Focus on the Family eliminating 202 jobs

November 17, 2008
photo - Focus on the Family Chief Operating Officer Glenn Williams on Monday fielded questions about the job losses. Photo by (The Gazette, Mark Reis)
Focus on the Family Chief Operating Officer Glenn Williams on Monday fielded questions about the job losses. Photo by (The Gazette, Mark Reis) 

Because of a weak economy and cash-strapped donors, Focus on the Family said it is eliminating 202 jobs, the deepest cuts in the 32-year history of the Colorado Springs-based Christian nonprofit. The ministry laid off 149 workers, and cut another 53 vacant positions.

The cuts announced Monday slash Focus' local workforce by nearly 18 percent - from about 1,150 to 950. Twenty percent of the cuts are in management.

The layoffs come just weeks after Focus announced it was outsourcing 46 jobs from its distribution department. Focus also laid off 30 workers and reassigned 15 more in September 2007.

The organization also cut its the budget from $160 million in fiscal 2008 to $138 million for fiscal 2009 in anticipation of tough times.

The reason for the layoffs and budget revisions Donations are down, and Focus relies almost entirely on the charity of others.

That problem is reverberating throughout the nonprofit sector, said Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp. president Mike Kazmierski.

"It's probably going to get worse," he said. "When people have to cut back, the only place they have to go is their discretionary income."

Glenn Williams, Focus' chief operating officer, said that more than 95 percent of the organization's income comes from donations, with book sales accounting for the remainder. Donations to Focus set a record high in fiscal 2008, he said. But donations began to decline in October, which starts Focus' new fiscal year, and after polling major donors, Focus expects this holiday season - normally the most lucrative time of the year for nonprofits - to be even more painful to the bottom line.

"Looking at October trends and talking to donors who are not in a position where they can give, we thought we'd be facing a more severe decision in January or February if we waited," Williams said.

The cuts are taking place throughout the organization. The most visible change will be the elimination of the print editions of four of its eight magazines.

The content of the magazines - Plugged In, Breakaway, Brio and Brio & Beyond - will remain online.

Plugged In, for example, has seen its print subscriber base dip to 30,000 while its Web site attracts 1 million unique visitors a month, Williams said.

Macroeconomic realities and changing technology - not the political cycle - drove the decisions, said Focus spokesman Gary Schneeberger.

A separate political arm, Focus on the Family Action, sees its funding ebb when there are no elections on the horizon, but that's not the case with Focus on the Family.

Although Focus grabs most of its headlines on political topics, it spends only 6 percent of its budget in that arena, such as the roughly $500,000 the organization spent to support the Proposition 8 gay marriage ban in California.

The other 94 percent of its budget is dedicated to its far less sensational mission of dispensing parenting and marital advice via Dobson's radio broadcasts, as well as through books, magazines and Web sites.

Schneeberger said the money earmarked for this year's political battles did not affect the pot of money for employees.

"It's a sign of the times," Kazmierski concluded. "In the case of Focus, we believe it's part of the economy, and as the economy recovers we expect a lot of those jobs to come back."

In the meantime, the 149 laid-off employees will enter a tough job market in the Colorado Springs metro area, where job growth is flat and unemployment has crept up over 6 percent.


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