Can you envision VISAR as a business instead of as a volunteer lifeboat service? VISAR’s Board of Directors do. They have to look at where funds need to be saved to replace lifeboats, safety gear and medical equipment. But the line that everyone always focuses on is the “bottom line”, the profit – or, to use charity-speak, the “net surplus” (charities don’t make profits).
In the world of the not-for-profit organisations things have to be approached so that you can see whether you are losing or gaining ground, or just treading water. In this world, “products” are free services. “Profits” are donations. In an ideal world the sale price (donations) stays constant or, better still, increases. If you sell more of your product (give more of your service away), your income increases accordingly.
What, then, does a charity do when it looks at the numbers and see that the apparent value of their service has declined? That the sale price has effectively been reduced. You still have the same income, but you’re producing 30% more product. This is when, in the world of commerce, business consultants take you aside and help you to analyse your business; work out where you’ve gone wrong. What happens when an organisation in the charity world finds itself in the same position?
As part of a recent analysis of VISAR’s financial position (and future) a good look at these very issues has taken place. In the past several years, VISAR has seen a steady income stream of about $100,000 per annum. In the “good old days” when VISAR used only to do about 36 rescues a year, there was some “net surplus” which was allocated to various funds. As time has gone by, however, the cushion has diminished – there is now little left over to put in the savings account against a rainy day. The costs of almost everything has increased. With the same income, and increasing costs VISAR has been doing more rescues.
What could VISAR do to increase its revenue stream? How does a charity improve on its ability to raise funds? Where does its money come from? What is it used for? Whom does it benefit?
VISAR’s money is mostly derived from the generous BVI community; private individuals and companies make donations, they attend fundraising events, they purchase annual membership subscriptions. The balance is largely generated as a result of a program that most charter companies promote for VISAR, asking their guests to donate a dollar, that’s right just $1, per person each charter. About 33% of all charterers do.
Where does the money go? A hefty chunk goes into running and promoting VISAR. The rest is spent on equipment, fuel, disposable supplies, training and maintenance. If there’s anything left at the end of the year, funds are applied to specific programs, such as the New Boat Fund, or the Boat House or Education Funds.
Who stands to gain the most from VISAR’s work? Just about 80% of all calls received by VISAR’s coordinators and rescue services done by VISAR’s lifeboat crews are for visitors to the Territory. Most of them come aboard charter boats; many are cruise ship passengers. A few are the land-based tourists who take a trip aboard a day-sail boat. So you could say that primarily these are the people who benefit – so they should be the ones to foot the bill, right?
How astonished would you be if you were to be told that the average donation received by VISAR from people whom they have assisted is about $200? But only 5% of those whom VISAR assists ever send a donation at all. Makes you wonder how much people value the lives of their nearest and dearest, doesn’t it?
Does VISAR have a hope of educating tourists who, when they arrive here to charter a yacht, are bombarded with information, almost to the point of overload? How does VISAR help people who are chartering unfamiliar vessels in unfamiliar waters? What about the cruise passengers and land-based people aboard day charter boats who frequently slip while undertaking activities that they would never consider at home, such as climbing around the rocks at the Baths?
So, what is the point of this article? It’s to let people know that VISAR needs your help. It’s not a direct appeal for you to put your hand in your pocket and make a donation, or to pick up the phone and find out how to join. It’s really about saying to you, the reader, “How can VISAR find a way of raising more funds from the visitors, how can the tourist population be helped so that accidents can be avoided?” What VISAR needs is some really good ideas (and a few folks to help make the ideas a reality). Anyone game?