Monday, April 30, 2012

One Hopeful Number for Charities

Many of my posts lately have focused on the challenges the charitable sector faces, and how difficult it's been for many to survive.  Of course, charities have tremendous strengths too.

A short list of these positive attributes include:
  • Passionate, motivated and dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters
  • A reason for being that stirs true commitment, beyond a simple profit motive
  • Generally lean and efficient operations
  • Favourable tax and financial supports
And counter-intuitively, I would also include the fact that there is increasing demand for the services that most charities and non-profits provide.  It will be difficult for the sector to truly "collapse" when there is so much demand...

But the one most hopeful number is this: 71.5%.  That the percentage of employees in the "voluntary and non-profit" sector in 2008 who had a college diploma, a university degree, or a post-graduate degree.

In short, the hundreds of thousands of people working in this sector are also highly educated.  I don't think it's too far a reach to suggest this equates to a level of creativity, of thoughtfulness, and simple brainpower that bodes well for our viability.

Yes there are storms ahead, but the number 71.5% may well be one glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Charities and Office Space: New Kinds of “Home”

Not every charity has an office, and some of those that do sometimes don’t incur significant costs. For example, some charities own their space (more often the case for more established or larger organizations). Other charities have agreements with Board members or sponsors / donors who provide space for free, or arrangements with a level of Government to pay nothing or well below market rent.

And of course for many small charities there are no such costs: run out of basements or church halls their spaces are donated as well.

Of course, if you are a charity that owns property and is paying Property Taxes, check and see if you’re eligible for a rebate. For example, in Toronto charities can receive a 40% rebate.

But for many charities, the reality is that rent and associated costs are often the second or third largest line items on any Budget (usually after Salaries and/or Program Costs). So in our world of funding reductions and challenging economic times charities and non-profits of all kinds are thinking about how to better manage this cost.  In addition to ensuring you have the right expert support on the real estate side, here are some themes I'm seeing on this front.

Often the starting place is to see if you can be one of those fortunate organizations that can get free (or inexpensive) space from a Board member or sponsor / donor.  It’s more often requested than recevied, but it's a great place to start, and we all know that you don’t get if you don’t Ask!

Being thrifty by nature, charities have also explored a variety of shared space and “co-location” options over the years. Find the right partner(s) and suddenly your “common” areas like reception space, meeting rooms and kitchenette become a shared cost – not to mention the photocopier and utility bills. Not to be undertaken lightly, this option requires detailed partnership agreements, but has a proven track record.

Another similar option to co-location spaces is a Hub. These shared spaces are differentiated by providing a “one stop shop” for participants and clients, where the organizations co-locating find further synergy due to their joint focus on a particular cause, issue or geography. Some are led by one larger organization (e.g. a United Way), others by ad-hoc groups who can more effectively address issues by operating together.

The last office concept I’ll mention for in post is virtual offices for charities. Based on the for-profit model used by Regus, Telsec and others, charities are now setting up virtual office spaces for other charities. One of the earliest versions I’m aware of (founded in 1998) is CAN (Community Action Network) Mezzanine in London England which proudly advertises on their website that for £93 per week you can rent a fully serviced desk.

More on Canadian innovations on this front in the near future.