The non-profits sector is unique, requiring thought through and targeted responses to COVID-19. Sector survival is at stake. Let’s ensure the sector continues to provide services to community and comes out the other side validated, appreciated and ready to face new challenges.

Written by: Kristi Fairholm Mader | Director, Innovation and Initiatives, Scale Collaborative and Joanna Buczkowska-McCumber | Executive Director, League of Innovators | Board Chair, Scale Institute Society

In times of economic depression, challenge and great inequality, non-profits and charities have stepped in to provide services and support, advocate for the most vulnerable and connect communities to each other. They rely on grants, fundraising, donations, contracts, volunteers and earned revenue in order to meet the needs of communities. In the face of COVID-19, these resources are drying up. Imagine Canada estimates that the downturn of activity due to COVID-19 will impact fundraising options for charities dramatically with an estimated $9.5 billion loss over the next 3 months and growing to $15.6 billion loss in 6 months time. With low financial reserves to begin with, those losses could be devastating to the charitable sector and our communities.

Take a moment to imagine a future without non-profits – this is the sector of food banks, community centres, theaters and art centres, employment programs, disability services, nature conservation, animal rescue and on and on. What will your community look like?

The size of the social sector in Canada is significant – contributing 8.5% of Canada’s GDP with almost 2.4 million employees. The sector is large and diverse, and defined by creating positive contributions to our society and our communities. Yet the non-profit and charity sector has been often left to fend for itself, with no designated Ministry representation, secretariat or coordinated national (or even provincial) strategies to strengthen and grow.  We feel that orphan status now more than ever.

We applaud the government for responding to business community needs but we also need a specific and considered plan for the non-profit sector. Business solutions can not be simply slapped into a non-profit structure. Non-profits require solutions appropriate to the unique operational, governance and financial realities they exist in, both now and beyond COVID-19. For the now:

  1. Keep the funds flowing from funders, donors and governments. Do not press pause, do increase your allocation and do provide unrestricted funds;
  2. Coordinate funding responses: responsive grants (for increased demand), resiliency grants (for survival) and recovery grants (for startup post-COVID);
  3. Charities can access different types of funds that non-profits can not. Make sure to include non-charitable non-profits in any rescue package that is created; 
  4. Apply any small business solution to the non-profit sector while also asking ‘will this help smaller and local non-profits ’? For example, wage subsidies need to be calculated against expenses and loss of fundraising projections not just against last year’s revenue;   
  5. Debt is not the solution- we need a break on expenses– rent and staffing are the 2 largest expenses. Landlords and financial institutions could help in the form of rent abatement and interest relief. Help them to do this.

The next couple of months will be transformational for many- in both painful and creative ways. Let’s ensure that this sector who has stood up for the marginalized and vulnerable, that delivers vital services to those in need, that speaks for those who cannot, that breathes vitality and art into our communities, is able to navigate COVID-19, continue to provide services to community and comes out the other side validated, appreciated and ready to face the next challenge. 

What can you do right now? 

  1. Become a monthly donor to organizations you care about. Monthly donors provide secure, unrestricted funds that organizations can depend and build on. Even $10 monthly donations makes a difference. 
  2. If you are not sure what organization to support, donate to your local community foundation, United Way or impact investment funds– they know the sector and are mobilizing responses.
  3. Non-profit leaders and board members- how is your organization being impacted by COVID-19? What else is needed? Fill out this quick survey- responses are being collected by Vantage Point

Part of a series ‘Conversations for Sector Transformation’ – other articles in this series: