Charities strain to do more during hard times

Monday, August 5, 2013

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As appeared in The Royal Gazette, July 22, 2013

By Ceola Wilson

Bermuda’s economic reality has placed more strain on local charities hard pressed to meet the increasing demand for social services in a shrinking economy.

According to the Centre on Philanthropy, agencies that once provided specific services are now being called on to simultaneously feed families and help keep the electricity on because no one in the house has a job.

Executive director Elaine Williams said donors today are also more conscious and “more intentional about what their funds are impacting”.

With over 400 registered non-profit charities in Bermuda she pointed up the significant role they play “beyond the critical role of addressing social needs”.

Statistics show that $70 million in revenue was generated by charities in 2010 which collectively employ about 900 people, or 2.3 percent of the workforce.

“The revenues generated in the form of grants, fees for services, etc, are directly reinvested in the community via programmes, salaries and facilities,” said Ms Williams.

“Charities that provide basic human needs cannot be allowed to fail. Although current trends will likely continue to strain the capacity and challenge non-profits to respond.”

Last week this newspaper reported that for the first time in seven years, one of Bermuda’s leading charitable organisations recorded a first quarter financial shortfall.

Salvation Army Divisional Commander, Major Shawn Critch said it was “one of the lowest campaign results” recorded over the past decade.

The $100,000 decline sent up a red flag in the lead up the Army’s biggest campaign of the year, the annual Christmas Red Shield Appeal.

Maj Critch said the current downturn also “speaks to the issue of capacity because there’s only so much that people can give”.

Coalition for the Protection of Children founder Sheelagh Cooper agreed.

“It is of particular concern that the Salvation Army is struggling from a funding standpoint as they are one of our key partners in the association of food aid providers.

“Without a doubt the Salvation Army is one of the most vital charitable foundations on the Island. I doubt that one could find another organisation that delivers a greater portion of its donor dollar directly into the hands and mouths of its clients,” said Ms Cooper.

She noted that with the Salvation Army’s financial shortfall so early in the year is a key cause for concern for charities in general.

Asked to respond, Ms Williams said: “Non-profit organisations are not intentionally trying to get the funds before the next charity does.

“They are earnestly trying to provide their services to a much larger constituency, who are demanding more services sometimes outside of the scope of their capacity, with the same and increasingly less resources.

“The decrease in funds available to charities is due to the combination of Government funding, company mergers and companies that have left the Island.

“Charities have to be far more creative than in the past to either raise funds or create revenue streams from within their services,” she added.

“There has been much speculation on the number of charities operating in Bermuda and the fact that there is much overlap.

“However, there is no available research that identifies how many people need what services and how many people are being served by what organisations.

“What non-profits are doing more is collaborating with services pooling their resources to maximise their impact,” she said.

“There will always be a need for charities and as long as the establishment of charities is monitored by entities such as the Charities Commission and the Registry General who collectively vet, assess impact, register and promote best practices, things should only improve.”

Home Affairs Minister Michael Fahy recently announced plans to modernise existing legislation governing local charities within the current Parliamentary session.

On that note, Ms Williams said that with the revised Charities Act about to come into effect, will happen while “the demographic of ‘helping services’ is changing drastically with so many people unemployed”.

“The constituents of helping services could be anyone, but there’s still room to accomplish more,” she said.

“Opportunities abound as the Island continues to contend with a broad range of social issues including poverty, gang violence, affordable housing and an ageing population. I think the Government will have more of an awareness of the charitable sector by way of monitoring and regulation.

“What would be wonderful is greater communication between the two sectors which would allow for a mutually respectful dialogue and balanced decision making.

“We exist to serve the non-profits, and we do this by providing direct support through training, education and support services.

“Rallying the community to support the non-profits can have a tangible impact.”

The Centre on Philanthropy will host a two-hour presentation on ‘Successful Collaborations’ on July 24 at 12pm.

For more information call 236-7706 or visit www.centreonphilanthropy.org.