Manitoba at a crossroads


Why our spirit of generosity may make it more challenging for charities post-pandemic.

When it comes to charitable giving, Manitoba leads the nation. We hear this claim every year and it is based on two key factors. First, Manitobans compared to other Canadians give a higher proportion of their aggregate income to charity. Second, as a percentage of the population more Manitobans claim charitable gifts on their annual income tax returns. This longstanding tradition has provided significant benefits to the hundreds of charitable agencies that serve our community.

The charitable sector is very complex. While universities and hospitals are technically charitable, many would see them as more closely aligned with government than the public sector. In the public mind, there is a similar distinction that impacts our perception of religious organizations as well as private and public foundations. Even setting these types of charities aside, the sector includes a very broad range of agencies.

These remaining front-line organizations (and there are about 1,000 of them in Winnipeg) can be grouped according to the “Causes” they support:

  • Arts, heritage and culture
  • Children, youth and families
  • Environment and animal welfare
  • Health, wellness and recreation
  • Literacy, education and employment

Over the past number of weeks, The Winnipeg Foundation has been closely monitoring how these charities are coping with the challenges created by COVID-19. It is no surprise that the work of all charities has been significantly disrupted. The inability to gather people together has profound impacts on both program delivery and fundraising activities.

As the financial climate becomes increasingly uncertain, the willingness and the ability of donors to support community starts to diminish. Cancelations of every type naturally erode revenue streams. The passion that drives the charitable sector provides a strong sense of resilience but in these circumstances, there is simply less opportunity and less capacity to provide support to community organizations.

Roughly speaking, it is fair to estimate that if Manitobans supported our local front-line charities at the same level as average Canadians, revenues would drop by about $35 million annually. The remarkable generosity of people living in our province does unquestionably enrich the well-being and vitality of our communities. COVID-19, however, has turned this traditional strength into a vulnerability; we are not just making up for the average losses faced by all Canadian charities, we are making up more.

During a recent episode of The Foundation’s Because and Effect podcast, our guest was Thomas Morgan Jones, the Artistic Director at Prairie Theatre Exchange. As always, our host Nolan Bicknell did a great job in framing questions. After delving into the impact of COVID-19 on the arts scene Nolan asked, “What message does our community really need to hear?”

Thomas’ response: “We are really going to need each other.”

Truer words were never spoken.

Manitobans have set the philanthropic bar very high – that is what it means to lead the nation. In this time of extra-ordinary need, the decisions by countless individuals will collectively determine the road ahead. We all know that some people are not currently able to contribute in their usual pattern. It therefore falls on the rest to go the extra mile in support of the front-line charities closest to their heart.

Foundation CEO, Rick Frost shares a message at the end of every Working Together magazine. Download or view the full Spring 2020 issue on our Publications page.

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