Community Scoop

Funding non-profits without strings, do unicorns exist?

marionblakeMarion Blake

Chief Executive | Platform Charitable Trust

Every day community organisations wrestle with ways they can get money to do the work they’re good at. The wrestling match starts the moment someone utters the dreaded words “where can we get funding from”.

In May, Vu Le came to NZ. He is a fantastically irreverent activist from Nonprofit AF (formerly and he has much to say about the dysfunctional relationship between non-profit organisations and the system of funding. Vu came to give a key note speech to a Philanthropy NZ conference room packed with the givers of money. Since the conference was really expensive and not open to receivers of money, I don’t know what he said. However, in a good move by Philanthropy NZ they offered a chance for the sector to have a conversation with Vu outside of the conference.  Vu was brilliant. I mean, who would have thought non-profit haiku was a thing.

Want this major gift?

Easy. Just solve poverty.

Hmm no. Not like that.

Getting money for good things that people say they want and that really help is much more difficult than anyone could imagine. NGOs dream of finding a wealthy philanthropist who will just fund them to do the right thing. The sort of person who doesn’t need a quarterly accountability spreadsheet that measures your ‘social impact’.  Or perhaps a Government funder who is really interested that a non-profit is committed to cleaning up the mess that the last round of ‘fiscal prudence’ (cuts) made to mentally ill people. Or the unicorn: a funder who is prepared to fund the non-profit the real cost of a member of staff (what do you mean you can’t recruit a nurse for $15,000 less than the state will pay?).

Some funders spend quite a bit of time exploring the dreams and visions of the non-profit sector. They ask us to write lots about our strategic direction and ideas (or moemoeā for the bicultural application) and how these will be realised with the money we are applying for. Mostly our dreams cost more than the year’s allocation of funding, and the rejection letter often comes with suggestions such as halving the idea (can you help half a person?) and you need to “seek alternative revenue sources”. So that brings up the moral tightrope of pokie money. The Department of Internal Affairs booklet ‘Pokie Proceeds: Building Strong Communities’ gives advice about how to apply for the millions of dollars raised. This is a hard call for the many organisations that everyday see the shocking impact on the very communities that feed the machines.

So as we arrive at the end of the financial year, thousands of non-profit hours will go into audits, annual reports, templates for statements of service performance and various other machinations of accountability. We will continue to suggest other efficient ways to get money to the people who help the people who need help and we will continue to practice our haiku.

We could do things better

It could be easier

No thanks, not this year



This blog has been contributed by a member of the ComVoices network. The views presented here are not necessarily those of ComVoices.

ComVoices is a Wellington based network of national community and voluntary sector organisations. It was established so that sector organisations would have a more powerful voice at Government level and in the community.

Click here for our website