As my time working in the nonprofit sector continues, I’m re-learning a simple lesson with a complex story behind it: you just can’t help everyone, even the people who seem like the most obvious recipients of your help.
Of course, this blog is about funding. No nonprofit will ever have enough funds to serve all of its target population. But denying services is not just about the total amount of funding, it’s often about the restrictions on funding.
For example, when I first came to the organization I currently serve, like many of my friends and others in the community, I thought they served all homeless people on a first-come-first-served basis. The truth is that most of their shelter beds and services are allocated to specific programs for which they receive government funding, and can only be used for specific types of people. Only a small number of beds are available for “just anyone,” and this is only for one night within a certain number of months. These “unfunded” beds are a drain on the agency’s resources and they are one of the things for which my department raises private donations.
Another example came yesterday when we were at a local homeless encampment and an older woman expressed a strong desire to get out of there and into a shelter. Unfortunately, she had only been homeless for about nine months and the funding we have for longer term shelter beds and other services requires someone to have been outside for more time. To really help her get stabilized, we would need evidence of a mental or physical disability or another serious issue. We’d actually have an easier time placing her if she was on the early prison release program.
There are about 7,600 homeless people in Santa Clara County and we only have about 50 free beds for people not enrolled in a specific program.
All nonprofits face these dilemmas unless they have large fundraising departments and very generous private donors who don’t restrict their contributions, but just give to them freely in support of their overall mission.
We can continue to dream.
Image credit: theguardian.com