Comment: Working together to get through the pandemic

Published in the Times Colonist – February 10, 2021

A commentary by Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation.

I read with interest, Gwyn Morgan’s op-ed on January 27, and would like to respond on behalf of the Victoria Foundation as well as Civil Society (also known as the charitable sector), which is often overlooked, and is working tirelessly to support the health and wellness of all citizens. In addition to government and private business, this sector is a vital contributor to our local economy, our well-being and our community’s vibrancy. It is imperative that we consider the contributions of this sector and the incredible strain that it is under, just like all other sectors, as we move through the dark days of the pandemic together.

Charities are all around us – they are the youth sports programs, community centers, resettlement programs for new immigrants and refugees, social justice and activist organizations, arts groups, environmental stewardship programs, religious and church groups, and cultural clubs – and together form the social and cultural fabric of our lives. In Victoria alone there are over 1000 charities that contribute over $4Billion annually through 63,000 full-time jobs and $300M in municipal taxes. (Victoria Foundation’s Civil Society Impact report, 2016)

When the pandemic hit in March, the charitable sector, just like all others, was buckling under the weight of the uncertainty, loss in event and other earned revenue, and struggled to pivot programming to meet the demands on those individuals who rely on the services this sector provides. At that time, Victoria Foundation partnered with Vantage Point and Vancouver Foundation to conduct a survey and released the No Immunity report, to describe the “state of the sector” and to make some calculated predictions for what the year might hold. At the 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 these dire predictions have not come true. Thanks to the incredible contributions of over 15,000 individual donors and with the leadership of the Times Colonist and Jawl Family, the Victoria Foundation launched the Rapid Relief Fund in March to help to support an emergency response that unfolded locally. Over $6M was raised and rapidly deployed to support citizens in our community, all through the charitable sector. Throughout 2020, the Victoria Foundation continued to access federal and local funding to provide continued and sustained support to the community.

At the end of 2020, another survey was deployed to update and do a pulse check on the non-profit sector. Unfortunately, the recently released Unraveling: Non-profits, COVID-19, and the Fabric of BC Communities report indicates that the sector is showing increasing signs of stress and strain. From the first survey in April to December, demand for services has continued to increase (from 52% to 59% of organizations reporting an increase in demand), job losses have not been regained (from 40% to 37% of organizations reporting layoffs) and volunteerism is at a critically low level (60% organizations reporting loss of volunteers in December). Another recent study indicated that 3 out of 4 employees in the charitable sector are women, and with the dramatic layoffs reported, women continue to be disproportionately impacted during the pandemic.

The sector is incredibly important as the fabric of our communities, and we all need to do more to support these organizations at this time. Last fall, we announced nine new Community Action Funds, creating opportunities for individuals to give to specific focus areas of interest such as “Health & Wellness”, “Gender Equality” or “The Rapid Relief Fund”. Together, these funds will continue to allow the Victoria Foundation to direct funding where it is most needed, in an efficient and transparent process.

At this time, as we all work through the impacts of COVID-19, we can use this opportunity to come together and make our community stronger. In his op-ed, Gwyn Morgan recommends to Fight back against the Follies – I would like to add some ways we can follow health protocols and at the same time act to support our community – donate generously, volunteer safely, get outside to explore Victoria, and support one another every day!