Puerto Rico Non-Profits Can Lead The Way In This Crisis. This Is How We Can All Help.

non-profits Puerto Rico

Image via Unsplash/ Kat Yukawa

By Ileana Rodríguez

May 11, 2020

More Boricuas live elsewhere than on the island, but only 3% of non-profits in Puerto Rico have strategies to engage and seek support from the diaspora, leaving enormous resources untapped.

Puerto Rico’s economic crisis and the state of the island’s well-being are covered daily from multiple angles. One hopes this coverage will not only increase awareness but also fuel solutions and action. In light of continuous scandals, corruption, and government incompetence, much hope rides on local non-profits and foundations to lead the way.

The government seems to lack confidence in its own ability to solve problems, judging by its current mishandling of food-distribution needs. Puerto Rico’s Department of Education delegated the distribution of food to non-profit community organizations, and to municipalities with smaller infrastructure and logistical capacity.

RELATED: Puerto Rico Will Only Feed Starving Students If They Ask

Non-profit organizations grow from the heart. They tend to emerge from the passion of community leaders who know what people need and how they need it. There are more than 10,000 non-profits in Puerto Rico, which reflects the extensive energy and will among Boricuas to find and provide homegrown solutions to the challenges the island faces.

These efforts, however, can be overwhelming, as leaders of these initiatives confront the day-to-day hurdles of fundraising and running an organization.

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Some of these organizations have the infrastructure to thrive. A closer look at Puerto Rico’s non-profits reveals that the energy and dreams of many local leaders rely on weakly stitched-up organizations that are big on heart, mission, and hopes but are missing the essential building blocks that define sustainable and impactful organizations. 

According to a study done by Estudios Tecnicos, these are some of the issues affecting Puerto Rico’s non-profits:

  • 56% do not have a tax-exempt designation, making them less likely to be able to receive funds.
  • 58% work in isolation from other non-profits in the island or the U.S., resulting in redundancies and competition over limited resources.
  • 44% do not have a strategic plan to inform their current work and approaches for impact and sustainability.
  • 97% do not have a strategy to engage the Puerto Rican diaspora for support and fundraising.

As Puerto Rico’s economy contracts and the island faces the results of natural disasters and a public health crisis, the need for the services of non-profit organizations is more critical than ever. 

The philanthropic community wants to support the people of Puerto Rico. After hurricane Maria, over $300 million in new funds flowed to the island in response. Two out of three of those dollars came from individuals and organizations in the diaspora. The philanthropic community responded steadfast, generous, and focused, while federal and local governments stumbled to take action.

Much of the support went directly to community-led organizations. Initiatives such as presenting “Hamilton” in Puerto Rico raised $15 million for the Flamboyan Arts Fund in support of arts and culture organizations on the island. 

However, too few non-profit organizations in Puerto Rico have the stability, infrastructure, and strategic clarity to garner the confidence of donors and supporters. Isolated and redundant efforts reduce the potential for impact. If we are to see innovative solutions driven by communities and led by the people of Puerto Rico, we need a strong and thriving non-profit sector.

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