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Tight budget pushes Qmunity to plan programming changes

'We're just stretched so thin right now,' executive director says

"We're evaluating all of the services and programs, and we may stop directly supporting some groups and instead make them community-driven modes," Dara Parker says. Credit: Shauna Lewis photo

A thin operating budget is pushing BC’s Queer Resource Centre to change its programming and reexamine how it attracts sponsorship and community engagement, says executive director Dara Parker.

“We’re evaluating all of the services and programs, and we may stop directly supporting some groups and instead make them community-driven modes,” Parker says.

“What we want to do is put the emphasis on the community for groups that we’re unable to support because of our limited resources.”

The changes follow the launch of Qmunity’s three-year strategic plan.

The plan was launched March 13 at a private gathering of core donors.

“It was an opportunity for core supporters to provide feedback on the plan,” Parker says, adding that the event attracted only a quarter of the approximate 100 core supporters invited.

“It wasn’t just about the strategic plan,” Parker notes. “It was a way of asking people to come on board and support us as ambassadors.”

“We have six strategic goals that cover what we see as the platform for the next three years,” she explains. “That ranges from delivery of really strong programs that are measurable and that we can identify the impact, to finding a new, accessible facility.”

But Parker says achieving Qmunity’s goals is difficult on such a thin budget.

“Fundamental to all of it is the financial health of the organization,” she says. “Certainly, we are putting an emphasis on diversifying our government grants, and that puts us in a tenuous position. So we’re trying to increase our donor base and we’re trying to increase our fundraising strategies.”

Qmunity’s annual operating budget is $650,000, with government funds accounting for 80 percent of its revenue.

With eight full-time staff and two leases (one for the main office on Bute Street and the other for the accessible Generations office on Davie Street), Parker says the organization doesn’t have the resources it needs.

“We’re just stretched so thin right now. It’s bare bones,” she says. “I’m not really sure if people realize how small our budget is and how big our mandate is.”

“Our core challenge is that we are everything to everyone, and that’s really difficult because we don’t have the resources to support that,” she says.

In addition to plans to increase the organization’s donor base, Parker says Qmunity is hoping to supplement its budget with more revenue from its Queer Conscious Training (QCT) program.

The QCT program is a diversity-training module that Qmunity offers other organizations and individuals to give them the skills and tools they need to create queer-friendly spaces. Parker says Qmunity has recently raised its QCT fees.

Finding a new, accessible facility is also part of Qmunity’s long-range plan.

“We’re focusing our energy working with the city to identify space through a community amenity contribution,” Parker says. “It’s a bit of a waiting game because I know a lot of developers are waiting until the culmination of the West End Plan before putting in applications.”

Parker says discussions with the city regarding a new space have been positive.

“There’s support there. We have a lot of political support, so I think this is a priority. It’s more just a matter of timing,” she says.

“The fact that we’re publicly identified in the West End Plan is great,” she adds. “That’s a first step. The strategy will be wrapping up, and we anticipate applications going in from developers at the end of 2013. So fingers crossed we’ll be able to sign an agreement in 2014 that identifies a new space.”

Qmunity’s long-time former board co-chair supports the coming changes.

“Programs, by their very nature, become redundant,” Craig Maynard says. “If they’re not being utilized, then they have to be cut.”

“Operations frequently have to change things because the world changes around them,” he says. “It is a regular occurrence of all kinds of non-profits.”

Maynard remembers Qmunity’s budget constraints all too well. The budget was already “as tight as a guitar string” when he sat on the board, he says.

He thinks Qmunity’s decision to involve more community leaders in programming and services is a positive one that will help reflect an “impartiality” and transparency in the organization.

“We want to be transparent and responsible about where we’re trying to bring the organization,” current board member Morgan Camley concurs.

“I’m super, super excited. It’s a chance to move the organization forward,” Camley says of Qmunity’s 2013-2015 plan.

“If you really want to be an excellent organization, changes have to be made, and that’s what this is all about,” Parker says.

“It will be a gradual shift,” she promises. “We’re quite conscious that people are very invested [in the programs] and we want to make these decisions with community members and people who would be affected.”

Qmunity has posted several needs-assessment surveys on its website seeking feedback from community members who attend or might attend some of its programs. To take the surveys, click here.