Maui Discussion

Op-Ed: Strengthening Our Community – Unveiling the True Cost of Nonprofit Support

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Op-ed Commentary
submitted by Debbie Cabebe
Chief executive officer of the nonprofit Maui Economic Opportunity

Debbie Cabebe, CEO Maui Economic Opportunity. PC: Hord

In our society, the nonprofit sector quietly but resolutely addresses systemic issues affecting our communities. It supports individuals and families ensnared in the throes of systemic problems, ultimately stabilizing our economy. Homelessness, poverty, abuse, educational deficiencies — these are not isolated issues but consequences of a broken system. While striving to rectify root causes, a robust and timely response is essential to support those in need.

The sector’s essence transcends organizations, resonating deeply with the Hawaiian concept of “Aloha,” symbolizing unity and interconnectedness. The nonprofit community is founded on these principles, serving as a reminder of our links to one another.

Historically, government and community-based organizations cultivated mutually appreciative relationships, driven by a common goal of meeting community needs. However, over the past decade, this synergy has been challenged. Nonprofits have not seen increases in their contracts to perform this vital work, while costs have risen. Left unaddressed, many community needs will go unanswered or under-addressed, leading to increases in issues affecting our families (homelessness, mental health concerns, poverty, etc.).


Service providers are now uniting to seek mutual partnership and sustainability for the sector’s future. At the heart of this effort is The True Cost Coalition, focused on addressing the costs of supporting the community. A crucial aspect of this transformation is changing the way we fund nonprofits. Nonprofits demonstrate remarkable resourcefulness, but chronic lack of adequate funding endangers their capacity to deliver social good. Unrealistically low administrative and fundraising cost expectations from funders force nonprofits to contort their budgets, often at the expense of their staff, to align with restrictions. The price is steep, affecting not only the organizations but also the communities they serve.

Communities are recognizing that a low budget does not equate to organizational effectiveness and adequate community response. To run successful programs and bring about lasting change, nonprofits must have the financial capacity to invest in infrastructure and the dedicated individuals at the core of their work. This means granting nonprofits the flexibility and financial stability needed to flourish and truly impact society.

The wildfires in Maui are poised to leave enduring effects on the entire state. The way we respond to this crisis will significantly influence the overall well-being of our community. A response that falls short could result in lasting consequences that our community will bear for generations to come. The ultimate mission of The True Cost Coalition is to guarantee that we effectively address the community’s needs.  An underfunded response will have lasting impacts.


In essence, nonprofits are our community’s lifeline, bridging the gap between those in need and a better future. They offer vital services and support when systemic failures take their toll. The heart of our community depends on it, and The True Cost Coalition is leading the charge, emphasizing that this is more than an organization’s survival — it’s about the collective health and prosperity of our community.

*****Views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author’s alone and do not reflect or represent the opinions, policies or positions of Maui Now.***** 


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