Turning Pie into Pi

You might occasionally note a Friday the 13th or remember March 15th (“Beware the Ides of March” the notorious date of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC and the turning point in Roman history.) But, sandwiched between the two last week was International Pi Day. You know Pi, 3.141592653 … a numerical dream date.

In 1706, William Jones (a Welsh mathematician) realized that, “The exact proportion between the diameter and the circumference [of a circle] can never be expressed in numbers.”

Now what exactly does Pi have to do with anyone who works or volunteers in a non profit in BC in 2015?

Well, funders recently reminded non profits of their need to divide their financial Pies using very precise terms. In the case of Volunteer Centres across BC, provincial and municipal governments reminded us that they only fund programs and services that have a direct benefit to the public. They need to ensure that one organization is not giving benefit from public funds to another organization. In legislation, accountability, and in Pie theories it makes complete sense.

But, let’s compare the math according to three theories in play and let’s use Volunteer Victoria’s E-Newsletter as our demonstration product.

Approximately 1,800 people receive the E-Link newsletter every other week. It costs $350 to produce in sunk costs per issue.

If Volunteer Victoria was ‘more business like’ we would simply calculate and share the cost. You, as a subscriber would each pay $4.66 a year. As you do not all read all the issues we may need to implement a user-fee model so you will have to pay $18.66 for each issue you read. (Plus shipping and handling costs, and GST) We won’t have the resources to track the outcomes when you learn about jobs, changes in legislation, or participate in non profit specific events or learning, but no big deal. It’s just business. Where would you like us to send your invoice?

In the funder Pie model, it gets more complicated and the model changes every fiscal year depending on the funders and how much Volunteer Victoria receives in grants. The production costs are the same, but the administration to manage the E-newsletter is significantly higher and we need much more information from you all to track who pays which portion of the cost on a monthly basis. It is not an exact science but basically:

– If you currently volunteer with a non profit – then the organization you volunteer with benefits from your learning, so we will have to mail them an invoice and ask them to pay the cost. If you volunteer at more than one organization, please let us know. We need to split the invoice.
– If you are a high risk individual, unemployed, or in a life transition the United Way or Island Health might cover a portion of the cost on a sliding scale from 10 to 100% of the cost. Where shall we send the balance of your invoice?
– If you are a youth under the age of 25, Coast Capital Savings and the Victoria Foundation will pay for the cost of your learning. You will not receive an invoice. Please remember to thank them!
– If you are not currently volunteering, not working in the sector, and have no affiliation with any non profit organization then you need to thank the Provincial and/or municipal governments for picking up your share of the cost of the E-newsletter. You will need to tell us which municipality you live in though, because not all 13 local governments fund us. Please do not forget to send us a change of address card if you move.

Now there is the reality of Pi.

Millions of mathematicians cannot divide circles into whole and precise numbers.  And surely the goal of the non profit sector is not to produce more brilliant mathematicians or accountants.

There will always be individual, volunteer, and organizational overlap – especially since the demand for services has grown, conditions are more complex, and we all need to attract more volunteers, more ideas, and more engagement from the whole community to address community-based challenges.

The non profit sector can and does track costs and we are accountable. But our primary purpose is not to divide Pi, but to increase the impact of the circle. In the non profit sector the sum of the whole is far greater then the sum of the individual parts.

And, if any one is wondering, the entire cost of E-Link next fiscal year and the entire benefit of your learning is courtesy of the Victoria Foundation.

This article is written by Lisa Mort-Putland, Executive Director, Volunteer Victoria.