COVID-19: What charities are telling us (updated: May 22, 2020)

“Because during this difficult time, it’s more important than ever to work together.”

Visit our COVID-19 page for:
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Charities play a vital role in our community and are instrumental to our quality of life.

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. During the coming weeks, The Foundation is working together with 18 bellwether organizations to learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting program and service delivery across Winnipeg’s charitable sector. The charities included in the project represent small, medium and large-sized organizations. This is just one of the many ways The Foundation is staying in touch with charities and gathering information to help inform decision-making.

Each week, the same bellwether organizations will be asked different questions about the effect of the evolving circumstances of the pandemic on their organizations.

The key themes from each survey will be posted the following week.

Week 6

Survey completed: May 11-15, 2020

Key themes:
  • Plan to reopen: One-third of the bellwether charities report they are planning and preparing to reopen; one-third report they are ready to go and waiting for a signal from government; a few are already open and operating and two report that things feel too uncertain to think about reopening.
  • In-person program delivery: Half of the charities surveyed are planning a phased-in return to in-person programming, while one-third will offer both in-person and online programming. Only one charity plans to remain exclusively online as restrictions ease. More than half report returning to about the same level of programming; one-third say they will not be able to return to the same levels as pre-pandemic.
  • Respecting requirements: Charities of all sizes are telling us the ‘new normal’ of required workplace sanitizing protocols and the need to reconfigure offices to allow for physical distancing will be challenging.

Week 5

Survey completed: May 4-8, 2020

Key themes:
  • Fewer services, more demand: Two-thirds of charities surveyed have suspended or cancelled at least 25 per cent of services offered. Three-quarters are experiencing either the same or an increase in demand.
  • Different delivery: Approximately three-quarters of charities surveyed have moved some or all services online. All but one have staff working remotely. Two-thirds have changed service delivery to adhere to physical distancing protocols. Some are using personal protective equipment to deliver services. One innovation reported are 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.

Week 4

Survey completed: April 27-May 1, 2020

Key themes:
  • 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.
  • Revenue strategies: Many charities do not have alternative strategies or plans to make up lost revenue. Those that do are considering taking fundraising events online; reaching out to loyal donors; applying for grants; and accessing government support.
  • Uncertain future: Even if a charity has not experienced loss of revenue, most surveyed have experienced staff layoffs. All charities surveyed indicate revenue projections have decreased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Charities also say feelings of uncertainty continue around any provincial intentions toward funding cuts.

Week 3

Survey completed: April 20-24, 2020

Key themes:
  • Staffing: Approximately 50 per cent of organizations surveyed have had to lay off staff, largely due to the inability to deliver programming and a decline in revenue. For those that have so far been able to avoid layoffs, in many cases staff hours have been reduced and contracts delayed.
  • Causes impacted: Layoffs have primarily occurred in the Children, Youth and Families, Arts, Culture and Heritage, and Environment and Animal Welfare Cause areas. Charities in the Literacy, Education and Employment Cause area have not yet experienced layoffs.
  • Employee resources: Staff mental health continues to be a concern for charities. Approximately 60 per cent of the organizations report providing Employee Assistance Programs; about half of these don’t know if their employees have accessed the services. Other resources being made available to staff include traditional medicines; open dialogue with senior leadership; intentional check-ins and wellness checks; and the sharing of mental health support information.

Week 2

Survey completed: April 13-17, 2020

Key themes:
  • Volunteers: Community organizations are governed by volunteer Boards and many frontline services are delivered or supported by volunteers. Many charities are holding emergency Board meetings; while most report no change in the role of Board members, some are taking on front-line roles and are more active in decision-making.
  • Front-line support: Setting aside hospitals, universities, foundations and religious organizations, there are about 1,000 Winnipeg charities directly on the front-line. 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*.
    * Research completed by the University of Winnipeg on behalf of The Winnipeg Foundation.
  • Funding: A number of charities report concerns with funding, including government discussions about potential cuts to overall or specific program funding and the amount of work required to apply for federal subsidy programs.

Week 1

Survey completed: April 6-9, 2020

Key themes:
  • Operations: Many charities are still operating, although many are working remotely and with reduced staff and capacity to deliver programs and services. Some have closed their doors temporarily as they determine the most effective way to operate. Some have had to lay off staff. Loss of revenue is consistent across all charities, leading to reduction in programming and cancellation of events.
  • Program and service delivery: Most groups have altered programming to serve pressing needs or offer alternate ways to stay connected. Technology has become an important tool to stay connected and deliver programs/services to those in need. Social media is being embraced to increase connectivity and communication.
  • Mental health: This is a concern for many charities, as anxiety and depression due to social isolation are on the rise. Technology is helping – but not fully solving – these issues. Most charities are strengthened in their convictions to deliver programming to reduce anxiety/depression for both staff and those they serve.

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