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The Changing Face of Charity

Posted Date: 06/09/2010

MaltaToday_6 September 2010

The Changing Face of Charity


Changing economic conditions have forced businesses and consumers to re-evaluate their ways and come up with new ideas to in order to thrive. Charitable institutions are no different. Claudia Taylor East who is managing director of SOS (Solidarity Overseas Services) Malta talks to Rachel Zammit Cutajar about sending out an SOS to the world.

Charities all over the world have undergone a change in structure. From acquiring of projects, to their financing, implementation and documentation, these have to be run in a much more professional manner, much like a business. 

Taylor East stresses the importance of strategic planning and thinking ahead.

“Charities can no longer operate as they used to, collecting money from small bazaars and cake sales. We need to develop long-term strategies to ensure the success of our campaigns.”

SOS Malta started off as SOS Albania when Lillian Miceli Farrugia who is chairperson for the Co-workers of Mother Teresa was asked by Mother Teresa herself what Malta could do to aid the humanitarian crisis in Albania. She collected some provisions and sent approximately 10 boxes of food with two voluntary workers to the town of Elbasan. Photos they came back with of the extreme poverty faced by the inhabitants prompted support on a national level.

SOS Malta has changed since then, expanding its horizons to assist not only in humanitarian crises overseas but also in the support of Malta’s most vulnerable members of society. It is a multi-faceted organisation working on four pillars, including overseas development, social solidarity, volunteering and research and training.

Volunteering is a relatively new concept for Malta though has been very successful over the last few years. February 2008 saw the introduction of volunteers into wards at Mater Dei Hospital so that SOS Malta could be active participants in the European Year for Volunteering in 2011. Over 200 active volunteers are integrated with the human resources department assisting doctors and nurses in non-medical roles in the hospital. Duties include talking to lonely patients and entertaining children.

“We have people volunteering on a daily basis while others donate a few hours a week depending on other commitments. Despite the ‘busy’ world we live in there are a number of people who still find the time to put aside a few hours a week for those in need.”

The European year for Active Ageing in 2012 is already being considered as SOS Malta are developing plans on how to make Malta active participants in the coming years.

Charities are experiencing ever increasing costs. Staff costs, operational costs and marketing costs have all skyrocketed since the days of charity collections, bazaars and cake sales. This has only encouraged SOS Malta to work harder to double their efforts in the procurement of finance. 

Having paid staff on board is important for sustainability of on-going projects. This is something that the EU insists on when awarding projects to NGOs, as volunteers may not be as reliable as core staff as conditions change.

“A consistent flow of income has to be available to guarantee their incomes as well as other operational costs.

“Running a charity has become more professional. We need to employ professionals in many aspects – like having events managers to organise fund-raisers – to ensure every project is worth its salt.”

Charities are also competing against each other for public donations.

“Everyone has their own pet charity, which makes having a good marketing strategy vitally important. However good marketing and public relations comes at a cost so there is a trade-off.”

Financing of NGOs has also undergone considerable change. In the wake of the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Kosovo in 1998 and 1999 SOS Malta provided a response team providing aid in the form of food, shelter and other provisions for 355 refugees in Korce. They also set up 3 health centres and a nurses training course in the Municipality of Rahovic, which is still up and running today.

“It is wonderful to go back to visit these centres and see how the generosity of the Maltese has provided these people with knowledge and skills that allow these people to look after themselves.”

Financing for this project was obtained partially through partnerships with 999 UK, UNHCR, MSF and PSF, though the majority of funding came from public donations made by the Maltese. Through various modes of fund raising, over Lm 1 million was collected for this cause.

Today there exists an amount of charity fatigue, whereby the public is under financial pressure due to current economic conditions. However humanitarian need never ceases and more efficient ways of collecting funds need to be found.

“We still have some contributions trickling in from online donations and our Toon project, but this no longer accounts for a very large piece of the pie.

“You have to think outside of the box to be able to grab opportunities as they come along.”

Since joining the European Union in 2004, NGOs in Malta have become eligible for EU funding for humanitarian aid projects. This has provided numerous opportunities for SOS Malta.

“We apply for projects which are funded by the EU. We are not always successful in acquiring the ones we want but we are not discouraged and keep looking for new opportunities to provide international aid.

“Harvesting of rainwater in Ethiopia is one such project. Investment in clean rainwater is a fundamental entry point to community development in the poorest villages in Ethiopia.”

Corporate partners have become an invaluable part of financing charitable projects. A proliferation in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has come about over the years as it enhances a company’s portfolio. Long-term ethical values are becoming just as important as short-term economic profit.

“The business sector has always been very helpful with our causes, however as CSR gains popularity and businesses feel the need to show their commitment to the community at large, more and more finance is becoming available to charitable organisations.

“Having a corporate partner also aids in the advertising strategies of the project as businesses benefit from public awareness of their part in the venture and handle all publicity.

Taylor East campaigns for better structure of CSR. There is a need for more co-ordination and availability of policies to facilitate participation of companies.

“There are some excellent models in India where large corporations are partnered with NGOs to enhance their public image. We can learn a lot about structure from them.”

There exists some skepticism about charities where donors are unaware of where their money is going. Is it going to pay for fancy cars of the people running the charity or is the money really going to make an impact? Taylor-East is unphased by this question.

“We strongly believe in accountability. Not only are our financial records audited on a yearly basis but every one of our projects is audited too.

“We complete the projects ourselves, therefore there is documentation to prove where the money was spent. We believe in transparency and have never had complaints to the contrary.

“We encourage our corporate partners to take an active role in the project they are investing in so they can see the impact their donations make.”

Another aspect the charity has been working on is in the realm of research. Over 85 million people are living below the poverty line in Europe, some of which are living in Malta. SOS Malta has been active in research as how policy makers can aid people outside of the labour market.

“It is a new and exciting opportunity for us to influence policy makers to design strategies for social inclusion of all members of society.”

SOS Malta is constantly looking for new causes and look to the future with confidence. A new online service providing counseling for children is in its early stages with the intention to launch early next year. Kellimni – set up in collaboration with the Salesians of Don Bosco and Appogg will provide a helpline for children experiencing all kinds of problems from social exclusion to abuse and neglect via the telephone and Internet.

“We are excited about providing this vital service to the Maltese islands and are sure that it will have a huge impact.”


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