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The last half of this year has seen NCBI prepare to operate in a very different environment to the last five years. The recession predicted in 2007 as coming was no longer a lone siren’s cry in the distance but had be-come a reality as 2008 closed. The work carried out by our staff in 2007 became even more challenging as we moved into this year– working with almost 1,800 new service users by year close, deploying the same size of staff and reducing statutory income.
Cuts in Government funding towards the end of 2008, while relatively small, are certain to multiply and to be-come more significant in 2009 and beyond. Reductions in statutory funding challenge our capacity to expand and develop our services, and even to continue to provide what we have come to regard as essential core services.
One of the highlights of 2008 was the establishment of theVision Impaired Service providers Alliance (VISPA); comprising Fighting Blindness, Irish Guide Dogs for the Blind, St. Joseph’s Centre for theVisually Impaired, and NCBI. NCBI was pleased to take the lead in bringing together the four key agencies in service provision to people who are blind or vision impaired. The expectations of our shared service users and funders (both statutory and donors) is, as a minimum, that we do not duplicate one another’s work and that we go further to ob-tain the synergies to be derived by creatively managing services within a collaborative framework. Staff in the financial and human resources departments of the four organisations have commenced a new working rela-tionship which should bring meaningful gains to all over time.
Further emphasis was given to building this new working relationship by the “Eyes on the Future” report, commissioned by NCBI and published by VISPA in October 2008. The report tells us that the number of blind people in Ireland aged 55 years and over is likely to increase by 170% between 2006 and 2031.
In addition, the number of people with significant sight loss, but outside of the definition of “legal blindness”, is also predicted to increase over the same period by 180%. The report goes on to forecast (using data from Australia) that we should look forward to an annual total cost in Ireland of €550 million to provide comprehen-sive care of the main causes of vision loss and vision impairment. An Irish Vision Strategy and a cost/benefit analysis of investing in health and personal social services around sight loss should now be the key aims of VISPA going forward.
Changes in funding model
We had become accustomed over the last decade of applying fundraised income mainly to the cost of capital building projects and for innovating new services. Now we are seeing self-generated donor income having to be directed to shore up the shortfall in statutory income. Funds which would have been devoted in the past by NCBI to investments in new buildings have now to be redirected to revenue purposes.The opening of our new regional resource centres in Ballincollig and Limerick are probably the last of our major capital spends for sometime to come.
New funding Model
Health and personal social services managers must face up to the reality that the state funding of these ser-vices is likely to decline very considerably to reflect the changed nature of the Irish economy.Those of us managing in the voluntary sector must learn to be less partisan in how we view and value other service provi-sions which will compete in the same arena with us for the same shrinking levels of statutory funding.We must learn a new and less strident language to use when advancing the case for minimising the impacts of reduced statutory funding on our own particular services and client base.We must also be patient with repeated re-quests to apply tests of “relevance” to everything we do in order to guarantee to our donors and statutory fun-ders that we provide value for their support of our work.
Part of the changing environment will be that NCBI must look forward to developing a service funding model which will see us devoting increased fundraised and donor income to meet the costs of service provision. Gearing up for this task will be difficult in a time when corporate and personal donor disposable income is shrinking due to these recessionary times, and when there will be a higher level of competition between chari-ties for that reduced income. Combining the tools of marketing and selling must be deployed to create a new funding model but the challenges of establishing that model will not at all be easy.
Desmond P. Kenny