The Nature Conservancy announced yesterday a 10% reduction in staff. Last month, the Trust for Public Land laid off 15%. I have good friends and former colleagues at each organization and I yearn for them. I yearn for us all, because this economy spares no one.
At least $32-million donors had expected to give through charitable remainder trusts, gift annuities, and other planned gifts are now on hold because of the economy, according to Angela Sosdian, the Nature Conservancy’s director of philanthropy for gift planning. That is equivalent to the amount such gifts typically produce in an entire year.
“There is long list of individuals who said they want to wait until the market turns around,” Ms. Sosdian said. “No one knows how quickly the market will rebound, and we don’t know what threshold donors are looking for to move forward.”
A 10% reduction in staff at TNC means close to 400 jobs. If the past is any guide, it will hit land managers, administrative support staff, scientists and land protection professionals particularly hard. These are the hard facts of business survival, and in most respects what is happening at these large Conservation non-profits is no different from losses in the for-profit sector of our economy. I can say from personal observation that people who work for non-profits are often motivated by a strong belief in the mission of their employer. For them it is not just a paycheck; it is significant and meaningful work. There is more at stake for these people than their jobs or those of their friends. Something core to their purpose and identity gets shaken as well.
It is difficult to make the transition from the non-profit to the for-profit world, but that is what many of these newly unemployed conservation professionals will have to do because there are hiring freezes and staff reductions throughout this sector. Those who live and work in more remote locations (and I include myself in this camp) are unlikely to find a comparable job opening with another non-profit within even a long commuting distance of home, so it means selling and trying to get new financing in a down market as well.
Investing in the Green Economy is about more than retooling our economy to produce parts for windmills and squeezing fuel from what we can grow. Heck, if you have any liquidity at all, buying land with conservation possibilities in my neck of the woods might get you a better return, if you can sit on it for a couple of years, than any other investment you might make.
I hope my friends find good places to land. You need your wits about you in times like these.