Friday, May 22, 2009

Economic Right Sizing (In the Form of Venting)

I am amazed by the willingness--and the lack of willingness--of people to cut back during these tough economic times. I hear of the daily struggle to make ends meet and yet the act of cutting back is so difficult. What's up with that? Sometimes the process of considering options has to be cut very short. I am reminded of the athletic company advertising slogan "Just do it!"

A little horn tooting: We gave up the second car in November (yes, the gas guzzling SUV); in addition to our economical car we have a scooter for running around our small town and we use the public transportation system often; we rarely eat out in restaurants; We have had (and enjoyed) our stay-cations and have used 2 for 1 coupons for local attractions (like a snowboarding area) where possible; we planted a large vegetable garden in the yard; we have been enjoying the movies that come with our basic cable subscription vs. renting DVDs from the local store; we rediscovered our love of new music by playing old albums from our extensive collection ("vintage" is so cool); we groom the dog ourselves and I recently began ordering her monthly heartworm and tick prevention medications online at a fraction of the local vet's cost; 5 weeks between haircuts; wash the car at home; my son has discovered that worn pants can be great summer cut-off shorts; and we have really enjoyed the feeling that comes from repackaging the bulk food purchase from Costco and loading our freezer and pantry. These (and many others) cutbacks have not been easy!

Each day I read the newspaper and many web sites and blogs to learn more about just how tough it is out there. Staff cutbacks. Furloughs. Early retirements. Restructuring. Mergers. Acquisitions. Bulk buying and shared operational/administrative costs. Leaving vacant positions un-hired. Bankruptcy. Perhaps these cost saving measures are enough for now and they certainly get our collective attention since they primarily affect workers. I cannot quantify it, but I guess there is a collective attempt being made to right size. And I can't help but see--glaringly--the waste that still exists in these tough times. Really, what about waste? What prevents us from rigorously inventorying our personal and organizational waste and then doing something about it?

So this is what tweaked me this morning: I am walking into my local Jewish Community Center where I swim three days a week and see the big corporate water delivery man wheeling into the JCC dozens of the giant bottles of water. In good economic times one could make the argument that bottled water being purchased by a non-profit might be excessive. The leaders making such decisions might find it useful to look into a water purification system instead of water delivery, but I digress. But in these tragic economic times, and at an organization that has been laying off staff and threatening the community with closure in the weekly town newspaper, wouldn't eliminating this water delivery make sense as one tangible demonstration that the leadership is aware and accountable? Of course the economics of eliminating the delivery won't keep the place open, but over a year I bet it is the cost of a few lifeguards or art supplies for the classrooms or a part time grant writer. Really!?

There is the reality here (water delivery is expensive and not particularly efficient) and there is perception. Wouldn't a non-profit, especially one that is vulnerable to closure, want to be conveying to its members and donors that it values their donations and will look at every single possible place to cut back non-essential services and eliminate waste before cutting staff and programming and closing the doors?

Cutting back is not easy. Managing limited capacity is not easy. Protecting your brand it tough times is not easy. Managing a non-profit in today's economic climate is not easy! Doing more with less is not easy. Not knowing how we will emerge at the end of this mess is not easy. Asking your constituents for help and support is not easy. Remaining upbeat, in control, hopeful, and strategic when you are threatened is not easy. Letting go of the past and accepting the new reality is not easy. And carrying your own water bottle from home is not easy. Times are tough!

My message to you: this is the moment to get smart about our own personal and organizational economies. This is the time to plan, sort out, realign, redesign, correct, reinvest, discover, imagine, consider. This is not the time to down is the time to right size!

In this economic meltdown, what are the real cuts you are making? What do you notice? What are the real, yet more symbolic cuts you are making? What do you notice there? What are you noticing is hopeful and smart and right about what you are doing? We all experience barriers to making difficult economic choices; what are the barriers you notice? What will you do?

Enjoy the weekend...within your budget!