Not all charities struggling in poor economy

Some local nonprofit organisations and charities are struggling in a sluggish economy. Others count their blessings that they continue to be able to raise the necessary funds to continue the work they do.  

Since the economy took a downward turn, government has cut funding for a number of nonprofit organisations. The Cayman National Cultural Foundation and the National Trust for the Cayman Islands have reported that government funding has been cut by about one third in recent years.  

Donations – both private and corporate – are also down for several organisations.  

“Our financials definitely indicate there has been a steady decline in donations/funds,” said Carolyn Parker, director of the Cayman Islands Humane Society. “To counter this, we took immediate steps to reduce overheads by reducing our operating costs.” 

Other organisations have had to cut programmes and staff.  

“We’ve had to put some of our programmes and initiatives on the back burner,” said Marcia Muttoo, Managing Director of CNCF. “We have always had to be creative and innovative in the way we fund raise because, even in the best of times, the arts do not get the biggest slice of the pie.”  


Social Service Organisations 

Not all charitable and nonprofit organisations are struggling, however, and some report significant growth.  

The Cayman Islands Cancer Society is one such organisation. This growth means they can help more people. The Cancer Society now has 56 patients qualifying for financial aid, compared to just eight, a few years ago.  

“We have been very fortunate,” said Jennifer Weber, operations manager of the Cayman Islands Cancer Society. “We have not experienced a decline in funding, although honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. I know from experience in the US that when economies go bad, the things that survive the best are social services organisations. If someone has just $1 to give away, they are more likely to give it to an organisation that serves people, than, say an animal welfare group – not that their cause is not worthwhile, but that’s just the way it is.” 

Ms Weber said she believes this is due in part to the fact that everyone knows, or knows of, somebody suffering from cancer, and also because the organisation makes itself visible. 

“We’re very active and we’re out in the community, so people think of us more, and because they think of us more, they give to us more,” she added. “We ask a lot – fundraising is hard work – but we don’t just ask for money, we ask for donations for specific things, be it the chemotherapy unit, free mammogram testing or educational initiatives, so people know where their donations are going.”  

Acts of Random Kindness, which aims to provide support to the poorest families in Cayman and those who have ‘fallen between the cracks’, has also experienced steady growth since it was established in 2006.  


Personal Stories 

Despite the organisations’ success, Tara Nielsen, one of the founders, reports greater difficulty raising the necessary funding in the past year or two.  

“That’s why we take a different approach. We present personal stories. It’s not just saying ‘can we have some money?’ It’s saying ‘can we have some money for X person who has a brain tumour’. These stories touch people personally and it definitely helps,” she said. “It’s harder to raise money, but because our outreach is so significant and we are local, corporations supports us.” 

As an organisation, ARK has grown so much since it was formed six years ago, that Ms Nielsen said it has become difficult to manage at this size.  

“We’ve decided to go back to a smaller organisation, because as it gets bigger it gets more wrapped in red tape and it’s harder to react quickly,” she added.  

Still other nonprofit organisations have been founded – and are thriving – in a less than buoyant economy. Feed our Future was established in 2011, with the aim of ensuring that every school child receives a hot, nutritious lunch every day.  

“Families that at one time may have been very secure have been affected by unemployment or limited employment opportunities, broken marriages, rising costs of living, health concerns, and similar issues. This has resulted in an increase in the number of hungry children in our schools. There are hundreds and hundreds,” said Stacey VanDevelde, the organisation’s chairwoman. 

They aim to support students with school meals each year, and therefore need to raise $120,000 through a combination of corporate and individual donations, other charities, fundraising events and other campaigns.  


Pick your cause 

“There is certainly stiff competition as there are a number of very worthy charities on the island,” Ms VanDevelde said. “However, I think it’s a personal choice for donors in selecting which to support, as it will typically be one that aligns with their concerns and the areas which they feel strongly about. 

Because Feed our Future is staffed entirely by volunteers, the organisation has no overheads.  

“With Feed our Future, it is very easy for a donor to see the impact of their support in that the funds they donate will absolutely assure a hungry child on our programme a healthy meal tomorrow,” Ms VanDevelde said.  

In a community such as Cayman, where charitable organisations are plentiful and fundraisers an almost weekly event, individuals and corporations cannot hope to support every worthy cause out there. Some will choose which organisation to support for purely personal reasons, but many will opt for those which can clearly demonstrate how those donations will be spent, and the individuals who will benefit. Transparency and good governance are key to securing funding and donations.  

As Ms VanDevelde said, “Those charities that demonstrate accountability to their donors and invest their money well will have an easier time with fundraising.” 

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