Serious concerns about non-profits' futures

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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The Centre on Philanthropy will be hosting a forum discussion tomorrow evening for its members to hear first-hand information from a select panel of experts representing the economy, donors and finance.

This event is part of a series of measures that we are taking to address our serious concerns for the future sustainability of the non-profit sector.

Member forums are an opportunity to discuss and collaboratively address issues that affect the non-profit sector.

The decline of the economic conditions in Bermuda over the past few years has resulted in the human services agencies that are vital to the health and well being of Bermuda’s citizens to experience a perfect storm — increased demand for services and increased difficulty in raising the money needed to provide these vital services.

Together, social services providers greatly lessen the burden on Government to provide a healthy society for our community.

We all benefit from the collective effort of nearly 350 dedicated, registered non-profits in Bermuda who contribute daily to a wide range of social issues, including poverty, gang violence, sports, families, the environment, ageing population, and so on.

Beyond the critical role that they play in addressing social needs, their significance in the Bermuda economy is reflected in generating approximately a little less than $70 million in revenue, or 1.2 per cent of the gross domestic product, and employing approximately 839 people or 2.4 per cent of the workforce in 2013 (Bermuda Government Department of Statistics, 2014).

The revenues generated in the form of grants, fees for services and so on are directly reinvested in the community via programmes, salaries and facilities.

The economic situation is having a ripple effect in our community. As services are cut — discount in groceries, financial assistance, etc — non-profits have to provide increased support to those in need.

But without the financial support from Government (more non-profits were cut in this Budget), coupled with mergers (this translates to a decrease in donor dollars), and the escalation in the social needs of our population, we must look at things differently if we hope to survive as a country.

Our non-profits are under unprecedented pressure and sometimes outside their remit, and some will not survive. Some non-profits face closing down because of the economy, with less staff doing more work for less pay.

Our non-profit membership would like to see some form of remuneration or inclusion in Government social budgets.

Between the new Charities Act, Centre on Philanthropy trainings, the Inter-Agency Committee trainings and the Bermuda National Standards Committee certifications and accreditations, charities continue to improve their organisational and professional skills required to run their services more efficiently.

While recognising that Government has to cut costs, charities are the ones providing the support to those in need and delivering Government’s social agenda.

The solution would include a model similar to the US model, where the government provides the financial support to skilled charities to carry out the work of meeting the social needs of the community.

The Centre on Philanthropy’s mission is to promote and advocate for an effective and sustainable third sector by providing training and education, fostering collaboration and supporting volunteerism.

We do this by providing direct support through training and education, providing individuals with services that support non-profits, and by supporting the community in supporting non-profits. We exist to serve the non-profits.

• Elaine Butterfield is the executive director of the Centre on Philanthropy