As the financial year draws to a close, not-for-profit organisations are seeking inventive ways to create sustainable income, but it’s far from a one-size-fits-all approach.
There's no doubt the economic headwinds of the past 12 months have placed significant pressure on Western Australian businesses.
It's no different for the not-for-profit sector, which is facing the same challenges presented by an economy that continues to remain sluggish at best.
Likewise, the survival strategies being considered by NFPs are no different to those in for-profit sector – diversification of income, brand and reputation improvement, and a focus on core service competencies.
In recent years we have heard increasing calls for NFP organisations to act more like businesses by spinning-off a social enterprise or merging with other similarly focused NFPs – all while limiting the amount of donated funds spent on operating costs.
The suggestions are valid and all good executives should at least consider these as potential strategies.
However also, just like businesses, NFPs have overheads and I would encourage corporate and private supporters to understand that.
While no-one wants to see money frivolously spent, an obsession with 'no overhead funding' can lead to inefficient allocation of resources, and hampering of the ultimate aim of the group; in our case, patient care
In terms of social enterprise, it's clear that establishing a small business is highly risky, with Australian Bureau of Statistics data showing half don't survive the first three years; that's a significant punt for organisations using donations and sponsorships to fund the business venture.
SolarisCare Foundation's future is dependent on its ability to devise innovative funding strategies that don't rely on government grants.
It seems this philanthropic and corporate support may be the way of the future for many NFP organisations.
The amount businesses give to the NFP sector has doubled in the past 15 years. Meanwhile, individuals have also greatly increased their support, with the average tax-deductible donation now more than $460 per person – twice what it was two years ago.
While these statistics are pleasing, it's also relevant to note the growing number of charities being established – all competing for the same dollar.
This reiterates the point that we need to devise innovative strategies to return non-monetary value to the donor to show them their money is well spent.
One example of SolarisCare's efforts to create innovative strategies is our partnership with Dry July. By collaborating with Dry July, which also supports our peers, we are able to leverage off multiple brands and an ingenious marketing concept encouraging people to give up alcohol for one month.
The result of Dry July 2014 has recently come to fruition, with a new outdoor garden being developed where our service users can sit and reflect – an extremely important part of navigating cancer treatment. We have also been able to invest in renewal of patient centred equipment.
SolarisCare Foundation also holds one of WA's most significant endurance sports events – the Red Sky Ride. We've devised a niche focus with the Red Sky Ride by making it an endurance event covering 1,000 kilometres over eight days. Our mission is to get ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
We are lucky to have also been able to partner with a number of WA businesses to provide specific services. Chemo Club is one example where exercise classes specifically designed for cancer patients currently undergoing chemotherapy and other cancer treatments are held at our partners' Aspire Fitness and BodyCare Health Club premises.
What SolarisCare would not consider doing is moving towards a social enterprise model by charging clients for our services – another common suggestion.
Every year we provide more than 7,000 complementary therapy treatments to adults suffering from cancer. We know through our close contact with these patients that a cancer diagnoses comes with significant stress over how to fund treatment. With this in mind, adding a charge for our services would be nonsensical.
So, as the new financial year kicks off, SolarisCare will be navigating the funding challenges through innovative and collaborative funding relationships, which return value to the donors and service users alike.
David Edwards is the chief executive of SolarisCare Foundation.