In March 2020, the Vancouver Cantonese Opera (VCO) closed its theatre doors due to COVID. The charity works to preserve and protect the art of Cantonese Opera, an endangered form of intangible cultural heritage connected to the Chinese Canadian community.
Like so many arts organizations in this country, this also meant closing the door on their primary source of funding which came from ticket sales and other performance fees. The small charity adapted the best they could, offering Zoom performances (a huge shift for performers used to audience reactions), but they struggled.
Digital was not part of their operating model, and they suddenly had to adopt new tools for both program delivery and fundraising.
They are not the only ones. Charities of all types continue to see huge revenue and funding gaps as a result of the pandemic, and struggle with increased demand for services — further straining budgets.
Recent research from Imagine Canada found that 56% of Canadian charities report that their operations are in jeopardy due to demand exceeding their capacity to deliver or challenges related to program delivery within continued public health protocols.
What’s more, charities are dealing with the increase in demand at the same time as they are trying to adapt to digital in their operations, fundraising, and service delivery. One in three charities believes that they’ll soon find it harder to continue their work if they don’t improve their digital capabilities, according to CanadaHelps’ Digital Skills Survey.
The winter holiday season is typically when many charities raise the majority of their donations — at CanadaHelps, we see about 40% of donations come through in the final two months of the year. This year, the need is greater than ever.
Many social issues have grown even worse because of the pandemic, from hunger, to homelessness, to mental health and domestic violence, and charities are at the forefront of supporting those impacted by these issues. This holiday season, we must do all we can to support charities so they can continue to provide vital services.
Both individuals and businesses can have a significant impact.
For individuals, charitable giving can be part of gift giving. Giving a Charity Gift Card, with which the recipient chooses the charity and the sender receives the tax receipt, is a perfect gift for teachers, colleagues, or anyone else who doesn’t need more stuff.
Another option is to purchase a virtual gift from a charitable gift guide or make a donation in honour of someone, and send a beautiful e-card. Beyond gifts, making a larger one-time gift or setting up a monthly gift also goes a long way to supporting charities’ sustainability. Individuals can also look for other ways to support charities, especially those that rely on earned revenue like ticket sales, memberships, and sales of items.
For example, as pandemic conditions improve, VCO hopes to start staging limited capacity live performances; however, with a core audience made up of seniors who are also most vulnerable to the pandemic, they will rely more on younger audiences to return to the theatre at first.
Businesses of all sizes can also play an important role in charitable giving through both short and long-term investments. For the holiday season, sending Charity Gift Cards to clients, partners and staff, is a great way to show appreciation while also supporting the community. Charity gift cards can be purchased as one-offs or in bulk, making them an easy CSR option.
Another option is to use a portion of the cancelled holiday party budget and put it towards staff donation matching on days like GivingTuesday or year round.
In the long-term, developing community investment strategies that meet the businesses’ needs but are also developed in partnership with charities to create real value are critical. Imagine Canada’s Caring Company Certification aims to support businesses in this long-term work. Caring Companies are businesses that commit to giving at least 1% of their pre-tax profit in support of their communities.
The support can take various forms, such as cash donations, in-kind contributions, or time off granted to employees for volunteering during paid work hours. When businesses commit to longer term funding, and offer unrestricted funding or funding directed to digital transformation efforts which are core to future sustainability, they will enable far more impact than a one-off or project based donation ever can.
The reality is that any support for the work charities do is critical. As we see rapidly rising inflation, housing shortages, and other economic forces that are going to make the next year even harder for people, especially the most vulnerable, and the gaps filled by charities will become more strained.
When charities are unable to deliver services and can’t keep up with demand, individuals and our communities won’t receive the support they need. Individuals and businesses can be a vital lifeline for communities this year by supporting the critical work done by charities.
Co-written by Marina Glogovac and Bruce MacDonald.
Glogovac is President & CEO of CanadaHelps, a leader in providing powerful fundraising and donation technology to charities and donors since 2000. Marina has been a technology and media executive for more than 25 years, including roles at Kobo, Lavalife Corp. and St. Joseph’s Media.
MacDonald is President & CEO of Imagine Canada, a charitable organization whose mission is to strengthen Canadian charities and nonprofits so they can better serve individuals and communities both here and around the world. Prior to joining Imagine Canada, Bruce was the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada. He has been a nonprofit leader for over 30 years.
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