Encouraging More Growth Thinking In the Non-Profit World

beautiful-2297215_1920Over the past three months, the world has drastically changed from the one that we are used to. Not only in the way we, as individuals, go about our lives, but also in how businesses and organizations conduct their daily operations.

Though all organizations big and small are deeply feeling the effects of the pandemic and its related closures, it’s commonly understood that nonprofits and small businesses have taken and will continue to take the biggest hit, since their livelihood depends mainly on their capacity to offer in-person services and merchandise to their clientele.

 

This month, we had the pleasure of talking to Alison Brewin, the ED of the Vantage Point, a charity whose purpose is to support not-for-profit organizations. Alison explained how they have managed to keep their engines rolling through these troubling times.

How has your organization been impacted by the pandemic? How have you adapted your women-oriented services to adhere to the new federal and provincial quarantine regulations?

I can speak on two levels, for Vantage Point and the results of our survey of the Nonprofit sector in BC.

Vantage Point doesn’t have any women-specific programming, though our work with nonprofit sector leaders, a sector that is approximately 80% of women, does impact women’s lives on so many levels. In terms of the sector, we know that equity-seeking organizations and those serving vulnerable populations are most at risk of closing. In April, respondents to our survey (1100 non-profits in BC) reported that as many as 23% may face closure in the next few months. Services were disrupted for 78% of organizations, and the majority also facing a drop in revenue. See the whole report here.

Vantage Point was immediately faced with a ⅓ drop in revenue, but we have managed to redo our programs as virtual programs and get some emergency funding to help us get back on track. Our work has changed in that we immediately went back to our core purposes in order to understand and take up an appropriate role. Our mandate is to convene, connect and equip non-profit leaders to be successful in their organization’s mission. In this time of rapid change, we are drawing on that mandate to create new ways for nonprofit leaders to connect and collaborate.

What advice do you have for women who are trying to keep their businesses afloat during the pandemic?

Consider interns and students from business schools and other schools to help make plans for renewal and reopening. Students have lost so many opportunities for work and summer jobs that where possible, engage them.

Consider collaborating with other businesses and the non-profit and charitable sector. One way some restaurants have stayed open is by applying for the wage subsidy and having staff produce meals for residents in the downtown eastside and families in need. Other options include providing services and supplies at cost for non-profits scrambling to meet community needs which keeps the business and its employees going, and will allow it to get back to profit-making as the economy opens up. In other words – act like a non-profit through the change and try and pay yourself for your labour, but don’t make this period the time you bring in larger profits or grow. Consider interns and students from business schools and other schools to help make plans for renewal and reopening. Students have lost so many opportunities for work and summer jobs that where possible, engage them.

What are some systemic changes you foresee as being necessary for women’s support services to grow post-COVID?

We need to encourage more growth thinking in the nonprofit world. The most successful nonprofits (see a study called Forces for Good: the practices of high impact nonprofits) are ones who see growing successful programs and services as a shared leadership and collaborative activity. Be entrepreneurial in opportunities for growth. For example, many small businesses are struggling, but perhaps a non-profit could take that small business over and grow it as a way to provide stability and revenue for the non-profit? We also need Foundations and Charitable donors to contribute more of their capital right now – for example, CRA requires a philanthropic foundation or trust to distribute at least 3.5% out every year as a way to ensure the owners of those funds aren’t just sitting on the fund. There is a call for that to be raised to 5%. What about even higher for a period of time and have the funding directed to building stability and expansion of excellent programs that serve women?

What do you think the future of supports for women starting and growing businesses will look like after quarantine?

I think governments in Canada recognize the value of small business and economic growth of the for-profit sector. There will be ‘shovel-ready’ programs governments invest in, but those have historically been focused on creating low wage jobs in big resource-based industry or public infrastructure. But if we can advocate for seeing things like childcare as public infrastructure, that will help women entrepreneurs and leaders use their considerable skill to generate economic activity that will benefit all of us. 

If we can advocate for seeing things like childcare as public infrastructure, that will help women entrepreneurs and leaders use their considerable skill to generate economic activity that will benefit all of us.

If infrastructure funding is focused on universal internet access, the mompreneur and talented people living in rural and remote communities will be able to actively create and contribute to the creation of economic activity that contributes to public and women’s well-being. Universal access to the internet will allow women to access educational opportunities from their homes and communities and build economic independence through education.

I hope that is what supports post-COVID will look like!

What types of services or resources do you currently offer that would be helpful for women throughout the pandemic?

We have leadership, HR and planning programs and services. We are convening groups to identify and amplify indicators that focus on community well being rather than the GDP. We provide consulting and training to those running women’s services to help them stabilize and grow. We provide respite to leaders through networks and gatherings. We provide information that can help an organization succeed.

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