Charities vital to community


By Rick Frost, CEO, The Winnipeg Foundation

In this world of self-imposed distancing, charities, their employees and volunteers can feel very isolated. Perhaps more than at any other time, we need to remember who we are collectively. We need to remember that a generous philanthropic spirit is deeply entrenched in the values that characterize Manitoba. In Winnipeg there are more than 1,600 charities and another 300 private and public foundations. Despite how we may feel today, we are not alone.

Setting aside the hospitals, universities, foundations and religious organizations, there are about 1,000 Winnipeg charities directly on the “front-line” contributing to our quality of life. In the context of COVID-19, it is particularly interesting to note that 55 per cent of these agencies describe their work as social services and a further 28 per cent are focused on health care. We all know (but need to remind ourselves) that the charitable sector is completely integrated into the fabric of our community.

Taken together, front-line Winnipeg charities employ about 29,000 people – a number that grows to 42,000 if all Manitoba is included. These dedicated employees are at the core of community service and the effectiveness of the charitable sector owes much to their commitment. But in addition, every year we see reports that Manitoba leads the nation when it comes to philanthropy. Community organizations are governed by volunteers and many front-line services are delivered or supported by volunteers. From packing food hampers to greeting theatre patrons, people from all walks of life are giving freely to improve our quality of life. When combined with the professionalism and dedication of staff, the charitable sector is driven by a passion that COVID-19 cannot kill.

Research completed by the University of Winnipeg on behalf of The Winnipeg Foundation concludes the percentage growth in “output” by charities (non-religious) compared very favourably with other sectors of the Manitoba economy – growth rates equalling crop and animal production and greater than retail or wholesale trade. Again, we are reminded of the important role played by community organizations.

The Winnipeg Foundation takes great pride in supporting the widest possible range of charitable activity and “causes” in our community. In this time of crisis, our attention is naturally focused on the most vulnerable people – those with the least advantage and those with special needs. Government is also working tirelessly to get resources where they are most needed. Notwithstanding these efforts, we recognize the incredible disruption COVID-19 is causing within the charitable sector.

Charities rely on a mixture of government funding, social enterprise and ticket sale revenue, and donations and fundraising for their survival; all of these activities have been impacted, and it has meant enormous challenges. In mid-April, The Winnipeg Foundation began working together with a representative sample of charities to understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting program and service delivery across Winnipeg’s charitable sector. Through weekly surveys, we learned about how charities are faring. Findings were published on our website and in the Winnipeg Free Press. You can read a summary of some of those findings on the facing page.

The new normal – however it emerges from COVID-19 – must include a vibrant charitable sector. From arts and culture to the alleviation of poverty, it is impossible to imagine a flourishing community without the passion and impact of hundreds of community agencies. The face of the charitable sector may change somewhat; we will undoubtedly learn, and we will adapt. Every thoughtful Winnipegger knows charitable activity in this City contributes significantly to our economy, and our quality of life. COVID-19 is an historical event that we will get through together.

* A version of this op-ed appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on April 18, 2020 and in the Spring 2020 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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