I was invited to sit in a staff meeting of a large non-profit organisation heavily funded by the federal government working on building communities and bridging gaps in the community. I spent about an hour talking to them about what I do and my beliefs as well as answering all their questions.
One of the leaders of the organisations mentioned something along the lines of, “Young people like you can get things done rather easily and quickly, but for old people like us, we need structures so all this talk about innovation isn’t going to work for us”. What she said later was what infuriated me. In her words, “We can talk about being creative and innovative in solving social issues, but we have obligations to the government. For example, this morning, while I was driving here, I was thinking about all these really creative stuff I could do for
Of course, at this point, I had a go at her quite diplomatically. I think many people forget that community organisation exists because of community needs, and at the end of the day, that is what we’re for – not the money. I do know that we need to be talking about practicality and all that but at the end of the day, we need to understand the real role of a community organisation.
Creative and innovation solutions and funding obligations are mutually exclusive. As more and more community organisations fight for funding, more and more organisations change their structure, their programs, their work – the way they think and the way they work in order to fulfill the funding requirements and get the money. It’s a shame because we think that its OK but if these funders know what they’re talking about or know what you do – the community sector wouldn’t have existed.
It frustrates me because when I told this to a few of my friends, there are conflicting views and although I see both side of the story, I really do not believe that community sector should be focusing on capital and money, because we were born out of altruism, love and care. I know that its hard to get things done without money, but if money determines how we response to social issues, we’re quite doomed because we will always have boundaries to the way we do things. When the money talk starts, the thinking stops.
I really encourage people and executives to bring back the core of community organisations – voice your disagreements when something isn’t right. Don’t fall for the money because if it doesn’t align with your values and the real purpose of your existence, they are dirty money and you should be impolite and be daring to voice your opinions and encourage them to change their guidelines. Although funding guidelines are needed, we as community sector need to keep these guidelines informed, relevant and actually beneficial – not just adapt ourselves. There’s just so much we could adapt, and the more we adapt to what others want us to be good at, the less we are going to progress because the people who caused these issues will be the one guiding us in the end.
This post was reproduced and appeared in the October newsletter and the website of SiiWA.