provide health insurance; 3% previously provided health insurance, but discontinued doing so; another 2% do not currently insure their employees but plan to do so in the future.

Among those nonprofits that provide employee health insurance, 49% pay the major share of the cost, but require some employee co-pay; 28% of the nonprofits cover the entire cost of health care coverage. Three percent split the cost with the employee paying the major share, while another 1% have a 50/50 cost sharing split.

Social Media

More and more nonprofits are utilizing social media both for communications and for fundraising. Ninety-nine percent say their organization maintains a Facebook account while 55% utilize Twitter. Another 53% are Linked In while 41% use You Tube. Blogging is a practice at 19% of the nonprofits surveyed; while 14% have a Pinterest account and 4% use Instagram. Seventeen percent say they use Google Plus to promote their organization.

Fewer organizations have utilized social media for fundraising. Fifty-five percent say they have never used social media for raising money. Nine percent said they have tried to raise funds with social media. But raised less than $100.00. Another 17% has raised $100-$1,000 using social media; 11% have raised between $1,000 and $10,000 and 8% have raised over $10,000 through social media.


The 2013 Pennsylvania Charitable Organizations Survey is a joint project of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research and the Pennsylvania Association of Nonprofit Organizations (PANO). The poll was conducted electronically from December 2, 2013 thru December 20, 2013 with a total of 166 nonprofit organizations participating. Complete numeric results are available [L=]here[EL].