Challenges of Bhutanese Non-Profit Organizations

Photo Courtesy: Creative Commons

As I was drafting this piece, the Federal Government announced an amazing grant opportunity. Should the organization you work or volunteer for is eligible to apply for this grant opportunity, it is worth a try. Well, good luck with it!

Now let us face other facts:

Many of the Bhutanese non-profit entities in the United States are unable to thrive despite continued efforts from their leaders and volunteers. Although by now the world of nonprofit should no longer be a newer concept in this community, most organizations are still struggling to sustain. What does it take for them to be more efficient and effective?

While there are many health and mental health needs assessment reports published in the literature, there is no single study available about Bhutanese organizations’ needs assessment. I conducted an online survey using SurveyMonkey, among the US-based Bhutanese nonprofits to assess their organization’s needs from September-December 2017 as a part of my MPA capstone project. The result is astonishing.

The survey included questions about mission, board governance, planning, resource development, PR & marketing, administration & management, and strategic planning & analysis functions. Eighty-nine percent of the board of directors and eleven percent of senior executive leaders from thirty-nine organizations responded to the survey.

Seventy-two percent of the organization reported that they didn’t have a written strategic plan. The strategic plan is a roadmap for non-profit success, which sets the overall goal of your business and to develop a plan to achieve them. Not having a strategic plan is a pitfall to success.

When asked who besides board was involved, they said, “Consultants, the founder, advisers, executive committee members, and board chair”. The strategic plan designed by the consultants alone may not capture the important areas of improvement that should have come from employees and volunteers at all levels.

Fifty-eight percent reported they obtained 501c3 status, 29% did not and 14% were not sure. Though 501c3 is not a requirement for organizing community but some state agencies, like the Secretary of State or the Attorney General’s office, generally require organizations to register before soliciting charitable contributions, and will impose fines on unregistered funders. Check their website for guidelines and registration information. You can find your state’s charity registration office here.

Ninety percent of organizations responded that they had their written mission statements. Eighteen percent reported to have the board review the mission and vision statements quarterly, thirteen percent semi-annually, twenty-nine percent annually and forty percent didn’t do it yet.

Sixty-eight percent have reported that there was no training for the board members to increase their skills and knowledge. Ninety-two percent (36) organizations thought they needed non-profit leadership training for both board and executive leaders. The BoardEffect may be a good tool for nonprofits boards to adopt some of their best practices.

Eighty-eight percent of organizations reported that they did not have liability insurance. The liability insurance is the most important pieces of non-profit organizations. Not having it for the board members and entity can lead to serious potential liability. For example, board members may be sued for any reason.

Majority of the organizations are run on a volunteer basis without any paid staff. Sixty two percent reported to have zero annual revenue, ten percent had $10,000-50,000, five percent had $100,000-150,000 and five percent had $150,000-200,000. This shows that there is a real opportunity for the organization leaders to raise funds through multiple sources including local banks, businesses, individual donors, and private foundations, local, state and federal institutions, including crowdfunding.

Eighty-five percent reported that they have no employees while 15% reported that had between 1-10 employees. Seventy-four percent had no office space while 26% had their office space.

Eighty-seven percent responded that they had a website and Facebook page while thirteen percent didn’t. Sixty-five percent said their organization did not issue any published annual reports, brochures and newsletters while twenty-seven reported they were unsure.

Fifty-nine percent reported that their organization did not have a succession plan for key executive positions. Seventy-four percent of organizations said they didn’t conduct a formal performance appraisal for their staff.

Traditionally, Bhutanese community organizations are male-dominated in most of the leadership roles. The programs designed solely by men disproportionately affect women and their needs. I was interested in seeing the male-female ratio in leadership roles. The survey result showed that there was a steep gender gap. Ninety-one percent of the males dominated over 9% of females in leadership roles.

The SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis was also part of the survey to capture the qualitative response. The strength includes experience in providing community services with the use of the bilingual volunteers and staff, collective decision making, youth engagement, good public support, bi-directional communication to the community members, and common platform.

Weakness includes board members not being able to meet physically, volunteer burnout, no formal recruitment and training process, and lack of non-profit governance knowledge. Similarly, on the executive side, inadequate funding, lack of office space, poor leadership training, and development.

The reported opportunities were meaningful integration of refugees to the mainstream community, cities had adequate resources to tap into, potential growth, empower, train and develop leadership among youth to lead the organizations.

The reported threat includes a lack of federal funding available for post-resettlement and integration services, internal migration, cultural dissociation and loss of community belongingness.

Despite various challenges, the culture of collectivism among Bhutanese to address social and cultural needs on their own is something true sense of volunteerism where I must give kudos to community leaders and volunteers.

Unlike for-profit companies where shareholders are the owners, the board of directors are the stakeholders and have fiduciary responsibility. It is critical for them to review their mission and vision statements periodically to avoid any potential misappropriation of funds. The non-profit executives must develop a formal onboarding and training process to support the new and existing board members.

On the administrative site, there is a strong need to create innovative ways for human resources, programming, and sustainability. This may be achieved by hiring an expert grant writer who can work with the executive leaders to seek funding opportunities to address the local needs of the communities. Additionally, nonprofits may partner with local universities to create programs where faculties and interns can play critical roles in researching and developing interventions.

The result of the challenges faced by Bhutanese non-profit organizations underscores the belief that Bhutanese refugees are fully integrated and capacity building and community development initiatives are fully met.

More emphasis should be given to provide non-profit leadership and management training among board and executive leaders so that they move closer towards mainstream non-profit standards. Voluntarism, civic activism, professionalism, and commercialization are four impulses shaping the future of nonprofit America as presented by Lester Salmon in his book, The State of Nonprofit America.

If the successful resettled Bhutanese individuals and businesses in the U.S truly practice the culture of philanthropy, communities may overcome funding challenges. And the onus is on both business leaders and educated individuals.


Gautam is the former Board Chair and President of Bhutanese Society of Western Massachusetts. He holds MPA from Westfield State University.




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