Comment: Working together to get through the pandemic

A commentary by the CEO of the Victoria Foundation.

I read with interest Gwyn Morgan’s op-ed on Jan. 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.

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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 ­centres, 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 more than 11,000 charities that contribute more than $4 billion annually through 63,000 full-time jobs and $300 million in municipal taxes.

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, the 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, one in five ­non-profits anticipated closing their doors, 51 per cent ­expected job layoffs and 23 per cent ­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 more than 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.

More than $6 million 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 B.C. 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 per cent to 59 per cent of organizations reporting an increase in demand), job losses have not been regained (from 40 per cent to 37 per cent of organizations reporting layoffs) and volunteerism is at a critically low level (60 per cent of organizations reporting loss of volunteers in December).

Another recent study ­indicated that three out of four employees in the charitable sector are women, and with the dramatic layoffs reported, women continue to be disproportionately affected 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 and 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!

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