Outlook for 2010 - Voices from the Sector

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

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Just over a year ago, the economic downturn had already begun to impact Bermuda’s charities, so The Centre on Philanthropy asked local donors, charities and other stakeholders in Bermuda’s nonprofit sector to predict what the year 2009 would bring.  At that time, there was an expectation that our sector would see a simultaneous decrease in sponsorship, plus an increase in demand for charitable services.

This prediction was spot-on.  Charities - especially those that service youth, families and the poor - experienced a surge in the need for their programmes.  At the same time, many donors were unable to give at the same level they had in previous years.

What many of us didn’t see coming was that, throughout 2009, our community would be rocked by several incidences of violence.  And now, with a road fatality and a murder within the first week of 2010, community stakeholders are asking what can be done.

With that in mind, The Centre on Philanthropy asked our network:
‘What do you hope the nonprofit sector is able to accomplish in 2010?  What do you think the nonprofit sector needs to do in order to truly tackle the social issues Bermuda is facing?’

DEFINING AND COMMUNICATING NEEDS

A common theme was that, first and foremost, we must truly define what the needs are, so that all of us – charities, donors, and government - can meet them. 

Brian Madeiros, Vice-Chair of The Centre on Philanthropy and President of Coldwell Banker Bermuda Realty said, “We must honestly define what the problem is.  Some say that crime, drugs, unemployment, and housing aren’t problems but rather symptoms of a problem – possibly a deteriorating family structure.    (If this is the case) I hope the nonprofit sector will continue to work with those Bermudian families that are at risk and requiring assistance.”

Pamela Barit Nolan, Executive Director of The Centre on Philanthropy agreed, “I encourage nonprofits to spend some time to really take a look at what they are doing and put more effort into programmes that are making a difference and to be honest about those that are not and cut them.  Nonprofits have to be brave and make changes to meet current needs.  They should do more research in the areas of the community that they are trying to serve and be sure that programmes are actually meeting the current needs of their constituents.”

Myra Virgil, Programme Executive, The Atlantic Philanthropies also talked about the importance of research.  “It will be important to implement the recommendations of existent reports in which we have already invested a great deal of energy, expertise and spirit (eg, Sustainable Development, Hopkins report on Education, ‘On the Wall’ study by Prof. Mincy, etc).  From the sector itself, we’ve learned that non-profit leaders and their organisations would welcome support in the way of investments in gathering better data and having access to information that can influence their decisions, measure performance, document success and drive policy change.”

Once the needs are defined and charities better understand how they can structure programmes to address these social issues, the importance of communicating this with the wider community, especially donors, was stressed.

Major Doug Lewis, Divisional Commander of The Salvation Army stated, “We need to educate the donors.  The majority of people give according to knowledge and not according to their means.  In other words, we need to get the message out there of what the need really is.”

Cris Wineinger, founder of Wineinger & Associates and fundraiser with 20 years experience agreed, “Nonprofits must engage their donors in meaningful conversations.  Seek donors’ input regarding your challenges and your plans for the future.  Teach your donors about the nature of your business at every opportunity.  Most importantly, listen to your donors during those conversations.  There is no doubt in my mind that Bermuda’s charities will continue to have a far greater impact on our island that government and business combined.  The successful charities will do it through strong, meaningful partnership with their supporters.”

COLLABORATION

The Centre has always believed that ‘meaningful partnership’ is the key to an effective nonprofit sector.  Indeed, it is our vision that charities will collaborate with each other, government and the private sector with the goal of building a better Bermuda.  Many share this vision, as evidenced by the comments calling for more collaboration, which could lead to less duplication of effort and lower costs.

David Lang, director of The Bank of Bermuda Foundation stated, “Nonprofit organisations and Government need to communicate with each other and work together to share the limited available resources, in order to maximise the possible community benefit.”

Major Lewis said, “We need to avoid duplication.  There certainly are enough social ills to go around so that we can spread out rather than tripping over each other.”

Ms. Nolan continued, “Nonprofits should be looking carefully at their operations to see if there are ways to reduce costs through collaboration.  Can office space be shared? Can technology platforms be more efficient?  Can you work with vendors more creatively as a group of like-minded charities rather than as individual entities to negotiate discounts or barter for services?  And, if nonprofits find themselves in a funding crisis but know they have a critical programme – perhaps a merger with a more financially viable organisation is not out of the realm of possibilities.  Put ego aside and think about the people you are serving and reach out to see if the passion and energy and great outcomes can be preserved as a programme with another organisation.”

Tina Nash, National Director of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award for Bermuda encourages us to collaborate with those whom we seek to serve, especially vital for youth charities and programmes, “It is my hope that we all work to support the healthy development of our Young People – and by extension our community.  To do this with integrity, honesty and transparency, we MUST ALL include their voice, their perspective and their input into every decision we make on their behalf.  Too often adults believe we know what is best for Young People, without ever having consulted them.  We must ask ourselves, ‘What do Young People want and need from us to support their healthy development and why don’t we provide it, or if we do - why don’t they know about it.  What are their concerns about their future?’  I encourage all to organise activities that promote an increased understanding of the importance and benefits of Youth participation in all aspects of our society.”

Ms. Virgil felt that collaboratively investing in social justice and capacity building would be the most effective means of tackling the current issues facing our island. “There is an opportunity for foundations, private donors, socially responsible corporations and the Government to identify, strengthen, convene and nurture the next generation of community leaders and activists.  This means investing in the leaders of nonprofits, cultivating young voices, and connecting emerging leaders with each other and with opportunities for development.  Local philanthropists can drive some of this change by funding some of what we call ‘capacity-building initiatives’.  And, to do this work successfully, there is a larger and more sustainable need for public/private/non-profit collaboration.”

Matt Ambrose, director of The Centre on Philanthropy and Vice President of Fireminds Ltd. believes that technology can be an excellent tool for collaboration, “I’d like to see Bermuda’s third sector consolidate and collaborate together through technology and services in order to achieve the individual objectives of each organisation.  Doing so will require an open mind, education, training and perseverance.  The benefits include streamlined processes, bi-directional communication and more effective use of staff and volunteers’ time.”

TAKE ACTION

In closing, many expressed a desire for Bermuda’s nonprofit community to ‘grab the bull by the horns’ and take action.

Ms. Virgil expressed a desire for the nonprofit sector to take an active role in adressing the rising gang violence.  "We hope that both the nonprofit and public sectors prioritise the delivery of high quality, integrated youth services and policies.  We see a need to promote and ensure funding for sucessful and socially innovative programmes, on a while, from youth programming to other vulnerable populations.  We also see a need to strengthen and support community-based and grassroots programmes that are led by people who are on the ground and who are meaningfully connected to people tackling these issues."

Major Lewis says, “I hope Bermuda’s nonprofit community accomplishes bigger and better things.  I hope we improve upon what we are already doing, and expand to do those things that are not presently being done.”

Mr. Madeiros stated, “It would certainly appear that the community recognises the need to increase their charitable participation.  More volunteers will invariably wish to become more encouraged, and this assistance must be strategically organised and galvanised in order for our community to receive the maximum benefit.”

Ms. Nash highlights the importance of starting now. “The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the year commencing on August 12, 2010 as the ‘International Year of Youth: Dialogue and Mutual Understanding’.  But this does NOT mean that Bermuda’s Public, Private, and Nonprofit communities have to wait until August to focus the much needed attention, effort and support required by our Young People.”

Ms. Nolan concludes, “Nonprofits must be bold, step out, dare to be different.  Try new solutions or bring back old ones that might be better suited to the current time and space that we are in today.  Ask your volunteers to be more involved, ask your Board to provide stable but innovative leadership, and work hard to ensure that your organisation is prepared to face the community’s current needs.  The Bermuda Community has survived many challenges – the current issues are severe and some we have never faced before – but with faith, focus, positive energy and collective hard work, we can and will make a difference.”