Changing World of Not-for-Profit by Nathan Mison

As Alberta’s economy and government mandates change so does the world of non-profits.  Non-profits now do much more with far less and continue to struggle with the ever-changing face of government policy.  For most this is the root of their core funding. While the federal and provincial governments remove programming from their mandates and reduce funding, how do non-profits survive? As a professional who has spent many years involved with varied levels of non-profits and now as a contracted consultant to many more, this a question that I get asked often.

The fact remains, non-profits are on the front lines of community struggle and community development. They are the experts in their fields. The opportunities that exist to utilize them as resources are insurmountable. As non-profits continue to take on the challenge of filling the gaps in services that the government fails to provide, they are continually increasing their knowledge and value as assets on community needs.

Alberta is home to almost 25,000 charities with revenues that exceed $29 billion and employ over 400,000 Albertans, yet nearly three out of every five non-profits have no paid employees.  A study done in 2010 estimated that 228 million volunteer hours were utilized in the non-profit sector 35% of which were charities.

So how do they adapt to the changing economy? With many government agreements failing to cover the full costs of service delivery, many non-profits greatest concerns are about finances and maintaining their workforce with such minimal resources. How do they grow when their greatest concern is sustainability while managing to provide the very services they set out to do?
What I tell my clients is to collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. We hear it all the time, but how do non-profits do this? Build relationships. Building productive relationships will allow non-profits to do less on their own while increasing revenue sharing opportunities.  Secondly, pool your resources. Create full-time positions between two organizations to manage finances, marketing and communications. Most non-profits struggle with communications and marketing as they do not have the resources to adequately support it independently.  Why not then partner with two or three organizations in order to tackle that issue? It’s about taking control of their resources to lessen the risk.

As with many non-profits, the world of struggling to achieve success in one year cycles is a constant battle. They are all too aware of the funding cycles. Dedicating what little resources non-profits have to funding applications, reporting, and audits becomes a task of pure operational survival. What if non-profits could secure multi-year funding? What if they could secure multi-year operational funding? Unheard of? Not really. My team and I at Mison & Associates took this approach while working with the Wicihitowin Circle of Shared Responsibility and Stewardship. In March 2012, the City increased its funding to the Wicihitowin Society from $75,000 to $500,000 annually for a term of 5 years. Although the funding provided was dedicated to specified operating expenses it covered a multi fiscal year period.

In the constant battle of survival for shrinking funding dollars, many non-profits stretch their mandates to secure the next grant. We show our clients how to focus on funding their mandates and not the opportunity. No more program hopping. All too often we see non-profits end up having to explain what it is they do when they take on new projects outside their general scope which is a tremendous waste of scarce resources.

At our firm, we like to think outside the norm. The days of “this is how we’ve always done it” needs to stop. Mison & Associates recently paired up local non-profits Adaptabilities, Meals on Wheels and the Inner City Agencies Foundation with our client, Alberta Pork for the Porkapalooza BBQ Festival, their largest annual event. The festival now provides opportunities to nine different charitable organizations creating win-win opportunities and financial successes for all. Scrap the usual silent auctions and 8 hour work days, think big, think collaboration, just think differently.