Figures show that Kiwis like nothing more than starting their own charity, but competition for the dollars is dwindling amid tough times. Jo Cribb explains why that might not be a bad thing. 

In the race to vaccinate, community providers are leading the way. With close and trusted connections with those they serve, they are proving to be effective in ways public services could not and perhaps cannot.

When Carmel Sepuloni, the Minister of Social Development and Employment, announced funding for food banks struggling to keep up with demand under Level 4, she was clear that community providers were the frontline of supporting whānau and families most impacted by the current outbreak.

It doesn’t make sense then that these very community organisations will likely be holding sausage sizzles to make ends meet. 

Philanthropic grants and collecting loose change from street appeals have had to form part of the financial strategies of many providers for decades. 

Our personal generosity and the decisions of grant-makers is essentially propping up government shortfalls in funding for what most of us would consider essential services. 

Given this, a report released this month on the state of the community sector in 2021 tells a story we should all take notice of.

JB Were’s Cause report presents a comprehensive view of the health of our community sector: of tight operating budgets, of doing more with less in the face of increasingly complex needs and increasing demand, all the while becoming more reliant on donors and the goodwill of their employees and volunteers.

Managing a community organisation now must feel like being in Squid Game. Just like the Games, there has been a consistently high number of charities dropping off and deregistering.

Not quite the show we want to binge-watch as we eyeball 2022 with numbers of those relying on support from community providers unlikely to decline. 

But it was not all bad news.

We are a nation of self-starters. It seems we like nothing more than starting our own charity. Per capita we have twice as many charities as Australia and three times as many as the United Kingdom.

While there will always be a place for small community groups targeting specific needs, the downside of having so many charities is that few get to scale. 

Twenty-seven thousand registered charities and 115,000 community groups is a lot of overheads – a lot of photocopy contracts, of operational duplication with small pay runs, of time wasted developing HR policies for small teams and so on. 

The Cause Report found that the community sector continues to grow but at the slower rate. Tough times has meant that the usual 10 percent of new charities starting each year has dwindled to 3 percent. 

Hopefully that means the current funding available does not have to stretch any further or thinner and charities are battling fewer new entrants in that race for the cash in the giant gold piggy bank. 

And that’s something I will happily shake a tin on the footpath for. 

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