We were delighted to read the province’s recent announcement of one-time financial support for 16 non-government organizations (NGOs). Discretionary funds are invaluable for these non-profit community organizations to move forward on projects and activities, and we applaud this move.
Supporting the NGO sector is a good investment for so many reasons; the very nature of NGOs means that in addition to creating meaningful jobs, they also are tackling social, environmental or financial injustices. Many provinces have taken steps to recognize and value the contribution of this sector, and rightly so. This announcement, however, did leave us with a few questions.
Anyone who has worked within a non-profit will tell you that one of the biggest challenges every year is securing stable, predictable funding. NGOs, like all businesses, need a revenue stream for operational and project-based expenses. Unlike most businesses, NGOs often provide an essential community service that is not financially sustainable without government assistance - and one that the government does not or cannot provide.
While these one off financial awards are lovely surprises, they don’t provide for long term investment or the resulting planning that is so critical in this sector. In short, this doesn’t replace the need for ongoing, consistent support.
There are literally hundreds of NGOs on PEI doing important, sometimes irreplaceable work. Many do not receive any funding from government; of those that do, most receive funds on a year-to-year basis, and often for only a fraction of their actual operating expenses. When there is new money that can be allocated, we believe the process by which these deserving organizations can apply should be an open and transparent one. We’d love to know how these recipients were chosen, and the process other NGOs should follow to have their names in the pool in the future. While not all NGOs can receive funds like we saw today, a link to strategic outcomes and priorities would go a long way to helping the community understand and value these contributions and the plans/solutions that this funding supports.
Complementing direct funding support with simple policy changes would go a long way to providing that needed sustainability as well as valuing the contribution this sector brings to our province. For instance, making support streams through Innovation or Finance PEI accessible to the NGO sector and including non profits as eligible for federal labour market funding for skills development would be an obvious next step, and we look forward to seeing government take action on this.
The NGO community sector is the third largest in the province, employing over 6500 Islanders - let’s recognize this sector as the economic and social dynamo that it is, and not make it an afterthought.
Hannah Bell is the Finance Critic for the Green Party of PEI and MLA for District 11
Lynne Lund is Economic Development Critic for the Green Party of PEI and Deputy Leader