Help the Charitable Sector Innovate in the Face of COVID-19

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This blog is published by CanadaHelps and Imagine Canada.

What would Canada look like without its charitable sector? 1 in 5 organizations have either suspended operations or ceased programs as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and some charities have already closed their doors including a YMCA in Nova Scotia, a Boys and Girls Club in Alberta, and hundreds of Royal Canadian Legions. Compared to the Great Recession of 2008, twice as many charities have seen an impact to their bottom line as a result of COVID, with more than two-thirds of charities reporting a 31% drop in revenues — a significant drop for charities that already operate on extremely tight margins.  All Canadians, but especially the most vulnerable, will be hurt by this.

There is no question that charities across the country are struggling. But they are also showing incredible resilience, innovation, and determination in extraordinarily challenging circumstances. Charities have shown us that they will not be stopped from carrying out their missions — but they can’t do it alone.

Today, CanadaHelps and Imagine Canada are proud to announce the COVID Charity Adaption & Innovation Fund, which will help 400 charities transform the way they work so they can not only survive the impact of COVID-19, but strengthen their organizations so they can continue to be the backbone of our society.

This Fund was created out of a great need. When CanadaHelps launched two Funds dedicated to COVID-19 response, it became clear almost immediately that responding to COVID-19 could not just be about medical and social services work. We invited charities to apply to this Fund, which includes charities that described needs of investing in technology to launch new ways of delivering services online; changing the way they work to meet new demands; investing in personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation to protect staff and clients as they continue to operate; exploring ways they can collaborate with other charities to increase their impact or make their operations more efficient; or investing in new strategies for operating in the post-COVID world once the immediate crisis abates.

To support the Canadians served by and working within the charitable sector, we must support the infrastructure behind it. It is easy to think of the work of charities as the programs they provide — people housed, seniors cared for, lives saved — but the infrastructure behind these programs is critical to everything charities do. Charities must pay rent and utilities, pay their staff, clean facilities and manage their organizations in order to offer programming. Behind every meal served, there are hard costs that extend far beyond the food on the plate. In a COVID world, they must do all this with higher costs (physical distancing requires more space or fewer clients served), a new demand for PPE and increased sanitation, and for many, becoming virtual workplaces and virtual service organizations almost overnight. Charities supporting vulnerable populations must take extra care, and many other charities – such as theatres and performing arts organizations, community and recreation centres, and childcare – are in the business of large gatherings and close contact.

Without infrastructure, programs will disappear. The sector is staffed by nearly 80% women according to ONN so layoffs, or decreased capacity have largely impacted female employees. Once organizations begin to look into cost cutting, it’s really hard to reactivate. What a waste it would be to lose the programs charities have developed over years because a charity can’t meet payroll!

So how are charities adapting to our new world? More than half (54%) have increased existing online programming or pivoted in-person programs online.  Nearly as many (42%) have started new programming to meet emerging needs. They are looking for creative solutions to reach their clients, support staff, and transform the way they work so they can continue to be there for us all. Some examples of how the charities in this Fund will use the money:

  • Green Iglu is developing technology for an at-home hydroponic gardening solution to support growing and learning at home in remote communities
  • Therapeutic Paws of Canada is transforming the way their organization works, moving away from the exclusively in-person visits to virtual visits. The conversation, motivation, social engagement, mental and physical support, and more will all be offered  in a virtual format with unlimited reach.
  • HOPE Okanagan is looking to work more intensely on sustainability and resilience with a higher degree of partnering where possible and efficient service delivery. They are also investing in training and re-training volunteers and clients to ensure proper safety protocols are being followed.
  • Child Development Institute wants to develop and pilot an app to deliver their evidence-based model that supports children and families with emotional regulation, self-control, and problem solving. The SNAP Coaching App will help keep families engaged and supported regardless of their location and circumstances.
  • National Jazz Orchestra wants to play an active role in getting a full sector of cultural and economic activity back on track, as well as gathering the means to negotiate their complete digital shift. They will be developing live broadcast capabilities, as well as digital learning initiatives to engage the public in their mission.
  • Northern Environment Action Team knows that they need to pivot and adjust their programming to reflect the realities of community building in a post-covid world. Determining new methodologies for measuring impact effectively will provide them with the data to make educated and informed decisions about new business and programming opportunities.
  • Waterloo Down Syndrome Society is moving their programming, such as their cooking classes, online. They will develop the classes and provide ingredients to participants to continue building their cooking and independent living skills.

We were only able to include the first 400 charities that met the criteria for this Fund because we wanted each charity to receive enough from the Fund to have an impact, but the need in the charitable sector goes beyond just these charities. There are 86,000 charities in Canada that are important to our communities, and we hope all Canadians who are financially secure during this difficult time will continue to support the charities they know and love.

For those who are able to do a bit more, or who don’t know where to start, we hope you will support and share this Fund. Let’s take this opportunity to say that charities matter, and let them know we are here for them the way they are there for all of us.

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