World Vision trims workforce as expenses rise, grants decline

Federal Way-based World Vision cut its U.S. workforce by 10 percent over the past 15 months, laying off 60 employees around the country — half of them in the headquarters city — because of rising expenses and declining government grants.

World Vision U.S. President Rich Stearns also reduced funding this year for international field offices for the first time in his 15 years as the agency’s leader, calling it “a painful decision.”

The cuts at one of the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organizations were felt locally in May when two youth development specialists based in Fife were laid off.

They provided training for helping young people deal with community problems, including youth violence and education, said Brian Boyd, who works out of World Vision’s Fife warehouse.

“We had to scale back some of what we could offer,” said Boyd, who links up community groups with World Vision.

Since late 2012, 30 workers have been laid off at the Federal Way headquarters for World Vision U.S., the agency’s largest support office.

The vast majority of World Vision’s work is done internationally. It helps people in need in nearly 100 countries through development projects and by providing food, shelter, clean water, disaster relief and other assistance.

Citing a couple of tough years, Stearns in January wrote donors who sponsor children overseas, asking them to increase their monthly contribution.

“The last 12-24 months have been among the most challenging of any we have ever faced,” Stearns said.

“Our costs are rising and we are finding it harder to recruit new sponsors while the needs of children continue to grow,” he said.

His letter was mailed to 408,000 donors. It marked the first time Stearns had sent out a letter asking child sponsors to increase their giving due to cutbacks, the nonprofit agency said.

“I want you to know that as your partner in this ministry, we’ve tightened our own belts over the last few years in an effort to continue helping as many children as possible,” Stearns wrote. “This included the difficult decision to reduce our staff in the U.S. by 10 percent.”

Stearns was out of the country and not available to comment for this story.

World Vision’s reductions actually extend back to the early recession years, when many nonprofits were hit hard and scaled back. It laid off 95 U.S. workers in 2009. And since the fall of 2010, it has laid off 120 U.S. employees — including 52 in Federal Way.

It had a temporary bump in 2012: The number of World Vision workers in the United States peaked at the end of November 2012 with 1,262 employees on the payroll, including 919 in Federal Way.

But after that, the decline resumed. Fifty-eight layoff notices went out last May. A number of vacant positions also were not filled.

As of this month, World Vision’s total U.S. workforce had dropped to 1,136, including 822 in Federal Way.

Meanwhile, the number of World Vision employees worldwide has increased from 40,000 in 2009 to 46,000 in 2013.

Revenue for World Vision U.S. is down, even though donations from individuals have continued to increase, said Julie Regnier, senior vice president of human resources.

Government grants and other income sources for World Vision have declined, the agency said.

Expenses — including salaries, health insurance and costs of fundraising such as credit card fees — have risen, Regnier said.

The layoffs were part of World Vision’s efforts “to reduce a growing deficit between contributions and funds needed for our field programs,” agency spokeswoman Sheryl Watkins said in an email. “Steady increases in expenses in recent years have not produced the required corresponding growth in revenues.”

Regnier said people were laid off during 2011-13 in proportion to what donors gave money for. Domestic programs and administrative workers felt the brunt of those cuts, she said.

“We were rightsizing programs for what we raise funds for,” Regnier said.

World Vision spends most of the money it raises domestically in other countries.

In 2013, World Vision U.S. provided $745 million in program services outside the United States, compared with $55 million in the United States.

The Federal Way headquarters funds much of the agency’s global work. It includes offices for administration, marketing and a call center for recruiting child sponsors who pledge to give $35 a month.

The Pacific Northwest Storehouse in Fife and four others in the nation are a hub for World Vision’s U.S. programs.

At the warehouse, World Vision gives out crayons, craft items and other school supplies to teachers from 150 local schools where at least 70 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.

It also distributes food, clothing and building materials to churches, food banks, Boys Girls Clubs and other nonprofit organizations who pay a $300 annual membership fee.

The layoff of the two youth development workers “was definitely difficult for everyone,” said Reed Slattery, site manager at Fife.

Nine employees are still based at the 40,000-square-foot warehouse loaded with pallets of donated goods.

World Vision is expanding distribution of the warehouse’s supplies since cuts resulted in the closure of the Los Angeles storehouse in September. Slattery said the Fife facility will send a truck filled with supplies to Los Angeles every other month starting in May.

Nearly halfway through its current budget year, the pace of layoffs has slowed at World Vision. Since September, six U.S. workers have been let go, including four at Federal Way, Watkins said.

Agency officials say they don’t anticipate major layoffs this year but may still lose positions to attrition.

World Vision was Federal Way’s fifth-largest employer in 2012, the most recent figures available.

Patti Mullen, of the Greater Federal Way Chamber of Commerce, said she was aware World Vision had implemented cuts but expressed confidence in the organization.

“I think World Vision is one of the most fiscally responsible organizations I’ve ever encountered,” said Mullen, the chamber’s chief executive officer. “They’re a wonderfully well-regarded employer here in Federal Way.”

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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