Understanding charities’ COVID-19 challenges


Photo: Left to Right: Dr. Linda Hamilton (Winnipeg Foundation donor), Albert El Tassi (Winnipeg Foundation Board member and donor), Liz Wilson and Ian Barnett (FortWhyte Alive), Mercy Oluwafemi (Youth in Philanthropy alumna; Winnipeg Foundation donor), Suhky Mann (LiteracyWorks), Doris Koop (Vision Impaired Resources Network)
Winnipeg Foundation-initiated bellwether surveys gain understanding of what it’s like for local charities.

The Winnipeg Foundation is here to help our community as much as we are able. Part of our responsiveness is hearing from other charities about the most pressing issues they are facing. Beginning in mid-April, The Foundation worked together with 18 bellwether organizations to learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every part of Winnipeg’s charitable sector. Weekly surveys were conducted for eight weeks. The charities included represented small, medium and large-sized organizations across The Foundation’s five Cause areas.

Key themes from surveys include:

Fewer services, more demand: Two-thirds of charities surveyed suspended or cancelled at least 25 per cent of services offered. Three quarters experienced either the same or an increase in demand.

Different delivery: Approximately three-quarters of charities surveyed moved some or all services online. All but one had staff working remotely. Two-thirds changed service delivery to adhere to physical distancing protocols. Some used personal protective equipment to deliver services. One innovation reported is Elder and Knowledge Keeper services (drumming, prayers) delivered online and over the phone.

Technology challenges: Most charities surveyed say they were ill-prepared and ill- equipped to move to online delivery because of limited access or delayed investment in technology. Many staff are using their own hardware at their own expense. Many of the communities that charities serve do not have hardware or connectivity, which makes the shift to online delivery very challenging.

Lost revenue: The bulk of bellwether organizations (approximately 75 per cent) advise they have experienced a loss of revenue. All those who have lost revenue consider the losses ‘significant.’ The majority cite loss of earned revenue from activities such as ticket sales, social enterprise income, and cancelled fundraising activities, as well as a decrease in donations as the sources of their loss.

These results align with national findings as reported by Imagine Canada, the umbrella organization representing the charitable sector. Imagine Canada* found 69 per cent of charities across the county have seen decreased revenues since the pandemic began, with an average decrease of 30.6 per cent. Nationally, 30 per cent of charities have already laid off staff and 55 per cent say new or additional layoffs are a possibility.

Learn more about The Foundation’s bellwether surveys: wpgfdn.org/COVID

* Imagine Canada Sector Monitor: Charities & the COVID-19 Pandemic, published May 2020.

This story is featured in the Spring 2020 issue of our Working Together magazine. Download or view the full issue on our Publications page.

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