Combating loneliness: a community foundation’s role

By Sara Neely, Senior Director of Philanthropic Services

Late last year, the World Health Organization declared loneliness a “global public health priority” and launched a commission on social connection.

It noted that “anyone, anywhere, can be lonely or socially isolated. Across all ages and regions, loneliness and social isolation have serious impacts on our physical and mental health, and the well-being of our communities and society.”

Here at the Victoria Foundation, we strive to connect people who care with causes that matter – and, in a way, to combat loneliness.

As a community foundation, we have the tools to do this. We connect people who care about the arts, our environment, wellness, learning, food security, housing and more. People who care about each other and the impact of community issues on the wellbeing of their fellow residents.

Farmer's market

We work with generous donors who establish funds and make grant recommendations to their chosen charities; or they may leave the discretion in our hands to allocate to the highest need within a cause area. Through this, we support charities to advance their missions while introducing donors to many non-profit communities they can connect with.

This is inherently our role as a community foundation. However, there is a new aspect to our role flowing from a time of increasing disconnection, due in part to the COVID –19 pandemic. But not just the pandemic – it has been coming for a while.

More disconnection, less giving

A recent report by CanadaHelps reveals another layer of disconnection – one that might surprise you. It speaks to a loneliness that has large implications for the philanthropic sector.

Disconnected Canadians are less likely to give time and money.

The Giving Report 2024: From Disconnection to Collective ActionYes, you read that correctly and this is the focus here. The Giving Report 2024: From Disconnection to Collective Action notes a strong link to philanthropy: more than 80 percent of those with many close friends donate, while just over half of those with very few close friends donate.

The report underscores the importance of building – in fact, rebuilding – connections, fostering community involvement, and sharing our passions for causes that matter. This is critical given the major impact the non-profit sector has on our economy.

Approximately 85,000 charities in Canada employed almost 11% of the full-time workforce in 2021, and non-profits represented eight percent of Canada’s GDP in the same year.

Despite this, for the 12th year in a row, the number of Canadians claiming charitable donations on their tax return declined from about 23% in 2010 to 17% in 2022.

This downward trend can be seen in financial constraints, cost of living, less affiliation with religious institutions, and a change in the sense of obligation to others. Even with the rise and fall in the economy, and housing inflation over the last 12 years, there has been a steady decline.

Service usage is at an all-time high with more than half of charities unable to meet current levels of demand.

There’s no doubt that disconnection – stemming from the pandemic, the rise of social media and streaming, online living, working remotely – is leading to a decline in giving and volunteerism.

Even so, the disconnection goes deeper.

The report reveals that only 22 per cent of Canadians report having six or more close friends in 2022. That’s down from 37 per cent in 2013 – a steep decline.

The Foundation is here to help you build friendships

Behaviours intended to benefit others are nurtured through social networks – face-to-face connections at home, school, work, or play. Participating in community events, donating goods and volunteering. The research says these aspects of community score higher for those with more close friends. Learning and experiencing things together help to create a sense of belonging.

Our friends are the real influencers!


We may be doing better in our region with the Victoria’s 2023 Vital Signs Report showing that over two-thirds of respondents feel connected to the community, and just over one third say their friends and family are one of the best things about living here.

That said, there is always more work to be done.

At the Victoria Foundation, we create, enable and act on solutions that enrich our community. Some of the ways to help people combat loneliness and create a sense of belonging include:

  • Joining giving circles such as the Gadsden Initiative, a collective of younger emerging donors who come together to learn about the community’s needs.
  • Starting young through school programs such as Vital Youth, our program which engages local youth in philanthropy.
  • Volunteering with the help of organizations like Volunteer Victoria.
  • Engaging in community-based activities, such as those offered through the Foundation’s Neighbourhood Small Grants Program.
  • Talking with family and friends about your passions and meeting people through shared interests.
  • Joining a local meet-up group to build connections with like-minded folks.
  • Enabling connections for newcomers through organizations such as the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria.
  • Engaging in culturally based programming.
  • Showing a random act of kindness – at any time!

We have an abundance of opportunities to connect with others in this beautiful region. In many ways, we are truly fortunate.

Let’s work together to help those amongst us feel that strong sense of belonging – for themselves and for the well-being of our communities and society.

Reach out to us. We are here to help, and we have the tools.