Back in the black: Focus on the Family

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Battered by the recession, the departure of its founder and a suddenly smaller donor base, Focus on the Family suffered mightily in 2009 but appears to have finally turned the corner.

The Colorado Springs-based organization had a $355,000 surplus, according to its Form 990, filed with the Internal Revenue Service last month

That’s a far cry from the $1.1 million deficit reported in the previous year.

And in an even more striking turnaround, cash and cash equivalents increased during the fiscal year from $3.6 million to $22.2 million.

The 990 covers the period from Oct. 1, 2008 to Sept 30, 2009, a time during which the organization went through numerous, often wrenching, changes.

Among them: The organization’s iconic founder, 73-year-old James Dobson, stepped down as CEO and chief spokesman. He was replaced by 48-year-old Jim Daly.

In that same period, revenue dropped from $146 million to $130 million. Donor support, which accounts for most of the organization’s income, declined from $133 million to $119 million.

How did Focus respond to these challenges?

It did what many organizations do when sales dry up and markets falter: it cut back.

Focus’ workforce was reduced by nearly 300 positions over the last 18 months.

The organization closed four print magazines and spun off three others. Radio, TV, and video production costs were slashed, though programming hours remained relatively unaffected.

Not that it closed its wallet altogether.

According to the 990, Focus spent $20.8 million producing films, video and books, $20.2 million on radio broadcasts to an estimated 240 million listeners in 143 different countries, and $12.4 million on magazines and newspapers.

Under Daly, the organization also has become noticeably less partisan, less confrontational and less aggressively political.

Daly at the same time tapped Focus’ base to help.

So powerful is the brand that Focus took in $2.5 million in contributions just days after Daly announced the Tim Tebow Super Bowl commercial, which would re-establish Focus’ national image.

Elsewhere, salaries and benefits, at $65.6 million, were by far the organization’s largest expense. Although the 990 lists 1,318 employees, that number reflects the total number of individuals who received some compensation during the fiscal year. Focus now has 850 employees.

Daly’s salary was $259,116, while Chief Financial Officer Wade Crow made $153,989. Only 25 employees made more than $100,000.

Focus also spent $820,000 on legal fees, $927,000 to employ a professional fundraising organization, $1 million on conferences, conventions and meetings, and $2.2 million on travel.

Focus made 50 small grants to other 501(c)(3) organizations. They included:

$60,998 to the Colorado Family Institute for “voter and legislative assistance.” CFI is one of many “family policy councils” that Focus has funded during the past two decades. While the councils do not endorse candidates, they are advocates for the policy and legislative initiatives that Focus has historically supported.

$100,000 to protectmarriage.com of Riverside, Calif., to support efforts related to that state’s same-sex “marriage amendment.”

$210,452 in non-cash assistance to KOR Ministries of Colorado Springs for a newsletter promoting KOR ministries and explaining its charitable purpose. KOR Ministries, headed by the son of retired Focus founder Dr. James Dobson, acquired three of Focus’ youth-oriented magazines in March of 2009.

Sums ranging from $9,300 to $43,000 to 39 pregnancy centers located in more than 25 states for the purchase of and/or training in the use of ultrasound machines for pregnancy care. This program, which has been in effect since 2004, is intended to discourage elective abortions by presenting pregnant women with ultrasound images of the fetus.

$24,000 to Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, to support the construction of a soup kitchen and dining hall.

While its surplus is just back in the black again, Focus’ balance sheet is robust, with $75.6 million in assets and $15.4 million in liabilities. The organization’s largest liability, $9.5 million in accounts payable, is more than offset by $22.2 million in savings and temporary cash investments.