Focus on the Family forced to slash 200 from its work force

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Focus on the Family, citing a dismal economic outlook that has plagued the nation, announced Nov. 18 it was ceasing publication of several magazines and cutting more than 200 people from its staff—about 17 percent of its work force.

It is believed to be the largest job cuts in the ministry's 32-year history.

Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, made the announcement on his daily radio show, saying the action was taken in an effort to "live within the limits of what we have been given."

"We want to tell you candidly what is taking place here," Dobson said. "We are experiencing the same financial shortfall and some of the pressures that have resulted from the economic downturn in this country. Almost every ministry is going through this. Most churches are experiencing it. Focus on the Family is no exception.

"We have had a rather difficult several days here at Focus on the Family. I am grieving."

Dobson was joined on air by Jim Daly, the ministry's president and CEO. The cuts will impact 149 existing employees and the elimination of 53 open positions in an effort to cut the budget by $22 million. The cuts will bring the number of employees down to 950 from 1,150.

As part of the reductions, four of the ministry's eight publications, "Plugged In," "Brio," "Breakaway" and "Brio & Beyond" will switch from print to online editions.

Citizen, the monthly magazine that is published under the ministry's political umbrella Focus on the Family Action Inc., will move to a publishing schedule of 10 issues per year.  

In a letter to supporters Daly said the cuts will help the ministry focus on its "core mission and foundational principles, and steward the resources given sacrificially to us, particularly in the trying financial times in which we're now living."


Keeping with the core
Those core areas include marriage, parenting and defense of the family.

"We realize that the results of these decisions include the reduction or elimination of some very good programs, and, most painfully, some positions held by valued team members," he added. "Change is never easy, particularly when it requires saying 'goodbye' to those in our ministry family."

In his letter, Daly said donor contributions to the ministry had dropped well below budget amounts within the first six weeks of its fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

According to published reports, the ministry logged a $5 million shortfall in fiscal 2007-2008, on a $151 million budget.

The Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability, which monitors member ministries, listed a $2.9 million deficit for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2007, the most recent data available on their site. Total revenue for that year was nearly $145 million.

The same date reported that 83.8 percent of Focus' budget was spent on program expenses, while administrative expenses showed 8.3 percent of the budget. The remaining 7.9 percent was spent on fund-raising.

Daly said the timing of the layoffs did not come without serious discussion among the board and executive leadership team.

"The fact is that, a month-and-a-half into our new fiscal year, contributions are already significantly behind last year at this time," Daly wrote. "Given the economy and hardship our donors are facing, if we don't make changes now, we could carry an even greater deficit into the new year. Please hear my heart: making these decisions now, or even making them at all, is not what we want to do, and it is not easy. Our assurance is in knowing that we have followed biblical direction and godly counsel in asking the Lord for wisdom."


Critics seize the day
But critics of Focus on the Family are reveling in the timing of the layoffs, saying Dobson and his leaders should not have contributed to California's Proposition 8 while dealing with a budget shortfall. Focus on the Family, through its Family Action arm, contributed at least $700,000 to Proposition 8.

"If they've got half a million to spend on Prop. 8, but then they have to turn around and lay off another 202 people, that sounds like they need to focus on their own family," Mark Lewis, a liberal Colorado activist, told Public News Service in a story posted on the Colorado Independent Web site.

Ministry officials indicated, however, that the budget shortfall affected the budget of Focus on the Family, not its political division, which has its own funding sources.

While acknowledging the bleak financial outlook, Daly asked supporters to remain confident.

"Remember that the reason we labor and persevere is because our hope and faith are in the One who calls us to stand," the president said. "He has called Focus on the Family to continue to stand, armed with His Word, truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation, with a mission to nurture and defend His institution of the family."