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Community Mediation Program Funding
Since its formalization as a field nearly forty years ago, adequate financial support for community mediation has been a cyclically if not sustainably precarious proposition. Despite its provision of accessible conflict-assistive services – an increasingly core human service for today’s communities – local program funding is largely relegated to the insecure fringes of government appropriations, regularly at-risk of changing institutional interests and charitable capacities, and increasingly subject to growing market competition. Indeed, many of the challenges facing today’s programs are directly tied not to service demand or evolving conflict trends, but to funding hurdles and hardships.
Notwithstanding these burdens, community mediation programs continue to respond to local need with impressive regularity and impact. The average program is able to stretch its meager annual budget of less than $200,000 to support three full-time staff members and an active volunteer roster of 50 mediators who address nearly 1,000 case referrals, assist nearly 2,500 individuals, and provide a host of educational services to their local communities each year. Challenging this capacity, however, is the recent call for programs to maintain and even expand these service levels with access to even fewer financial resources.
The 2011 Survey sought to quantify several aspects of the field’s funding, including programs’ overall budget size, as well as their revenue categories and distribution. The picture which came into focus from administrators’ responses indicated a continued heavy reliance upon public support, but also one of increasing revenue diversification.
Government support from the local, state, and federal levels continues to constitute the largest component of the average program’s annual revenue. Sitting at 49 percent of annual revenue, public support is a decreasing, yet still vital area of support for community mediation. This recent decrease is likely directly attributable to the recent economic crisis and lethargic recovery process which has almost uniformly and substantially affronted local and state government budgets. In fact, some programs reported decreased government support in the order of 50 to 100 percent – a stark reality which resulted in contractions in affected programs’ staff sizes, programmatic resources, and overall capacity.
In response to these threats to traditional revenue, community mediation programs have invested their limited staff resources in exploring alternative, supplementary funding categories. Of the fourteen queried revenue categories, most programs reported receiving revenue from five categories. The range varied from zero – budgetless all-volunteer-administered programs – to an inspiring mix of ten distinct revenue categories. In fact, the field-wide trend appears to be toward greater revenue diversification; a movement which will ultimately serve to enhance program and overall field sustainability. Unfortunately, however, the draw from any particular non-government revenue category remains comparatively and practically too low to adequately insulate the field from the harm of sustained public divestment of community mediation support.
Several programs’ current revenue mix and innovative undertakings should serve to inspire colleagues along their own path toward revenue diversification. For example, while traditional party-paid fee-for-service revenue remains an unpromising and comparatively small component of programs’ overall budgets, contracted fees from social entrepreneurial services and customized training services both represent much greater opportunities for revenue growth.
Ultimately, the field has and will largely continue to weather the financial hardships it has experienced over the past half decade. To move beyond mere survival, however, the field’s leaders must continue to envision new funding opportunities that further our shared mission. This will likely include greater efforts toward revenue diversification, creative social entrepreneurial endeavors, and – a potentially begrudging – acknowledgement of the need to commoditize specific manifestations of our expertise for those within our communities who are capable and willing to pay for such services. Thankfully, our field has proven time and again its capacity to innovate and respond to seemingly insurmountable challenges, emerging on the other side as strong and relevant as ever.