For years, Charities have been struggling to meet the financial demands needed to deliver programs and services the community relies upon. They plan innovative yet labour intensive fundraising campaigns at the same time as working long hours writing grant applications for funding to sustain their programs. Then the pandemic hit and magnified the financial hardships for the entire sector. Today, more than 40% of our local charities are still facing declines in revenue with the average drop at 44%. Charities are struggling and their financial recovery is at risk. Many face increasing demand for their programs and services that far exceeds their capacity to deliver.
For some, Social Enterprise provides a possible solution to this trend. A Social Enterprise is a way for charities to earn predictable revenue through the sale of products or services to paying customers and become less reliant on funding via grants and donations. All profit from the social enterprise is directed back to the mission of the charity and the vital work they are doing in our communities.
If you are thinking this sounds more like a business, you are not wrong. Social Enterprise is social purpose business activity for charitable purposes. And it is not easy to simply shift a charitable culture to a business mindset and expect the dollars to flow in. It takes time, effort, training, and mentoring.
To address this, a group of innovative local funders are working collaboratively to deepen the impact and profitability of social enterprise activities. Five local funders including the Community Foundation North Okanagan, Community Foundation South Okanagan Similkameen, United Way, Interior Savings Credit Union and Valley First, a division of First West Credit Union, are pooling resources to offer 6-12 months of valuable coaching support to a number of enterprising charities up and down the valley.
Since the start of this partnership, 26 local charities have been supported through the Sustainable Recovery Grant program, via this collaborative funding. The social causes they represent are broad. So far, the program has supported vulnerable women fleeing abusive relationships, community mental health services, community childcare provisions, men in addiction recovery, employment services for those with disabilities, homelessness solutions, and Indigenous reconciliation training, to name just some.
“I’ve been 4 months sober since I started helping make bracelets with Jewels of HOPE” says one of the participants of this recently launched social enterprise. “I’d like to do more of this please. It feels good to do something productive like this. Makes me happy. Keeps me focused on good things. Connects me with some great people”
A variety of enterprises have taken flight – bracelets are created and sold at market prices, new fee-for-service counselling services are offered, delicious soup is made and distributed to local full-paying customers, bikes are refurbished and sold, and food trucks earn revenue at festivals. And none of these are one-off “fundraisers”. All are viable, long-term businesses with sales forecasts, paid staff, regular customers and profits. With no shareholders other than the community members in need, the impact to these charities’ missions is significant.
“The charities that participate in this program get help to build financial resilience, improve their impact, and develop their leadership skills. It’s all possible because of the collaborative approach by local businesses and funders” explains Leanne Hammond, executive director of the Community Foundation North Okanagan. “By working together to enrich the sector, charities get to build predictable revenue streams and functional operation plans to handle the unexpected. When we partner together, we’re all so much better.”
For more information about the Sustainable Recovery Grants program, please go to: www.purppl.com.