For some non-profit organizations, COVID-19 is not just a struggle. It’s a time to do or die

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While some of Canada’s most respected nonprofit organizations are struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, others have already been defeated and forced to close their doors permanently.Charitable social service providers – daycare, community places, support groups and more – have experienced a catastrophic drop in income, with some forced to cancel fundraising activities due to physical demands for distance while others are simply unable to function.

This means a complete loss of user fees and other regular sources of income. Meanwhile, rent and wages still have to be paid.

Although many charities are eligible for the federal wage subsidy, this only covers part of the cost of staff.

Among the victims so far:

  • The YMCA in Yarmouth, N.S. – a light fixture on Main Street in the city for 162 years, permanently closed; other Y locations are at risk.
  • No fewer than 124 Royal Canadian Legion branches across the country do not have the resources to reopen, or say they will not last more than three months if they do.
  • The Boys and Girls Club of Canada location in Edson, Alberta has alerted the community that it will not be able to reopen.
  • IMPACT Parkinson’s Center, a small non-profit organization in New Westminster, British Columbia, closed on June 1, unable to “get to the other side,” according to a notice on its website.
  • The Old East Village grocery store in London, Ontario, a social enterprise that supported people with food insecurity, had to close due to the cost of new sanitation protocols and understaffing.

The YMCA of Greater Vancouver derives most of its revenues from membership fees, but the gymnasiums are empty and fees were suspended during the COVID-19 lockout. (Ema Peter / YMCA)

Peter Dinsdale, President and CEO of YMCA Canada, is concerned that his Yarmouth plant is not the only one to close permanently.

“There could be YMCAs that would never reopen, or would have to merge with others in neighboring communities in order to be able to open,” he said, noting that the YMCA is the largest child care provider in non-profit in Canada.

“Massive disruptions” in the sector

A April survey by Imagine Canada, an organization that works with charities, found that one in five of its member organizations had suspended or ceased operations.

“The area is not well built for this kind of massive disruption,” said Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada.

He said the impact of COVID-19 was worse than the global financial crisis of 2008-09.

“The pandemic has affected all sources of income and all potential sources of support, so it is much deeper and it will be much more difficult to return. ”

The organization wrote to the Prime Minister asking him to implement a $ 3.75 billion subsidy program to ensure the survival of what he calls “essential social infrastructure” across the country.

The group estimates that the financial impact of the pandemic on registered charities is between $ 9.5 and 15.7 billion, due to the loss of fundraising events, membership fees, donations and sales of goods and services.

Although Imagine Canada said there was no data on the extent to which Canadians use nonprofit and charitable organizations, it said the sector accounts for 8.5% of national GDP and employs 2.4 million people who provide “vital services that communities rely on to thrive.” ”

A fight even before the pandemic

The Boys and Girls Club of Canada, for example, is a not-for-profit organization that provides before and after school child care programs at its 775 locations across the country, as well as summer camps.

The Edson site, now closed, was in financial trouble before COVID-19 struck, according to President and CEO Owen Charters.

“The situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic,” he said.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada normally offers after school programs like this one at the Kingston and area clubs. The closings due to COVID-19 mean a lack of child care. (Stevie Shipman / Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada)

Charters said most of the working single mothers across the country, who are both the primary caregiver and the breadwinner, will be affected by the loss of club child care. All locations are closed and cannot operate at this time.

“It is going to be quite difficult for families who thought they would have support throughout the summer season and now that is not the case,” said Charters.

Struggling to innovate

Despite the countless challenges, many non-profit groups continue to provide services in one way or another.

Cathy Taylor, Executive Director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, says people in the field have been quick to innovate.

“One of the things that really struck me was the resilience of the sector,” said Taylor. “Their incomes have dropped considerably, but they are finding creative ways to serve their communities. ”

She said that some people transformed their services “overnight”, noting how organizations helping immigrants quickly turned their ESL courses into virtual cafes, and food banks began shipping boxes to instead of having volunteers on site to do the grocery shopping.

“There have been amazing stories of local mental health services and programs for seniors online,” she said.

Hundreds of Legion Branches in Trouble

The Royal Canadian Legion says it continued to provide support to veterans during the pandemic.

“Throughout our closure, each of our 1,381 service agents across the country maintained a virtual presence,” said executive director Steven Clark. “They were practically accessible at all times. ”

Legion volunteers continued to prepare meals for the elderly and provide prescription drugs, among other community supports, but weddings and other social events generally held in local Legion halls were suspended.

Legion personnel such as bartender Kate Fitzmaurice, seen chatting with Ralph Moan at a Winnipeg branch, continue to provide services to veterans during COVID-19. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

More alarming is the result of a branch survey that the Legion conducted in June.

“We have found that 124 branches are in immediate danger of not being able to reopen, or that they will close within three months of reopening,” said Clark.

“We have 357 other people who say that when they open they will face serious financial difficulties. “

Sector calls for more government assistance

The federal government has already provided some support to the sector, in the form of the $ 350 million Community Emergency Support Fund.

The Red Cross, United Way and Community Foundations of Canada will donate funds to nonprofit and charitable organizations that help “vulnerable populations who are disproportionately affected by COVID-19”.

But that will not be enough, according to MacDonald of Imagine Canada.

“As the reserves run out and the federal government stops the wage subsidy program, many organizations will be stressed,” he said.

“We are already seeing examples of organizations that will not be able to weather the storm. “

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