The realities of non-profits

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It is my first official day of vacation and what am I doing? I am up at 6:00am writing this post on the realities of non-profits. These are the things that keep me up at night or have me wake up early. I told myself many years ago that I want to be a community activator and not a bystander in life. Over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate to have worked with with about 45+ non-profits and know full well the struggles they endure. Shanti Uganda, Visit Shanti Uganda is no different and I recently joined the board earlier this year.

Let me share with you what Shanti Uganda does. In a country where, on average, 16 women die every day from maternal health related issues. That is a staggering 5,800+ women who don’t have access to the quality care we have here. They are someone’s daughter or sister and sadly, many of them are under the age of majority and have to have their birth in secrecy and alone. This is tragic but there is a glimmer of hope. Shanti Uganda in the last 10 years has provided the following impact to date:
● 10,689 antenatal visits
● 1,579 births supported by a skilled midwife
● 4,275 postnatal visits
● 4,207 HIV tests administered
● 0 maternal deaths – this is the important fact – no women have died in the 10 years that Shanti Uganda has been operating their birth house. These deaths are preventable! This is what keeps me up at night thinking and trying to help.

So Shanti Uganda is doing amazing work but there is a challenge, donors want the money to go directly, and only, to the glamourous parts. The delivery and new life that has emerged and want to know that their money was used at that moment. The restrictions by the donors limit the work, expansion and outreach that Shanti Uganda does. Don’t get me wrong here, we value the fact that someone steps forward to provide funding and believes in the work we do but the reality is that it costs money to run a non-profit/social venture. I know that there are many non-profits out there that use donor funds for lavish things or stories of an Executive Director using the funds for personal benefits. That is not the case here and with many non-profits I have seen. Shanti Uganda’s office is downtown but it is not lavish, it is a donated hotel room by a generous donor who believes in what we do and where there is no cost to Shanti Uganda. We appreciate the space we call our war room. But everything else is on a bare minimum. But before anyone judges Shanti Uganda’s spending, or many non-profits for that matter, think of the following in our example:

• We have to pay for the midwives in Africa. They do the difficult work and are the foundation of Shanti Uganda’s success
• We have to pay for the support staff that coordinate and keep the Uganda operation running. Without them, things would be disorganized and our track record would not be where it is now
• We have to pay for an ambulance driver, security guard and a cook, to name a few key individuals who provide the day to day services required
• In Uganda, by us paying their wages, they are earning a living and are working. This means that they are also able to provide for their families and the money they make, goes into supporting the local economy – the money circulates and makes a profound impact in many lives
• We need to pay our Executive Director here in Vancouver. She is out there working on building the relationships, grant writing, doing the day to day operations and so much more…but the reality is, you need to pay for talent and she is well underpaid and punching for results at a higher level. The board does not coordinate all of this. The ED is the glue that keeps this all together.

I think what is a challenge for many non-profits is that they have to show tremendous results, while not spending any donor money on necessities that keep the organization barely floating, while ensuring that there are restrictions on what they can and can’t do with donor funding so that the work that needs to be done can’t be done because funds can not be moved over to critical operations. All the while, trying to justify the bare minimum operations. You can see their operations here –

So I joined the board because I believe in the work Shanti Uganda is doing, I know that they operate at a bare minimum operation cost, that they are trying to generate revenue from programs that they provide. We spend valuable time on our board meetings trying to figure out how to survive and not able to build to thrive. There is so much we can do and replicate this success and be able to help so many more women but we need to remove the limitations.

There are ways to support and help Shanti Uganda and the work we do.
• Be a monthly birth partner for as little as $10 (give up one fast food meal a month) – it just comes off your credit card and you don’t feel it – Monthly Donation
• I have a Christmas campaign running right now and if 100 people just donate $10, there is $1,000 – Christmas Campaign

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