Picking up the Stitches

Article by Sara Neely, Director of Philanthropic Services. Published in The Scrivener – Spring 2021 Volume 30 Number 1.

Sourdough bread. Raised gardens. Planting from seed. Nature walks. Music-making. Making bubbles. Being in a bubble. Zoom meetings. Facetime connections. Sewing masks. Banging pots. Smiling with our eyes. Pivoting.

The list goes on—ways some have coped, adapted, and connected during this last year since the COVID-19 pandemic began—ways we have tried to maintain some sense of our lives, as we knew them “before” and those of family, friends, and co-workers around us.

And the larger family of people in our community that we help through our donations and our volunteer support, as they deal with the impact of the pandemic on their lives.

One of the things I did was to start knitting again . . . not the sweaters or blankets of years ago. By the end of a day of remote work and online meetings, while my hands want to be creative, my mind can only muster creating a dishcloth. It reminds me of the hours I spent knitting and often “unknitting” as my family used to call it . . . a missed stitch or more . . . an incorrect count and I would be unraveling my work and picking up the stitches again!

Whatever your art, craft, or passion, the process of making something shows us how all the ingredients, tools, and steps are interconnected and how, when they work together, the result works. And when they don’t—well, the whole thing unravels.

That thought came to mind on the recent release of a follow-up study on the impact of the pandemic on the charitable sector in British Columbia.

Report by Vantage Point and the Victoria and Vancouver Foundations.

In the Spring of 2020, Vantage Point, in partnership with Vancouver Foundation, Victoria Foundation, and the City of Vancouver, conducted a study to understand how the pandemic was impacting the operations and program delivery of nonprofit organizations in BC. From surveying over 1000 nonprofit leaders, the report, “No Immunity: BC nonprofits and the Impact of COVID-19, told us that no subsector, size of organization, geographic region, or community served was safe from the impact of COVID-19.

At that time,

  • 1 in 5 ­nonprofits anticipated closing their doors;
  • 51% ­expected job layoffs; and
  • 23% were planning to lose their primary operating space by the end of 2020.

Thankfully, many of those dire predictions have not come true, but the fabric of our communities is damaged.

In February 2021, the Victoria Foundation released “Unraveling: Nonprofits, COVID-19 and the Fabric of BC Communities” (Unraveling). The report compiles survey results of over 900 nonprofits in BC, including 123 organizations from the Capital region, and was released in partnership with Vancouver Foundation and Vantage Point.

The report highlights how the vital charitable sector has managed to pivot services and keep doors open in many cases, but also points to alarming warning signs about the days ahead.

The report notes “these impacts are unraveling the fabric of our communities. As we enter the next stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and eventual recovery, we need to preserve the nonprofit infrastructure that sustains the basic needs for many people in our communities that gives meaning for our lives in challenging times and helps us connect with our communities; and continues to draw attention to the systemic changes needed to ensure our resilience and vibrancy.”

Charities are all around us.

“Unraveling” reports

  • the nonprofit sector in BC contributes $6.4 billion to BC’s GDP and employs 86,000 people across the province;
  • 74% of the people employed in the sector are women;
  • 62% of British Columbians volunteer their time and talent to strengthen their communities—the equivalent of 146,711 full-time jobs and economic value of $6 billion.

More than the numbers, it is through them that we are interconnected and we find belonging in our communities.

One of our ‘Stories From the Front-Lines’: Need2 – Youthspace.ca

Charities are the fabric of our communities—for example, the seniors care programs, art classes for kids, beach cleanups, local theatre, resettlement programs for new immigrants and refugees, music programs, cultural events, youth services, food access programs, environmental stewardship programs, and religious groups.

The impact of the pandemic shone a bright light on the strengths of countless charitable organizations, many on their front-line helping the vulnerable to meet basic needs. Others found new creative ways to help keep us connected through our schools, arts and culture, and our natural environment.

The pandemic also shone a light into the cracks—racial and gender inequities, the housing and homelessness crisis, the opioid crisis, and food insecurity.

“Unraveling” puts out a call to action whether by governments, foundations and funders, businesses, volunteers, donors or the general public. There is a role for everyone as we collectively help local charities survive these times and find the path forward to thrive and create a vibrant, caring community for all.

One of the key takeaways in the report is that now is “an opportunity for Trust-Based Philanthropy.” This model calls on funders to provide organizations with core discretionary funding so they can build “a strong foundation from which to sustain, pivot, jump, innovate, adapt, shift, and start up” their work. It continues to centre responsible stewardship with strong due diligence at the core of what funders, such as the Victoria Foundation and the Vancouver Foundation, provide while also giving charitable organizations the flexibility to spend money on critical services and needs as they arise.

That balanced approach is especially important during this emergency crisis.

It’s time for those who are able to help pick up the stitches and strengthen the fabric of our communities.