In contrast to the range of festivities being hosted in other jurisdictions, today, November 15, 2013 — National Philanthropy Day — will pass by without so much as a whisper in Bermuda.

If our past is any indicator, if we had celebrated the day, the glitterati of big business and big charity would have given and received awards. And in the midst of the proclamations, we may even have neglected to fully acknowledge the generous contributions of key local philanthropists, defined by Forbes in advance of their publication of the 2013 leading philanthropists as “people who are giving their own money”.   

A plight averted. We’re not quite ready to celebrate it — but we could be if we honestly review our situation and start improving.

Three segments 

Sometimes referred to as the Third, Social or Civic Sector is made up of not one, but three distinct parts. These three parts comprise charity or nonprofit, philanthropy and social enterprise. 

Charity: Charitable organisations and nonprofits typically deliver a programme or service to a set of constituents, supported by paid and volunteer work. Charitable organisations may be large like the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre, Bermuda National Museum, or The Family Centre. They may be small with annual budgets of less than $30k. Some charitable organisations deliver a few key activities a year to raise funds for other charities that deliver services to the less fortunate, for example, the End-to-End or Orchid Charity Club.

Intermediaries: Nonprofits that typically provide services to other charities and nonprofits, ie, training, technical assistance, manage funds, advocate policy change and provide networking opportunities. The Centre on Philanthropy, Inter-Agency Committee and Bermuda National Standards Committee are intermediary organisations.  

Philanthropy: Corporate and independent foundations, individual and family philanthropists fund the charitable sector, albeit with different philosophies.  In their most formalized states, corporate and private foundations employ a professional grant maker to create and deploy a grant-making strategy on their behalf.

Social enterprise: “Social enterprises are businesses or not-for-profits that operate for or with a social purpose, combining philanthropic and business aims,” says Sharon Beesley, co-founder of the Isis Foundation, supported by the proceeds of its founders’ corporate advisory and consulting firm ISIS (Asia Pacific) formerly headquartered in Bermuda. Social entrepreneurs generally gift to or reinvest their revenues in social causes, rather than generating a return for shareholders.  

Another important participant in the civic sector is of course government. Tasked with allocating public money for public good (yes, that is a government’s job, folks), government is also responsible for regulating, legislating, setting sound policy, and providing or arranging for the delivery of essential services by third parties.  Commonly agreed, Bermuda’s Government is financially challenged right now. But tabling legislation like the proposed Good Samaritan Act, which will offer protection to a company donating food, is a positive systemic initiative — a solid legislative response to a social problem from a cash-strapped government.   

In Bermuda, the civic sector is critical to our ability to function as a modern, democratic society. Simply put, Bermudian non-profits provide a significant portion of many of the services that would in many other countries be the responsibility of government. This includes social services, environmental preservation and cultivation of the arts. And yet, they are funded inadequately for this activity. In the past, government and other funders have had to cut back funding to these organisations, even though most of us would agree that the non-profits are providing “essential services”.  

People will debate the definitions and exchange one term for another.  Misuse of the sectors’ labels is unfortunate because the practice lends to confusion for all of us about who is doing what for whom. Philosophically, philanthropy is the effort to increase the well-being of humankind.  It has a nice ring to it, but it’s hard to develop a strategy around such a grand, all-encompassing term.  And we do ultimately want to be developing good strategies for tackling deeply entrenched social problems.

Bermuda has not yet come to grips with the interplay between the groups making up the civic sector — but it will. Why?  Because Bermuda’s future social and economic well-being may depend on it.  Next year on National Philanthropy Day, we’ll want to have even more to celebrate. 

Myra Virgil is Programme Executive, Bermuda for The Atlantic Philanthropies