The Illinois Budget Crisis: 4 Key Questions to Ask Your Nonprofit Organization by Sarah Hurwit Gomel

Published: almost 2 years ago by Lauren King.

Illinois is currently the only state in the country without a budget, and there is no end in sight. While the $600 million recently approved for higher education gives us some hope, the State has yet to adopt a budget for fiscal year 2016, which started on July 1, 2015. Without a budget to detail how revenue will be increased or spending will be cut, Illinois is currently spending far more money that it has and education and social services are put at risk.

The nonprofit community and the vulnerable populations it serves are particularly harmed by the situation. Without a balanced budget, vital services have been cut across the board and the well being of children, the disabled, the elderly, and victims of domestic violence has been jeopardized. A recent United Way of Illinois survey found that 85% of the 444 agencies it queried this month have reduced the number of clients they serve since July, when the state's annual budget should have taken effect.  These agencies provide vital services, including emergency housing, aid for disabled children, home-delivered meals for seniors, and employment training.

Now is the time for associate boards to understand the crucial role nonprofits play in our society and take on advocacy, even if they’ve never done it before. In order to do so, we’ve compiled four simple questions to help you understand how the larger crisis is playing out in your immediate world and what you can do to help.

1. How is this impacting the community you serve?

At a recent board meeting for Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), I learned about a young mother who was struggling to find a childcare plan for her newborn before she could go back to work. Due to lack of state assistance and without family support, she had to quit her job to care for her child.  We also heard of a survivor of domestic violence who had spent months working with CFW grantee Family Shelter Services to find a job so she could leave her abuser, achieve financial independence and care for her children.  Two months ago she was able to secure a new job and an affordable apartment. With no budget solution in sight, she recently lost her child care assistance and is now living with her abuser again.

Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. But these concrete examples help make our understanding of what might otherwise be a dry topic personal and immediate. While many people acknowledge that the lack of budget is a problem, many people don’t see the nuances that come of it because it doesn’t personally affect their day to day lives.  Thus, it’s important to contact your nonprofit organization to find out how the communities and causes you are passionate about are affected.

2. How is this impacting the services you provide?

The story across the board is that private philanthropy cannot make up the budget gap. You may find that the college students you work with won’t be getting tuition help and the demand for grants is higher than ever before. Learn what you can about how the organization’s staff is dealing with the crisis; the answers may surprise you.  Even if your organization is not directly impacted, it may have partners that are experiencing funding cuts, which then has indirect implications. The overall impact is often multi-faceted for many nonprofit organizations. As representatives of the organization, it’s important that you accurately understand the impact in case community members ask you.


3. If the budget crisis isn’t resolved soon, what steps will the organization     take to address any budget shortfalls?

Without a compromise and budget solution, even an imperfect or an impermanent one, nonprofit organizations are having to take a hard look at how they can weather the storm. Many are not only cutting programs and services, but are laying off or furloughing their staff members. Find out what you can about the hard choices the nonprofit is facing and what the timeline looks like. Especially for associate board members who would like to serve on a Board of Directors one day, this is a great opportunity to learn the very real struggles related to sustainability and public funding. Take time to learn from the organization’s leaders so that you understand the issue now, but so you also have a better understanding of nonprofit finances in general.


4. What can we, as an associate board, do to help?

Politics aside, this is an issue that needs to be resolved. As an associate board member, you have a stake in finding a budget solution soon. You may be asked by the nonprofit to contact your political representatives, and give a voice to its at-risk and vulnerable clients. Because written letters are often more effective than emails, perhaps you want to turn one of your regular meetings into a letter-writing session or a phone-a-thon. If so, we’ve compiled contact information for key legislators below to help you take action.


*Note: This list does not include your State Representative or State Senator.  All contact information for State Reps. may be found online here and State Senators here.


Governor Bruce Rauner


Web Contact Form



Office of the Governor

207 State House

Springfield, IL 62706

Phone: 217-782-0244



Office of the Governor

James R. Thompson Center

100 W. Randolph, 16-100

Chicago, IL 60601

Phone: 312-814-2121


Senator John J. Cullerton (D)

6th District

President of the Senate


Springfield Office:

Senator 6th District

327 Capitol Building

Springfield, IL   62706

(217) 782-2728

(217) 782-3242 FAX


District Office:

1726 W. Belmont

Chicago, IL  60657

(773) 883-0770

(773) 880-9083 FAX


Representative Michael J. Madigan (D)

22nd District

Speaker of the House


Springfield Office:

300 Capitol Building

Springfield, IL   62706

(217) 782-5350

(217) 524-1794 FAX


District Office:

6500 South Pulaski Road

Chicago, IL  60629

(773) 581-8000

(773) 581-9414 FAX


Senator Christine Radogno (R)

41st District

Republican Leader


Springfield Office:

Senator 41st District

309G Capitol Building

Springfield, IL   62706

(217) 782-9407

(217) 782-7818 FAX


District Office:

1011 State Street, Suite 210

Lemont, IL  60439

(630) 243-0800

(630) 243-0808 FAX


Representative Jim Durkin (R)

82nd District

House Republican Leader


Springfield Office:

316 Capitol Building

Springfield, IL   62706

(217) 782-0494

(217) 782-7012 FAX


District Office:

16W281 83rd St.

Suite C

Burr Ridge, IL  60527

(630) 325-2028

(630) 325-2291 FAX


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