Whistler non-profit groups struggle to finance operations 

Space and affordability cited as factors

PHOTO COURTESY OF CAROL COFFEY - Vital signs  At a meeting Oct. 29, 2016, community representatives mapped the route for a survey to help shape further programs and directives, which also informed a recent survey on non-profit community organizations. Those identified, starting second from left: Craig Beattie, Jack Crompton, and Ann Marie McKenzie. At far right is Karen Clarke.
  • Photo courtesy of Carol Coffey
  • Vital signs At a meeting Oct. 29, 2016, community representatives mapped the route for a survey to help shape further programs and directives, which also informed a recent survey on non-profit community organizations. Those identified, starting second from left: Craig Beattie, Jack Crompton, and Ann Marie McKenzie. At far right is Karen Clarke.

With an eye to how best help non-profit organizations in Whistler, Community Foundation executive director Carol Coffey said a recent survey showed striking results.

"Some groups never know from year to year if they can keep going," said Coffey. "They're either relying on grants that are tied to a particular program or project and a particular time frame — and it can be really difficult to cover operating expenses when that's the only type of funding that's available to you."

Also key is the fundraising itself, which can be overwhelming.

"I used to work at WAG and trying to organize our gala at the same time as looking after animals and cleaning the shelter and fielding phone calls," she said. "That's another thing that comes out of the survey and that's when you have a pretty small organization, you end up being a jack of all trades."

Of the non-profit organizations in Whistler, more than 60 per cent do not provide health-care benefits, and more than 40 per cent of them report the financial challenges as being serious or problematic.

"The survey shows that the primary asset of these non-profit organizations is the people — staff and volunteers," she said. "These organizations are really struggling to retain people. This community is an expensive place to live and with limited housing so non-profits have difficulty attracting staff and volunteers — and that's a big threat when that's your greatest asset."

Coffey said the latest Census Canada reports Whistler as one of the top fastest-growing communities in B.C., and home to a 20-per-cent population growth between 2011 and 2016.

Coffey said the 2016 Vital Signs survey revealed a community in search of answers.

"I was hearing from non-profits that they really feel it's important to pay employees a living wage, and they're struggling to do that on their limited budgets to recruit talented people when they can't necessarily offer everything as in the for-profit sector."

As well as salaries and benefits, Coffey said groups struggle to find space in which to offer their services.

"This all came about because we were hearing from different groups wanting to find space in which to run a program and this is becoming a big problem."

"The first step is for people to understand what's happening. What the survey does is provide that baseline knowledge," she said. "Whistler is an incredible community and everyone is very giving of their time and resources and we just want to approach it with that sense of collaboration to create efficiencies."

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