Cutting Costs: 25 Ideas to Try—Number four in a series of five blog posts

Cutting Costs:  25 Ideas to Try—Number four  in a series of five blog posts on Surviving Financial Crisis This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts around the issue of Surviving a Financial Crisis for downtown organizations.Many of these ideas are great for any heritage organization or nonprofit.

 The first three blog posts in the series discussed how to organize after you hear the news that cuts are ahead and undertaking scenario planning.  The most recent post had 25 ideas for quickly expanding revenue.  This post deals with 25 ideas for cutting costs.  Board member should focus on doing both: raising revenue while cutting costs to survive a financial crisis.  Our final blog post in this series will deal with communicating your message. 1. Review all vendors, determine if there are any less expensive alternatives, bid these out. Some downtown organizations insist on buying all supplies and services locally, even if it costs more to “buy local.”  Consider if this policy makes sense in a crisis.  But if  "buy local" is a critical part of your mission, stick with it.

2. Switch to a cheaper phone system such as VOIP (voice over Internet protocol) such as services like Skype.

3. Completely eliminate the land line or the fax line or switch to a cell phone--Many online fax opportunities no longer require a separate land line for the fax machine.  Have a tech savvy volunteer investigate the phone options for you to save on telecommunication costs.

4. Reduce the number of paper newsletters you send--Many local revitalization organizations have started to use e-newsletters or mass emails to communicate to their residents and visitors.  There will always be a need for traditional media coverage because not everyone has a computer.  Perhaps you can reduce the number of paper newsletters you send, but you still need to communicate regularly to your supporters, even more so when times are tight.

5. Start an e-newsletter to cut down on paper newsletters--Stop sending the paper newsletter to everyone in town.  Consider collaborating with the local newspaper to create a Main Street news insert that gets the word out.

6. Use on line bill pay, eliminate routine mailings, get rid of the postage machine if you have one-- If you rent your postage machine, talk to the vendor about options to eliminate it.  Consider bartering with other nonprofits that do not have a postage machine and spread out the cost if you decide to keep it.  Tell the Board that the next Board packet will be posted on the web site or sent via email.

7. Renegotiate your rent--Have a conversation with your landlord  about cutting costs.  If your lease comes up within the year, consider other options than renewing. Ask for a cheaper rental rate.

8. Move to cheaper or free office space if you can.

9. Sublet some of your office (if permitted in lease)--If you are stuck in a lease for a few more years, see if you can sublet some of your space to cut costs.  Read your lease and talk to your landlord.  Look to other nonprofits first as possible “roommates” since you probably already have a coffee machine, work spaces for volunteers, and a meeting room that would be appealing.

 10. Reduce energy costs, change vendors--Many gas and electrical companies have been deregulated and you might be able to take advantage of cheaper utility costs.

11. Barter for supplies or services such as design/printing/bookkeeper etc.

12. Reuse office supplies/paper –If you do not already used the backs of discarded paper for draft documents, now is the time to try it.

13. Seek in-kind donation of office supplies/equipment --If you are going to cut the supply budget in half, ask board members and volunteers to look through their home offices for reams of paper, labels, pens and other frequently used supplies to donate to you.  Put requests for specific supplies or technology in your newsletter or e-blasts.

14. Get an unpaid intern/coop student from an art school to do all your design work --This might not be the best option for a start up organization that must present a polished image to be taken seriously, but for a long-standing organization with a familiar logo and style sheet, you might be able to turn over some routine work to a design student.

15. Bid out all insurance costs to find savings

16. Cut all salaries temporarily--For a one-person operation as many Main Street organizations are, this is a very hard choice.  Work with someone on your board that has good HR skills to explore all other options available before taking this step. 17.  Offer furloughs instead of salary cuts--Staff may be more amenable to this option because it brings additional days off.  However, make sure the office is really closed on furlough days. Again for a one person operation, this is not idea. Get good HR advice first.

18. Reduce jobs from FT to PT--Some jobs cannot be cut from full to part time, but some might.  Consider if you need a regular part time assistant or if the person can be seasonal or hourly.  Guarantee the number of hours for the year, but schedule them when you need the time most. Again, check with your attorney or HR person for advice

19. Convert a PT job to a paid internship--Some jobs might be excellent internships rather than part time positions such as a summer time event manager or farmer’s market manager.  Internships however require closer supervision because they are meant as a learning experience. Get good HR advice first.

20. Convert select jobs to consultants rather than salaried positions (if possible) -- This option may not be possible because the organization would be flouting IRS rules.  Work with an experienced HR professional or your attorney to discuss any staff changes like this.

21. Cancel any non-essential subscriptions--Read the local paper online.  Do you need to be a member of the countywide chamber in addition to the local chamber?  Decide what is most important and eliminate the rest.

22. Limit all non-essential travel--Cancel all travel except that required to maintain your status as a state Main Street program.

23. Eliminate events/activities that cost the organization money, rather than raise money--This might not be popular with committee members that work on these events, but this should be seriously discussed.  Ask these committee members to identify revenue opportunities that would make their event at least break even, if not create a surplus.

24. Eliminate events/activities that only break even--Again not a popular move in most communities, but break-even events take a great deal of volunteer time.  Insist that all events bring in at least 10% above their costs.

25. Go paperless in the office-- If there is nothing but letterhead and bright orange copy paper left in your office, it will be easy to go paperless.  Try it for a month.  Post all documents in Google Docs or other on line file sharing programs. Let us know what you think of these ideas.  Better yet, let us know if you tried these ideas and they did not work for you. Remember, Board members must cut expenses at the same time as raising revenue in the midst of a financial crisis. The final post in this series of five about Surviving a Financial Crisis will be about how to communicate your message once the Board has decided its approach to the crisis.