Social Change, Social Innovation

Community Sector is Dirty Job

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 but then I had to stop because I have to think about all these reporting I gotta do”.

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.

Rant over.

This post was reproduced and appeared in the October newsletter and the website of SiiWA.

  • Antria

    Unfortunately for small community organisation currently depending on Government Funding in order to exist (providing services that should be provided by government – such as support for victims of sexual assault) if they don’t meet the requirements of the people funding them, they will cease to exist. SO…would it be better to be functioning in a way that is not as good as it could be, or not at all? Maybe the change needs to happen at a government level? What do you think?

  • Jasonleeecj

    Yeah this is so true. Ultimately, there has to be a balance for both sides to come to an agreement. A balance, not a compromise.

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  • Anonymous

    I think that small community organisations, if their cause if very much needed and compelling, and they have a good structure, work ethics and ways of engaging all their stakeholders (from clients, volunteers to supporters and donors), they don’t have to depend on the government for funding, and be limited to all the ridiculous regulations put on by government. I believe that because of organisations that keep nodding their heads to what the government says, just because they have the money, it makes the government the boss and the org the clients (or the money slaves). I think this is wrong – there needs to be a healthy partnerships and the org should take responsibility in making the right choices, pressuring and advocating for equitable regulations and work alongside the government, not for them. I think the change needs to happen on all levels.

  • Anonymous

    You hit the nail on the head, Jason! :) Exactly what I posted in the reply below! :)

  • Brisbaneboy

    Ehon. Loved the post. As a member of the board of a not for profit that is rather small (15 employees $3.5mil pa turnover) I agree with you. And I share the same enthusiam that you have for this 110%. My experience with the employees and the sector though have been very dissapointing and disenfranchising. People working int he sector after a long period of time can become very institutionalised, and regulated by their need to aquit their funding (which occurs quarterly). The process is needless over the top and time consuming and the government are just so apathetic about the loss of resources from the goals of the organisation and obsessed with their own self-importance and love of their process. If you dont obey the rules you can get slapped around by them.

    In a free market economy I agree with you that these organisations should be able to find other sources. and i’ve spent a couple of years looking for these sources. While we have found some, we can’t cover the whole amount and the burden of government continues.

    After a long time, employees really do get locked into a mindset. They also get this mindset that they only need to perform to the requirements and thats it. No more will occur. Why? generally because they are paid minimum wage under the respective award. why is that? that is all the government will allow us to pay them. Otherwise they set delivery requirements that are impossible to meet man-power wise without more people earning less. All because again our great government knows best and their minimum wage should be good for everyone – not that anyone in government is on it.

    So I agree with you – there needs to be change. For 2 years I’ve been the member of a board that continues to push for it. but there are many barriers. Both government and sector employees being the biggest.

    Its a shame.

  • ehon

    Wow – Brisbaneboy, I totally missed this – I don’t know why this wasn’t emailed to me. I cannot thank you enough for your comment because it really reaffirm what I thought was happening. It is rather disencouraging and can be frustrating, and I wonder if it is possible for the non-profit sector to come together to push for a change at the governmental level.