cbrmCouncilChamber200wto the CBRM Budget Consultations, 2014.
By Peter MacIntyre, CBCVO Chair

Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to talk a little bit about the work that we do at the Cape Breton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, and our concern for the health of the sector.
Let me begin by noting that our reason to speak today is not to ask for a specific new allocation of funding or to advocate for a specific program; we are not here to ask for money.
Our goal today is twofold, first to raise awareness about the work of the CBCVO and second to highlight what we have been calling the quiet crisis in the local non-profit sector.
At CBCVO, we have over 30 members that include many of the small non-profit organizations that make our community a better place to live, work and raise a family. The organizations under our umbrella directly provide services to many of the people in the community that have nowhere else to turn. Our mission is to support and strengthen the voluntary sector. We do this in several ways:

  • We organize learning opportunities for volunteer organizations and volunteers on topics such as running effective meetings, roles of board members, due diligence, financial reporting, managing risk, and so on.
  • we’ve hosted a series of conferences and workshops called “The Quiet Crisis” highlighting the struggles of the sector,
  • we run our own www.cbcvo.ca site as a resource for the voluntary sector and we will host a website for member organizations at no cost,
  • we are a conduit for information to voluntary groups via our mailing list,
  • we can be the local hosts when an organization such as CRA is making the rounds to communities to discuss the tax implications and obligations of holding charity status,
  • we work with the provincial government by collaborating with the new provincial “community sector council” and with other umbrella groups via the “network of networks” in Nova Scotia,
  • we advocate on behalf of volunteers and organizations in the local media,
  • we have recently created a “leaders table” to provide networking opportunities for volunteer groups,
  • and more.

All of this work is itself done on a volunteer basis, to support this community. That’s an outline of what CBCVO is all about.
The second reason for our visit today is to emphasize the “quiet crisis” that is facing non-profits in the CBRM. Although the image of the individual donating time to a worthy cause is almost iconic in the discussion of volunteerism, the key role played by small community groups often is taken for granted, or merely dismissed as ‘administration’ or ‘overhead.’ This is a serious mistake. It is the local community organizations that have sewn and re-sewn the social safety net in so many locations across the country, and here in CBRM in particular. But the survival of many of groups, and their considerable capacity to affect their community, is in jeopardy.
The Chamber of Voluntary Organizations was formed in 2006 to draw attention to the quiet crisis facing local organizations and individual volunteers. The issues are too many to list comprehensively today, but groups are concerned about their future in an atmosphere of unstable and short term funding, increasing application & reporting demands associated with their projects, and the silo approach to funding that leads to the spirit of competition (not cooperation) among groups. I would like to highlight four issues:
1. Volunteer recruitment and retention, training, and burnout. Especially over the past decade, more work is being done by fewer people; the situation is not sustainable. The demographic changes in CBRM, and the number of people moving west has created a void in the pool of volunteers, leaders, and board members for voluntary organizations. Although we often hear about the effect of population decline and outward migration on businesses, voluntary organizations have been dramatically affected.
2. The withdrawal of core funding and the high degree of unpredictability in financial resources strains voluntary groups. It is not possible to “do more with less” on a
long term basis; the time has come to think differently about the groups still operating in the local area.
3. With the loss of core funding, and the move toward project-based funding, also came the loss of (for want of a better word) “overhead.” At one time, groups could apply 10 – 15% of grants to support the operation and stability of the group. Most granting agencies will not allow this, an unwise policy that literally takes groups for granted. According to a StatsCan report on giving and volunteering the number one activity of voluntary groups is… fundraising. The mission of the group, why it was established, and the reason people volunteer their efforts is secondary to the search for money.
4. Virtually everyone will claim that they support local non-profit groups, but the financial deck is stacked against them. The reaction of governments, federal, provincial, and municipal has contributed to the problems faced by local groups. There are seemingly endless demands for accountability, new reporting requirements, increasing expectations, and new regulations that further detract from the groups’ mission.
There is much more to say.
Sr. Margie Gillis, presenting to a conference CBCVO held in Sydney this past fall, described the thinning layer of support provided by local non-profits. Groups are quietly disappearing. How many groups have we lost? I can’t say because nobody is counting. The lack of information on the state of the sector is one of the problems in seeing the crisis and generating a response. At CBCVO, we are undertaking a research project that we hope will map out the state of the sector in Cape Breton and we will be reporting on the results of the research in the future.
As we move forward in the voluntary sector, it is critical that the groups themselves be consulted, genuinely and extensively, to gather their expertise. Local community groups, the small ones that do so much for their communities, are too easily overlooked. They do not have the capacity for promoting themselves that large groups and charities have developed. Yet it is the collected wisdom of small groups in CBRM that has helped so many people make this community their home, especially when times are tough.
As you hear from the groups working in the local area, I urge you to take their concerns as seriously as you do those in for-profit businesses, and do whatever you can to break down the municipal-provincial-federal silos that divide the community. Supporting local non-profit groups is perhaps the best way to support those in the CBRM community who need it most.
Thank you for your time today, and thank you to all of you who volunteer.

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