Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Navigating Uncertain Economic Times and Remaining True to Mission

I ran into a young man the other day who said, “I’m glad I don’t have any money invested in the stock market so I don’t have to worry about the economic troubles caused by Wall Street.” Perhaps he and others who think they are immune to the global economic upheavals slept through Economics 101. Clearly everyone – individually and organizationally – is or will be impacted by these unprecedented times.

In speaking with the Executive Director of a regional not-for-profit just last week he said he’d seen financial support to his organization “fall off a cliff” in less than a month – that as we enter the quarter of the year where most non-profits expect the bulk of their annual contributions. We’ve also learned of one prominent Boston-based foundation that plans to let its staff go, put its federally-required programmatic spending programs under a minimal auto-pilot plan and “wait” for its corpus to bounce back.

Like the young “non-investor,” we’d like to think that as an Endowment we wouldn’t have to worry about these economic times. If, however, you’ve taken the time to view our latest quarterly Stewardship Report (ending September 30, 2008) you’ll see that our Endowment corpus plunged “well below water” from above $200 million to just less than $175 million – a number that we wish we still had just four weeks later!

As our Board of Directors prepares to meet for its Fall 2008 session, economic issues and realities will permeate our agenda. How can we be true to both our mission and our fiduciary responsibilities given these unprecedented times? How can we keep our commitments and do even more when non-profit partners and communities are under increasing pressure?

Our staff is working on options that would allow us to proceed on all fronts but perhaps in a more measured way – stretching some commitments beyond timelines originally planned while slowing program build-out. We won’t try to speculate what the Endowment’s Board will decide. But, we can assume that this committed and very experienced group of individuals will chart a responsible course of action to help the Endowment navigate uncharted waters in ways that remain true to our vision to see that “America’s forests are sustainably managed to meet broad societal objectives such as marketable products, clean waters, wildlife habitats and other ecological services, while ensuring healthy and vibrant forest-reliant communities."

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