I went to the open day of a Christian organisation running community projects recently. I saw them drawing together volunteers and money to run a number of projects that helped the community. They were doing good work supporting people with a variety of needs. Their resources (i.e. people, money and time) were largely gifts from a variety of sources.

Redistributing resources via taxation

There is a problem with a gift based economy i.e. where do the resources come from that are redistributed by giving. Look at it this way. I go to an NHS hospital. i receive the medical care I need for free.

The government has taken our money in (i.e. we pay taxes) and redistributed it to provide a hospital building doctors etc. They take money from people who have earned it and used it to help all.

This might not be the most efficient way of funding healthcare but at least it does provide healthcare for the population at large. The money for those services has to come from somewhere.

Funded services can become vulnerable

A service funded by taxpayers or donations can become vulnerable when people no longer have the ability to financially contribute. If incomes go down, say a company goes bust and people lose their jobs and companies they bought supplies from don’t get paid then how can they pay taxes or make donations.

People may have time to donate but the expectation is that they will be paid travelling expenses. This is just one of the things that will cost the organisation money that is related to the extra help given by a volunteer. They may have a lot of man hours (or even woman hours) that they can use to provide services but still struggle to provide services because they need money.

What is worse in that kind of situation many organisations find that there is an increasing demand for their services.

Spreading the risk

People running voluntary and community projects have been encouraged to diversify in terms of where the money comes from to run their services. Money coming in can be seen as arriving via four different routes.

Donations include things like street collections where money comes in small amounts or legacies left in wills which can be quite large sums.

Grants are larger amounts from trusts or funds set up to fund voluntary and community work.

Contracts awarded after  another organisation has invited a number of organisations to compete to provide a product or service for them.

Trading is obvious as it is where goods and services are sold to bring in an income.

All of these ways of bringing in money are getting difficult as the economy worsens. People cannot give or buy as their disposable income declines. Fewer contracts are available as the government makes spending cuts. There are fewer grants as these are often made out of the interest on capital as this is at a very low level so they have less to give. Increasing competition makes it harder to find any money from any source.

Improving the chances of surviving financially

If people cannot give because they have nothing to give how can they be helped to gain more money so that they have more to give? Even during difficult financial times there have been people who have prospered.

There were people who became millionaires during the hard times of the 1930s. Some say more people became millionaires during that decade than any other. If any one people group has struggled with persecution more than any other it must be the Jews. Look how many of them have prospered. Surely there is something that we can learn from these people.

Yes it might sound a radical approach within the Christian community but we are in a radically different situation. Not only that but there are many voices that say will get harder rather than easier for the foreseeable future. Some say that we are in a recession now but that a depression is coming and after that there will be a global financial collapse.

Remember the stories of hardship that came out of Germany between WW1 and WW2 and more recently Zimbabwe about the horrors of hyperinflation when money became worthless. Some say that we are on track for a similar situation with the dollar i.e. the currency of the world. Look at the struggles in the Euro zone. If these voices are right then how are we going to cope with all the needs within the community.

Of the four basic methods of increasing income only one has stood the test of time and helped people through hard times i.e. trading. This is true for both individuals and organisations.

This is why the aim of Lily the Pink Education CIC is to gain most of its funding from trading. It is also why one of its initial aims has been to develop ways of gaining an income from trading.

If trading is really about serving others, who do we serve?

This is where we have come unstuck more than once. Who are we really serving? Those who we want to support as they develop ways to help other people e.g. those developing businesses or projects. Or those who are currently in mental distress. In other words, the problem has been are we a wholesaler supporting those who support others or are we a retailer supporting others.

The thinking has been unless you have experience helping others how can you help others help others. In fact that is the normal order of things i.e. you do something then teach others how to do it like you do it.

The problem with that is that in order to make things happen you need to find helpers. In the early days of Lily the Pink Education CIC even those who should have been at peace with the vision, and the ideas and concepts behind it, were obstructive. They just did not get it, and caused problem, after problem, after problem. It became easier to try the retailer route but then the lack of support and the consequent problems made that tough going as well.

Lesson learned, be very careful how you explain things because not everyone sees the world as you do. When the opportunity arose for a fresh start in a new location it was grasped with both hands.

In the beginning, there were two specific categories of people we want to help. One was Christians so that they could give more to those in need. The other was those who are in mental distress because they are at the bottom of the heap. This includes people who have survived on benefit for a long time because they did not know how to earn a living within their personal constraints such as disability, medical conditions or family responsibilities. Such people at the moment are increasingly at risk of having their benefits cut.

Our long term aim was to pull people up and enable them to develop organisations and businesses that meet the needs in society. It was just that some people started in one situation and some in another. Because they started in different places their needs were different. Or were they?

Why do things this way?

If the government keeps on reducing its community support activities such as adult education or business support then someone will have to fill in the gaps. All of this takes time to setup and get off the ground so we need to be preparing now.

We all know the art of forecasting is notoriously difficult. Taking the hints from the present and making up a picture that reflects the realities of tomorrow is not easy.

The beauty of setting up this kind of organisation is that it does not matter if the future does not turn out as bad as some have predicted. It provides a solid foundation for a future whether things are going well or not.

On the other hand it may well prove to be the only model that will enable voluntary and community projects to survive the financial Armageddon that some are predicting.

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