Not-for-profits (NFPs) are used to doing it tough. Delivering vital support for the communities we serve is far from glamorous, but we’ve made it work, no matter what.
However, increasing uncertainty over budgets is putting these crucial community services at risk – hampering our ability to function at a time when Victorians need us most.
The state is facing fiscal pressure, and NFPs are nervous. With the new financial year fast approaching, many of us simply don’t know what funding we will receive. This delay in reconfirming government funding compounds budget constraints and leads to significant uncertainty in the renewal of essential community programs.
Even before the additional demand resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and global financial crisis – and already struggling because of significant constraints on their ability to resource and deliver required services – NFPs have seen a manifest increase in demand for broader and more diverse community services. They’re simultaneously losing the means to respond.
As an example, my organisation COTA Victoria continues to run critical state-wide telephone helpline services with almost no direct program funding. Our Older Men New Ideas program – in which older men meet to support each other’s mental health and wellbeing in 28 groups across the state – has not had funding for several years.
Seniors Rights Victoria, our key state-wide service providing support and legal advice to those impacted by elder abuse, does exemplary work with the funding it is allocated. Despite measurable results and evidence that demand is beginning to outweigh the service we can provide, the program only has guaranteed funding until the end of June.
This is sadly the norm. Most NFPs mightn’t know if their programs will receive renewed funding until the close of the financial year. Try and imagine working in an industry or sector that operates within this environment of uncertain job security year upon year. The number of not-for-profits and charities that do is quite significant.
The nature of the beast means people employed in organisations like ours – reliant upon those funds to operate – only have a job until the end of that yearly cycle. Add to that the terrifying prospect of funding being renewed at a significantly decreased level, or at a level that’s not in line with growth in demand for services.
In events such as these, organisations must approach their dedicated, hard-working staff and have difficult conversations about a reduction of hours or, in the worst-case scenario, the termination of their employment. If specific programs aren’t renewed, then organisations like ours can lose entire departments overnight.
The domino effect is immediate; the cessation of vital community programs and services will directly impact the people that depend upon them, and at a time when people are under pressure.
Household budgets are also under the magnifying lens; earlier this year, credible government and analyst data reported a marked increase in Australians who are under financial stress. While ever-rising mortgage rates and cost of living expenses such as energy, food, and essential services affect us all, they have the largest impact on what’s undoubtedly one of our most marginal, vulnerable, and excluded cohort: older Victorians.
Across our nation, significant parts of our older population are seeking increased support in areas such as the aged pension, aged care services and support, employment services, housing assistance, financial counselling, legal advice and support for matters such as elder abuse, and other crucial community services.
At a time when the state is under pressure, NFPs that can meet the needs of the people they serve are essential. They cannot be ignored.
We sincerely value the ongoing support of the Victorian Government for funding organisations like ours. Without their support, so many organisations that provide essential services simply would not exist.
The solution to these problems is obvious; we can all work better, together.
First, we need a guarantee that community services will be supported and maintained throughout the coming years. Now is not the time to turn off the tap on funding that will impact thousands of older Victorians.
An early, collaborative, and inclusive budget, funding, and program renewal process is required. Critical decisions on funding adjustments from year to year are made too late and without adequate consideration of the real impact on organisations.
Rather than 12-month funding cycles, program and organisational funding should be provided for longer periods of time. While some programs do receive up to three years of funding, this practice has been an exception in recent years. In a constrained funding environment, the economies of scale and time can allow NFPs and community services to remain viable.
Beyond funding certainty, we need to see a sustainable and longer-term funding increase. Being not-for-profit does not mean we can report a deficit; NFPs must remain viable and solvent.
As we await the 2023-2024 Victorian State Budget, it is vital that we take this opportunity to ensure Victorians will have the support they need in the years ahead. We are well worth the investment.
The above article was first published to LinkedIn by Chris Potaris. It has been republished here with his permission.