Folks, we need to change the way we approach non-profits in our community.
Year after year we’re finding out these cornerstone organizations are floundering to the point of closure. And each time a group comes forward with news that termination is on the table, the people rally their opinions – and sometimes their pocketbooks. This week, it’s St. Pat’s. Last year it was Moncton Headstart. Before that, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Moncton. But do those heartfelt outpourings actual impact change beyond paying the bills for a few more months?
I’ve served on the boards of more than one non-profit. I can’t speak to exactly what’s happening at any of the Moncton groups I’ve mentioned, but I do have an understanding of the challenges, both financial and operational, that face charities and non-profits, especially smaller organizations.
I believe that part of the trend we’re seeing in the Moncton area is a reflection of the age of the organizations struggling. St. Pat’s Family Centre opened in 1964. Big Brothers Big Sisters started operating in Moncton in 1973. Moncton Headstart was founded in 1974. All three have served our community for generations – meaning people have become complacent about supporting them, despite the groups’ deep ties to the community.
I’m sure just about everyone reading this agrees these organizations provide great value and important resources in our community, and that given the opportunity, you’d support these groups with your time or your money or both. But did you think of them on a day-to-day basis, or even once a year? Until the headlines rang out, showing that Headstart was operating ‘paycheque to paycheque,’ that Big Brothers Big Sisters stopped making matchs, or that St. Pat’s was closing its doors, did you often think about how these organizations were funding their work? Not likely.
Keeping any organization running for decades is a challenge, but there are particular complications for non-profits and charities that often go overlooked. Take for example the ‘non-profit starvation cycle,’ a term used to describe the imbalance between a group’s desire to focus its funding on programing and its need to spend money on organizational infrastructure. Charities and non-profits are often deeply scrutinized by the public when it comes to finances and how much money goes toward overhead and staff costs; yet wouldn’t we all agree that for an organization to thrive, it must have skilled employees and proper administrative systems in place?
Of course there will always be an added challenge for small non-profits and charities to balance their financial demands when their service is focused on helping community members in low income brackets. Adam Kruszynki, a strategic leader working in Canada’s non-profit and charitable sector, recently shared his five-point ‘micro-framework’ for helping such groups capitalize their resources. After focusing on your purpose, you must simplify your process: “cut the scope of what you do … accept that loss and let it go” he writes. This is a hard step to take and one we as a community must stand up and support. After decades of operating, our long-standing non-profits will make changes we must support, or we risk losing all instead of just part.
And when we lose these organizations, we’re losing much more than the service they were providing and the memories they created. We’re losing another piece of the puzzle in attracting people to our community. Without the services provided by St. Pat’s, Headstart, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and so many more wonderful non-profits in the Greater Moncton Area, we will continue to watch families choose other cities and towns rather than settle here.