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Izabela Jardim, Shawn Switzer, and Ivan Horyn are volunteers at Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, shown packaging bags of food for pickup by appointment.

Melissa Tait / The Globe and Mail

Nik Nanos is the chief data scientist at Nanos Research, a global fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, a research professor at the State University of New York in Buffalo and the official pollster for The Globe and Mail.

The pandemic is like a car crash in which some are killed, some are injured, and some just walk away unscathed. But then, there are also the unseen victims.

The charitable sector is one of the latter and has been on the receiving end of a one-two punch. First, many donations are on hold because of the economic uncertainty the crisis has created. Second, the actions of public-health authorities have limited the ability of charities to host events, deliver programs and reach out to the marginalized.

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In a new survey completed by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail, almost eight out of 10 Canadians said they were concerned or somewhat concerned about charities closing owing to a drop in donations.

Concern cut across all regions, although women were more likely to be concerned than men and people over 55 were more likely to be concerned than younger respondents.

Level of concern about charities in Canada

at risk of closing due to fewer donations

Concerned

33%

Somewhat

concerned

45

Unsure

2

Somewhat

unconcerned

13

Unconcerned

8

Level of concern about charities in Canada

at risk of closing due to fewer donations

Concerned

33%

Somewhat

concerned

45

Unsure

2

Somewhat

unconcerned

13

Unconcerned

8

Level of concern about charities in Canada at risk of closing due to fewer donations

Unsure

Unconcerned

Concerned

Somewhat concerned

Somewhat unconcerned

33%

45

2

13

8

Percentage who are concerned or

somewhat concerned

BY REGION

B.C.

79.6%

Prairies

72.9

Ontario

79.1

Quebec

76.8

Atlantic

79.8

BY SEX OR AGE GROUP

Women

83.6%

Men

71.2

18 to 34

years old

71.6

35 to 54

years old

76.9

55 and older

82.5

Percentage who are concerned or

somewhat concerned

BY REGION

B.C.

79.6%

Prairies

72.9

Ontario

79.1

Quebec

76.8

Atlantic

79.8

BY SEX OR AGE GROUP

83.6%

Women

Men

71.2

18 to 34

years old

71.6

35 to 54

years old

76.9

55 and older

82.5

Percentage who are concerned or somewhat concerned

BY REGION

BY SEX OR AGE GROUP

B.C.

79.6%

Women

83.6%

71.2

Prairies

72.9

Men

13 to 14

years old

Ontario

79.1

71.6

35 to 54

years old

Quebec

76.8

76.9

Atlantic

79.8

82.5

55 and older

The statistics on giving in 2020 are chilling.

According to an Imagine Canada report in The Globe, three out of four charities have experienced a drop in donations. The casualties we hear about most are usually the restaurant, travel and hotel industries, to name a few. However, we should also think of charities as a sector being ravaged by the pandemic.

There are significant direct or indirect effects on the public good when health, cultural and international charities are at risk.

In the summer of 2020, Nanos completed a study for the Health Charities Coalition. Canadians understand that health charities, through their research, policies and programs, are important contributors to better health outcomes. Those thousands of volunteers working through the charities are part of our health care system, helping people and their loved ones manage their wellness.

The irony is that some efforts by our public-health officials to combat the virus are undermining the ability of charities to operate and fundraise. The health care system, which needs to be resilient to fight the pandemic, is weakened if health charities cannot do research and deliver services to help keep Canada well.

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Beyond health charities, a weakened arts and cultural sector will also have a serious long-term effect not only on wellness but on the vibrancy of our communities.

Research by Nanos for Business / Arts shows that a vibrant arts and cultural scene in a community makes it easier for employers to retain talent. It makes the community more appealing as a destination and is a critical part of attracting the workers Canada needs for the knowledge economy.

The bricks-and-mortar business model of the arts and cultural sector is at risk because of restrictions on public gatherings.

Recent research for Business / Arts and the National Arts Centre suggests that although about a quarter of arts supporters are ready to come back immediately, many Canadians will wait until the rollout of a vaccination program before they return to their prepandemic activities. This is especially true for arts and culture patrons who are over 55: the vaccine is the trigger.

Expected donations to arts/cultural

organizations, by year and age group

2019

2020

2021

$98

$88

18 to 34

years old

$119

$183

35 to 54

$106

$142

$178

55 and older

$173

$373

Expected donations to arts/cultural

organizations, by year and age group

2019

2020

2021

$98

$88

18 to 34

years old

$119

$183

35 to 54

$106

$142

$178

55 and older

$173

$373

Expected donations to arts/cultural organizations, by year and age group

2019

2020

2021

$373

$183

$178

$173

$142

$119

$106

$98

$88

18 to 34 years old

35 to 54

55 and older

News that vaccines will not be fully available for most people until the end of 2021 will make it yet another gruelling year for the arts and cultural sector. The effects within the sector will be uneven. Culture patrons are more comfortable with outdoor arts and cultural events, followed by indoor experiences such as museums and galleries that allow physical distancing. They are less comfortable with live events, which are logistically more complicated.

There is one glimmer of hope for 2021.

Research for the arts and cultural sector projects a 20-per-cent decline in the average dollar value of a donation this year. The good news is that those same individuals want to increase the value of their donations in 2021 to outdo their 2019 donations. While middle-aged and middle-income supporters are reporting the greatest stress on their donations, Canadians over 55, those more likely to have a stable balance sheet, say they would like to be more generous in 2021 than in 2020.

The big question is whether their good intentions will materialize. While we’re fighting the second wave of the pandemic, the economy remains uncertain, the war against the virus has been prolonged, and those intentions may be at risk. Even with a rebound, the fixed costs for many charitable organizations keep the risks high. When a charity fails, we should not think it will be easy to replace.

Irfhan Rawji, the chair of the board of the Glenbow Museum in Calgary, has thought about what government can do to encourage Canadians to donate more to support the charitable sector. His suggestion is not to pick winners and losers in the charitable sector but to create a “super tax credit”: Instead of getting 50 per cent of a donation back, people could get 75 per cent back to encourage donors to pull next year’s donations forward to this year. The critical element is to expedite this lifeline for charities so they can get the cash infusion they need now. As Mr. Rawji points out, “showing up with a $300 cheque next year for an institution that no longer exists isn’t that helpful.”

In the Rawji paradigm, the lifeline is not just a traditional bailout for the charitable sector but a way to empower Canadians to heighten their generosity of spirit.

What would be more Canadian? Governments need to think about how to enable Canadians to rally around our charities, build a common sense of purpose and make sure that on the other side of the pandemic we still have those charitable organizations and institutions we cherish.

A note on the data

Detailed reports for the research cited in this column are publicly posted at www.nanos.co. This includes the Globe and Mail/Nanos national survey on concern about charities completed Nov. 29, 2020. A national survey of arts and culture goers on behaviour and donations commissioned by Business / Arts and the National Arts Centre completed July 30, 2020, and a national survey for the Coalition of Health Charities completed July 2, 2020.

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Charity in action

Watch: The Yonge Street Mission in Toronto says demand for its food bank and hot meals has risen by 196 per cent during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Globe and Mail went to see how they do it, and what measures are in place to protect staff and clients from the coronavirus. The Globe and Mail

More Data Dives with Nik Nanos

Even in a pandemic, Canadians don’t want to cut military spending

Canadians take a dimming view on ‘sunny ways’ and government

Canadians, Americans are more bound by fear than common values

How the pandemic has changed our views on climate change

COVID-19 triggers soul-searching among Canadians


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