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Charities fare well and stay positive, despite economic downturn

Charities roundtable: Centre on Philanthropy executive director Pamela Barit Nolan; Troy Lewis, president of youth for the Young Men?s Social Club; Kristin White, executive director of Raleigh International; Lisa Howie, director of the Bermuda National Gallery, and Family Centre executive director Martha Dismont.

In spite of the Island’s much-publicised economic woes, many local charities are faring well, according to the Centre on Philanthropy.“I’m very positive about 2012,” said executive director Pamela Barit Nolan. “There’s a lot to deal with, but a sense of collective responsibility is there in the community.”Urging charity heads to engage one another in dialogue and keep an open mind toward potential partners Ms Barit Nolan said that despite a drop in corporate donations, and a tough round of cuts in last year’s Budget, mission focus should be the deciding factor for Bermuda’s third sector.“Sometimes, a non-profit’s worst enemy is that they start from a position of ‘having less’ rather than focusing on their vision for the community and their mission,” she said. “If they have that mission focus and are able to show impact, the funding comes.”Along with heads of four other organisations, the Centre called a round table of charities, to show how innovation and collaboration is working for its members.Although all charities continue to need supportive financing, not all have not been hit with a decline in donations, according to Raleigh International executive director Kristin White.The youth development group has been able to expand its scope in the face of heightened need, Ms White said.“It depends greatly on the organisation,” she said. “For social agencies, right now, the economic challenges are leading to greater social challenges.”As a charity dealing with “young people with prior risk issues”, Ms White said: “We’ve been doing our part to give additional support.”“That’s been true especially with us,” agreed the Young Men’s Social Club (YMSC) youth committee President Troy Lewis.Originally a 1920s community club, the Angle Street, Hamilton-based YMSC is reporting “great positive impact” with its increased emphasis on its educational programmes. The organisation plans to start building a multifunctional facility in 2012.“This will give us the opportunity to offer more to the community, service a wider range of people and create bridges to partner with a number of other organisations and charities,” he said.Mr Lewis said three times the number of youth are showing interest in YMSC programmes some of which now come with a waiting list. The club received charity status in 2006.“I think the increase in educational components is helping,” Mr Lewis said. “They come straight from school and get their homework done and their enrichment in English, maths and science, instead of just going to a programme.”The group’s After School Assistance Programme (ASAP) now runs five times a week, up from twice.He added: “I find that if we start by thinking about financing, it never comes. We have to create the dream, prepare the plan and presentation, and deliver the passion. Financing will come.”Although YMSC is broadening its sports programme, Mr Lewis said: “Our main focus is to get families to understand that you want your child to be a student athlete, not just an athlete. You need grades. We’re focused a lot on getting our youth members to help out their parents by getting scholarships.”Although Bermuda National Gallery executive director Lisa Howie said her group has seen a drop in support for its annual appeal, her charity enjoys support from volunteers as well as “private links to a bigger network of people”.Networking behind the scenes also means less money spent on advertising.The harsh reality of the economic recession may have caused some donors to focus on more urgent, “front-end social services”, Ms Howie said.However, noting that “what’s most beneficial is collaboration”, Ms Howie pointed out that many of the Bermuda National Gallery’s programmes had reached young people in need through other groups, such as the Family Centre or the Duke of Edinburgh Awards Scheme.Another side effect of working together is “spin-offs”, she said.The Bermuda National Gallery’s highly successful Youth Camera Action programme, which teaches photography skills to middle school students, started with seed money from the Family Centre.The gallery’s programme Art + Me, which arose from a collaboration with the Masterworks Foundation and the Kaleidoscope Arts Foundation, is now in its second year as a pilot programme, targeting Gilbert Primary School.The Bermuda National Gallery has responded to tougher times by networking more closely with teachers to ascertain children’s needs, she said.“ We’ve also been finding creative ways to cut costs. Our creative goals haven’t changed.”Ms Howie also sang the praises of financial transparency, as a key means for charities to court donors.Set up in 2004, the Bermuda National Standards Committee, a charities accreditation organisation, has been “great for us to look into our governance, and it’s allowed for an articulation of our structure and a rearticulation of our mission”, Ms Howie said.“Our annual report is something I’m really proud of, because it shows the Bermuda National Gallery has nothing to hide. People want to see where their money is going.”Added Ms White: “A lot of people have been talking doom and gloom. But organisations that are focused on their mission can show donors that they’re meeting a need.“There’s a quote that people don’t give money to charities that need money. They give money to charities that meet a need.”And she urged struggling charities to make use of the Centre on Philanthropy’s teaching resources.“The Centre provides charities with assistance in areas like programme development and programme management their workshops are there and they’re affordable,” Ms White said. “Charities definitely need to take advantage of the resources that are available. That’s what gets us through these difficult times.”Believing in a cause does not necessarily translate into organisational know-how, she added.“There are people on the non-profits who are passionate and focused, but who don’t necessarily have the knowledge to run a charity. People have to reach out to others. That’s the only way your programme will be sustainable.”For Martha Dismont, of the Family Centre, whose organisation spent all of last year struggling to make up for a $150,000 shortfall from Government, the fund raising battle coincided with a surge in demand.“Right now, the need from the community is huge, and there are a lot of families that are struggling,” she said. “I know middle income people are really struggling. Last year, Family Centre had a waiting list of almost 20 families. Now we’ve got that down to about 13. But there’s still a huge problem out there.”The Youth Development Zone, launched last year by the Family Centre in North Hamilton, is a programme aimed at exploring “what’s going on behind the scenes,” she said.“It brings agencies together in a specific area, to have a collective impact. It’s about empowering that community in a very specific way, and donors are very interested in helping with that. If the need is to get into community, donors are very enthusiastic, and with this programme, the donors were right behind it.”The group also called upon would-be charities to make sure their well-intentioned plans don’t accidentally replicate work being done by existing charities.As Mr Lewis noted: “Getting together also helps us to avoid duplicating our efforts.”The flip side, Ms Dismont added, is that existing charities should open their doors to newcomers as well.“If you’re an established organisation, are you necessarily looking at all the needs in the community?” she said. “There are two sides to this coin.”She called upon anyone with a dream of planning on launching their own charity to “connect with other organisations” first.“Organisations are being creative and collaborative,” she said, “but we still need supportive funding.”For a look at what’s out there in the Island’s third sector, go to the Nonprofit Directory at www.centreonphilanthropy.org.