Char­i­ties not im­mune to COVID-19

Calgary Herald - - YOU - CRAIG KIELBURGER

“What’s at stake, with­out be­ing too dra­matic, is the sur­vival of large swaths of the char­i­ta­ble sec­tor,” ex­plains Bruce Mac­don­ald, pres­i­dent of Imag­ine Canada.

The so­cial good sec­tor has seen greater de­clines in rev­enue and more job losses than dur­ing the 2008 re­ces­sion. Yet more Cana­di­ans are vul­ner­a­ble, re­ly­ing on char­i­ta­ble ser­vices.

It’s a recipe for dis­as­ter — but there are so­lu­tions. As the pan­demic rav­ages the econ­omy, talks turn to bailouts for sec­tors deemed too im­por­tant to fail, from air­lines to the en­ergy in­dus­try. Canada’s 170,000 reg­is­tered char­i­ties have lost an es­ti­mated $10 bil­lion and should be part of the con­ver­sa­tion.

More than just keep­ing or­ga­ni­za­tions afloat, gov­ern­ment sup­port con­veys so­cial value. What we choose to bail out rep­re­sents what we be­lieve should sur­vive.

Char­i­ties em­ploy more than two mil­lion Cana­di­ans and ac­count for 8.4 per cent of the GDP; what’s more, they buoy in­di­vid­u­als and com­mu­ni­ties in times of need. In the best of times, more than 800,000 Cana­di­ans turn to food banks. Since COVID-19, they’ve seen a 20 per cent jump in de­mand.

We have to sup­port the pri­vate sec­tor and re­tain jobs, of course, but we also need to en­sure char­i­ties and non-prof­its are ready to help the most vul­ner­a­ble. This cri­sis presents an op­por­tu­nity to strengthen the so­cial good sec­tor.

First, there’s a sys­temic solution. In 2018, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment un­veiled plans for a So­cial Fi­nance Fund, a $755-mil­lion pool for char­i­ties and so­cial en­trepreneur­s to draw from to grow and scale their im­pact.

Now is the time to un­leash that fi­nanc­ing, es­pe­cially fo­cused on help­ing non-prof­its to launch so­cial en­ter­prises to earn in­come to sup­port their projects.

Then, there’s a change in per­spec­tive that should guide how Cana­di­ans help char­i­ties bounce back. Typ­i­cally, donors give re­stricted funds for spe­cific projects. Those dol­lars can’t be re­as­signed, no mat­ter how dire ex­ter­nal cir­cum­stances.

Char­i­ties have to be ag­ile. If you be­lieve in the or­ga­ni­za­tion, hope­fully you be­lieve in the char­ity’s ca­pac­ity to spend un­re­stricted do­na­tions re­spon­si­bly.

Con­sider not only giv­ing to the mis­sion, but also in­vest­ing in the char­ity’s or­ga­ni­za­tional abil­ity to ful­fil that mis­sion. That means fun­ders need to give them the space to in­no­vate by giv­ing un­re­stricted funds, sup­port­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion costs and al­low­ing them to de­velop cash re­serves.

One of the big­gest changes for many char­i­ties’ bud­gets in this down­turn are tech­nol­ogy costs to shift pro­gram­ming on­line. But few donors want to pick up the tab for tech­nol­ogy trans­for­ma­tions. To­day, char­i­ties need un­re­stricted and ad­min­is­tra­tion fund­ing to be more ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient. Un­like for-prof­its, most char­i­ties can’t se­cure loans and few have funds tucked away to weather eco­nomic storms. Re­serves are even looked down on by fun­ders who want their money go­ing di­rectly to projects. But with­out re­serves or ac­cess to cap­i­tal, we’ve left char­i­ties no room to con­tinue pro­grams un­in­ter­rupted dur­ing eco­nomic down­turns.

I’m the first to ad­mit that some com­mu­ni­ties and is­sues may be bet­ter served if or­ga­ni­za­tions merged and pooled their re­sources. But right now we run the risk of los­ing hard won ex­per­tise and ded­i­cated teams ca­pa­ble of driv­ing change. We need to help char­i­ties sur­vive.

COVID-19 didn’t cre­ate the prob­lems in the char­i­ta­ble sec­tor. It re­vealed them. But it also of­fers a chance to fix them.

Craig Kielburger is co-founder of the WE Move­ment, which in­cludes WE Char­ity, ME to WE So­cial En­ter­prise and WE Day.

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