Dear Editor,

I am writing this letter because I suspect many non-profit organizations in this community are unaware that the updating of the BC Societies Act is nearing completion.

Once passed, the new act will mean more work for existing non-profit organizations. Already severely stretched when it comes to carrying out their mandates, non-profit organizations need to prepare themselves to spend a significant amount of time familiarizing themselves with the new act. Then more time will be needed to make the necessary changes in order to comply with the act’s provisions.

In August 2014, the provincial government released a white paper on the proposed changes to the BC Societies Act. The document is 166 pages long. I had not seen or heard anything in the media about this white paper until just last week, giving me only seven days to provide a comment as the deadline for comments was Oct. 15. None of the non-profit organizations of which I am a member and in once case a director received any notification of the white paper’s existence and the closing date for comments.

For more than three decades now, government, both federal and provincial, has slowly but steadily moved away from delivering programs and services directly to using intermediaries: i.e. non-profit societies. The method provides funds under contract to deliver one or more services.

What were and are some of these services? Everything from economic development to employment services to maintenance of recreation sites and trails to a host of cultural and artistic endeavours.

The government went even further. It stated that unless one was incorporated as a non-profit organization, one could not get any funding. So, many clubs (ski clubs, for instance) had to first become a non-profit society in order to access funding.

Below are some areas that will impact non-profit societies and volunteers.

1. Senior managers (general managers/executive directors) will be treated the same as directors and will have the same expectations. The same rules will apply to them when it comes to legal liability. At a minimum, this means an additional budget line item for the insurance premium to cover the senior manager. Another possible outcome is that finding a person for that position will be more difficult as what employee wants the possibility of being entangled in a lawsuit hanging over their head?

2. Members of the public will be able to apply to the B.C. Supreme Court to intervene if they believe a society is engaged in activities “detrimental to the public interest.” Why is government adding one more ‘job’ to an already over-burdened justice system?

3. Pre-existing societies will be required to transition to the new system by inputting their constitution and bylaws into an electronic data base. In addition, the new act will also require a detailed review of bylaws and changing some to comply with the new act’s provisions and regulations. In my experience, the last thing volunteers want to do is review bylaws and purposes (constitution). Also, changes to bylaws and the purposes will now have to be done online after they have been approved by the membership. This, in addition to other requirements, means that some volunteer will need to undertake this job. More work for the overburdened volunteer!

It’s already proving very challenging to find volunteers to be directors of non-profit organizations in small cities such as Merritt. However well-intentioned this new act is, there is no getting away from the fact that directors and organizations will be facing an increase in their responsibilities and workload.

No wonder more and more non-profit societies are facing volunteer burnout and a declining membership.

Elizabeth Salomon-de-Friedberg