Marina Glogovac is president and CEO of CanadaHelps, a leader in providing powerful fundraising and donation technology to charities and donors since 2000.
Early in the COVID-19 outbreak there was a groundswell of support for charities, particularly for those that responded directly to urgent pandemic needs, such as health care and food banks.
Past data from the Giving Report, which our organization publishes annually, show that Canadians are generous in times of crisis, but sustaining that generosity through a calamity that is now pushing two years is much harder to do. And the latest headlines about the rapidly circulating Omicron variant and persistent and increasing inflation certainly aren’t helping.
Despite these continuing challenges, this is not the time to take a break from supporting our communities. If we do, we may not recover from the damage.
Over the past two years, donations and other types of revenue earned by charities have fallen far below prepandemic levels. In the 2021 Giving Report, published this past April, CanadaHelps projected that overall giving for the previous tax year would drop by 10 per cent.
While there were positive signs that online giving would fill some of the projected gaps in overall giving, even that has slowed down, which is likely an indicator of a much larger drop in overall giving than originally expected. Unfortunately, Canada Revenue Agency data lag by about two years, so it will be a while before official statistics confirm this drop.
In addition, the significant growth in online giving in 2020 – up 116-per-cent year over year – was not evenly distributed among all types of charities.
There was energy and keen interest in COVID relief, and the top four charitable categories in terms of fastest growth in online giving, as reported in the 2021 Giving Report were: 1) Indigenous peoples; 2) social services, which include charities such as food banks; 3) public benefit, which includes foundations and giving through cause funds that address specific issues; and 4) health.
Charities with missions outside pandemic relief and those that relied on earned income (such as arts organizations) did not get the same donor attention. Fast forward another year, and even the growth in online giving has slowed significantly.
This softening of online growth comes at a time when demand for charitable services is rising. According to research by Imagine Canada, an advocacy organization for charities, 42 per cent of Canada’s charities can no longer meet current service demands. This is not surprising, given how the pandemic disproportionately impacted the most vulnerable communities that are often the beneficiaries of charities’ work.
Despite this lack of resources, charities have stepped up to support Canadians through job losses, increasing domestic violence and child abuse, and the isolation and despair many people have experienced. Charities have stretched their resources – financial and staff – and done their best to survive through a crisis we all thought would end.
But there is a limit to how much an organization – and people – can be stretched before breaking, and I fear we are approaching that point.
The same research from Imagine Canada found that almost one in four charity leaders believe their organizations will not be able to operate for another year. A loss of a quarter of Canada’s charities would be catastrophic, especially when you think of the critical services they deliver, including providing basic necessities such as food, shelter, health care and education.
Charities can’t take another hit, and especially not at the time of year when many of them bring in 40 per cent of their annual revenue. It is also completely unthinkable for a wealthy country such as Canada.
We’re seeing a large accumulation of wealth by some individual Canadians, but not a corresponding increase in charitable giving. RBC estimates Canadians have amassed $280-billion in extra savings during the pandemic. A disproportionate amount of those savings are held by high-income households – about 30 per cent of extra pandemic savings, according to RBC, compared to just 10 per cent held by the lowest-income households.
However, a new Ipsos poll conducted on behalf of CanadaHelps confirms that, of people with extra cash in hand, just 17 per cent have donated some of the excess funds to charity. The poll also revealed that only 12 per cent of Canadians increased their donations to charity during the pandemic, while 18 per cent reduced them.
In so many ways, inequality has been the theme of this crisis. People who could work from home have done better – health-wise and financially – than those who couldn’t. Families who could afford private child care and schooling were able to mitigate the harms of school and daycare closures. Rich countries have access to vaccines, but poorer countries still do not, and that drags out the pandemic by making room for new variants.
Cancelled surgeries, delayed screenings and virtual medical appointments (or avoidance of in-person visits) have all contributed to a growing number of deaths indirectly linked to COVID-19. The Canadian Medical Association estimates more than 4,000 deaths can be attributed to delayed care because of the pandemic. And oncologists are preparing for a tsunami of incurable cancers that will greatly increase this number.
Add in the mental health crisis (including anxiety, depression and addiction), and the economic ruin from shattered businesses and lost work, and it is clear why demand is surging for so many charities. They are there to help when businesses and governments don’t, and they often do it on a shoestring.
We cannot continue to ignore this crisis facing the charities Canadians depend on. To ensure the country and world we want, affluent Canadians need to balance current economic concerns with the reality of their relative privilege.
Now is not the time to give into pandemic fatigue. We need to harness the early rallying cry of “we’re all in this together,” but now from a place of wisdom that recognizes we are not all experiencing the same crisis, yet we all have a role to play in getting out of it.
So, this holiday season, take some time to reflect on what you have to be grateful for, and what you can offer to others. That’s really what being in this together means, isn’t it?
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