07/09/2016 - 15:07

Consolidation shores up NFPs

07/09/2016 - 15:07

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Volunteer groups Community Mates and Big Help Mob are the third NFP pair in WA to amalgamate within the past month.  

Consolidation shores up NFPs
POWERHOUSE: Chris Evans says the recent acquisition will unite services and create a volunteer powerhouse to support volunteers and charities. Photo: Attila Csaszar

Volunteer groups Community Mates and Big Help Mob are the third NFP pair in WA to amalgamate within the past month.  

Collaboration within the not-for-profit sector is gaining traction as a viable option for driving new operational efficiencies, and as a means of survival in the current economic climate.

In late July, Perth-based Useful Inc announced it was halting operations (Useful is the creator of Big Help Mob, a volunteer hub that links individuals to charities).

Useful Inc chair Sara Culverhouse said the organisation and its subsidiary had struggled to stay afloat due to the tough funding environment.

“We decided that, rather than compromise the quality of the services we offer to non profits, it would be better to close down operations,” Ms Culverhouse told Business News.

Not long after this decision was made public, however, an opportunity emerged when fellow NFP Community Mates, which also sources volunteers for charity and NFP work, recognised the potential benefits of a tie-up between the two organisations.

Ms Culverhouse said the Useful Inc-Big Help Mob model had supported more than 100 non-profit groups with 3,000 volunteers, and contributed over 10,000 volunteer hours since its launch five years ago.

“Initially we were really well funded by a number of grants, so we hired a lot of staff to do that,” she said.

“Once the grants ran out we were left with a lot of staff and not a lot of money … so we transitioned to a volunteer model and operated that way for about a year.”

She said the early flow of funding had enabled investment in technological infrastructures to support its activities.

This included website development and the creation of an app that allowed it to list volunteer opportunities via a sign-up portal.

Community Mates founder Chris Evans said that, given the similar service offering paired with the attractive technological capabilities Useful had developed, the acquisition of assets was a no-brainer.

“Currently with our system people sign up via email, the process works but it doesn’t offer the same user experience,” Mr Evans told Business News.

“This will change how we operate in terms of the experience we give our volunteers; it makes it easier and will enable us to scale and grow even faster.”

Community Mates was founded in Perth 2012 and now operates nationwide, having helped organisations such as Beyond Blue, Youth Focus, Cystic Fibrosis WA, and Legacy Australia to secure volunteers.

“It has become harder to secure funds in the sector and harder for charities to operate,” Mr Evans said.

“Our service enables them to focus on their core business about making a difference; they don’t have to worry about spending so much time finding and securing volunteers.”

Community Mates has also assisted charities in Austria, Dubai, the UK, Canada, China, and Guatemala.

It has supported more than 100 non-profits and has contributed nearly 6,000 volunteer hours with 800 volunteers.

“We are devoted to efficiencies and outcomes; we operate on a non-funded model, every single person in the organisation is a volunteer no-one takes a cent,” Mr Evans said.

Armed with a background in corporate finance and strategy, he said funds were used on a project-by-project basis instead of being spent on personnel, which drove down costs.

Useful and Big Help Mob will operate under the Community Mates brand.

“I think the community want volunteering to be something which is easy, fun and on their own terms,” Mr Evans said.

“People don’t want to sign up to volunteer every week for the next six months, or go on waiting lists.

“If you can engage the busy majority of people who like the idea of volunteering but don’t have the capacity to do it often, that will change mainstream philanthropy discourse.”

In late August, SolarisCare and Cancer Support WA, another pair of Perth-based NFPs, announced plans to merge.

SolarisCare chief executive David Edwards was appointed to facilitate the merger and said both organisations had recognised the synergies to provide the best outcomes for cancer patients in WA.

“We are both not-for-profit organisations and we certainly see the same economic signals as everybody else, so we have to respond to those signals,” Mr Edwards told Business News.

WA’s Ngala and Geraldton Regional Community Education Centre (GRCEC), both community resource groups, also announced plans to merge in August.

GRCEC chief executive Jenny Allen said the organisation had been exploring partnership operations since early 2015.

“We believe merging will create a sustainable base that will allow us to continue to deliver quality services and will strengthen service delivery across the Mid West and Gascoyne,” she said.

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