It's clear that governments are stepping back from previous granting levels as they seek to further reduce taxes and simultaneously address deficits (Globe & Mail). The unstated assumption appears to be that someone else will step in to fill the funding void, lest we find critical supports failing. However, there are only so many revenue avenues and they all have limits or issues. For example, charitable donations by individuals in the USA are often cited as a benchmark for growth here in Canada, but the aggregate numbers are skewed since a significant part of US giving goes to churches and religious groups. Giving levels in many other charitable sectors are actually already quite close, so based on US benchmarks there may not be much room for growth.
Growth in Corporate donations is also frequently cited as an anticipated source to fill revenue shortfalls for charities. However, as various articles have pointed out, this is not without its own challenges. Here are some of the issues that arise as we pursue corporate donations as the bulwark for charities:
- Corporations are by definition focused on profits. Thus, for some corporations this will result in their "donations" being about what they can gain from their "gift". This has a real potential to mutate charities as they seek to obtain the funds they need.
- Metrics matter, and measuring program Impact for charities is the new normal. However, what Corporate donors seek to measure may not actually be well aligned with the true Mission of recipient organizations. The catch is the Golden Rule - the one with the gold gets to make the rules. So there is a real risk that charities will measure what their corporate donors say matters, not what needs to be measured.
- Many issues that charities seek to address are highly complex and deeply rooted. These problems won't be solved quickly or easily. Corporations are well-schooled however in the world of ROI and quarterly results. This is not to suggest that there can't be learnings, but the risk is that as charities become ever more reliant on corporations this "short term" thinking will diminish true long-term Impact and solutions.
- Some corporations provide their support to charities through provision of their services and expertise. It's a great model, but if governments steadily erode their financial support to charities, and corporations shift increasingly into this model of pro-bono work, who will fund keeping the lights on and pay the rent?
Many Charities would and do welcome greater corporate support. And there are many corporations that are already generous, thoughtful, strategic and energetic partners with the charities they support. The question that needs to be asked is how much should charities be forced to rely on corporations, and how do we avoid the pitfalls noted above? Most importantly, a public debate on what kind and level of support we want charities to receive through our government is clearly needed in the near future.