A charity that manages transition houses in B.C.'s lower mainland is in the curious position of both making and breaking the case for social enterprise. Atira Women's Resource Society has found itself well-positioned to make property management serve its greater goals and turn a profit as well. Business has given a creative, independent outlet to much of the time and energy once given over to fund-raising. While recognizing the immense value of this experiment, however, executive director Janice Abbott cautions those who might think it replicable.
"... government funding for such programs diminished. Years of stagnant funding resulted in grants that once covered most of the operating expenses falling short by 25-30%. The donation stream that had formerly been used to augment Atira's programs and fill gaps in services had instead to be applied to operating expenses. Accordingly, Atira's already overtaxed staff had to devote more and more time and energy to fundraising and to applying for short-term, project-based grants to cover operating and administrative costs. The gap between revenue and expenses kept growing.
"Atira's board had to decide how to ensure that the organization could continue offering services crucial to women and children's safety and well-being. Reducing services was not an option. Surrey/White Rock had become a more densely populated area. There was more, not less, demand for services. Our current resources were clearly under strain. To continue would require finding a new path....
"Social enterprise appears to have been the right decision for Atira. It would be unfortunate, however, if our success to date led other nonprofits to conclude that it holds similar promise for them. It would be even more unfortunate if funding agencies used Atira's experience to pressure nonprofits to 'do likewise.'"