Life as we knew it changed when the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020.
The Winnipeg Foundation recognizes that many Winnipeg charities simultaneously experienced drastic changes in how services could be delivered, a sharp increase in demand, and a loss of fundraising and donation-based revenue. Challenges that charities strive to address, such as mental health, social isolation, hunger, and homelessness, were exacerbated. Many organizations faced an uncertain future.
At the same time, throughout this uncertainty, Winnipeggers displayed their creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience. And The Winnipeg Foundation demonstrated its commitment to the charitable sector during this crisis through immediate frontline funding and support for innovative programs and services provided by charities.
Emergency Response Grants
When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, The Foundation moved quickly to get funding to charities working on the front-line. The first stage of The Foundation’s response was to distribute COVID-19 Emergency Response Grants for organizations providing basic needs for our community’s most vulnerable. The first Emergency Grants announced on March 12, 2020 distributed $230,000 to 11 charities providing overnight shelters and meal programs. Between March 12 and May 30, The Foundation distributed more than 120 grants totaling more than $2.5 million. Grants ranged in size from $2,000 to $100,000 and supported a variety of charities and needs. These grants were made possible because of the generous people who support the community through The Winnipeg Foundation.
The Foundation’s COVID response also involved the distribution of $1.4 million through the Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF). This funding, from the Government of Canada, was available to charities serving vulnerable populations disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Winnipeg Foundation worked with the national umbrella group, Community Foundations of Canada, along with local partners Canadian Red Cross and United Way of Winnipeg to deliver the program.
The second stage of The Foundation’s COVID-19 response, Stabilization Grants distributed $8.9 million to 279 charities in July 2020. The program, designed to be as flexible as possible, supported the short- and medium-term financial needs of local charitable organizations affected by revenue loss and unexpected expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Foundation received a record-setting 303 applications for the Stabilization Grants program, reflective of how many charities continued to struggle.
When the pandemic hit, The Foundation responded with not only immediate support to organizations that bore the brunt of the first weeks of COVID, but also by checking in with local organizations to gauge what was happening on the front lines. Beginning in mid-April 2020, The Foundation worked together with 18 bellwether organizations to learn more about how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted every part of Winnipeg’s charitable sector. Several surveys were conducted for a number of weeks in 2020, 2021 and 2022. The charities included represented small, medium and large-sized organizations across The Foundation’s five Cause areas. It was important for us to understand firsthand the experiences of the community we serve. Here’s a sampling of what we found:
Fewer services, more demand: Two-thirds of charities surveyed suspended or cancelled at least 25 per cent of services offered. Threequarters experienced either the same or an increase in demand.
Different delivery: Approximately three-quarters of charities surveyed moved some or all services online. All but one had staff working remotely. Two-thirds changed service delivery to adhere to physical distancing protocols. Some used personal protective equipment to deliver services. One innovation reported was Elder and Knowledge Keeper services (drumming, prayers) delivered online and over the phone.
Technology challenges: Most charities surveyed said they were ill-prepared and ill- equipped to move to online delivery because of limited access or delayed investment in technology. Many staff used their own hardware at their own expense. Many of the communities that charities serve did not have hardware or connectivity, which made the shift to online delivery challenging.
Lost revenue: The bulk of bellwether organizations (approximately 75 per cent) advise they have experienced a loss of revenue. All those who have lost revenue consider the losses significant. The majority cite loss of earned revenue from activities such as ticket sales, social enterprise income, and cancelled fundraising activities, as well as a decrease in donations as the sources of their loss. These results align with national findings as reported by Imagine Canada, the umbrella organization representing the charitable sector.
Imagine Canada found 69 per cent of charities across the country have seen decreased revenues since the pandemic began, with an average decrease of 30.6 per cent. Nationally, 30 per cent of charities laid off staff and 55 per cent say new or additional layoffs were a possibility.
The residuals of the pandemic will linger for a long while as we continue to navigate through variants, vaccines, and once again being in crowds and amongst our peers.
Feelings of isolation, burnout, and mistrust thrived in every demographic as we all struggled in lockdown. Our connections with our community and culture evaporated and the systems that our most vulnerable rely on are stretched even thinner.
Social challenges were exacerbated as this unprecedented health crisis pushed civil society into a social and economic crisis. And as we make our way through, we cannot ignore the depth of poverty in our city, our own mental health and coping mechanisms, and our need to rebuild trust.
Winnipeg’s Vital Signs® 2022 is a place to start. This project of The Winnipeg Foundation will help guide us as we support our community in recovery. It identifies some of the most pressing issues in Winnipeg, while celebrating organizations that are working tirelessly to address them. It is our goal to unite our community in recovery, participate in collaborative efforts to have positive impact, and to inspire collective and individual action. One of the most inspiring characteristics of people and communities is resilience. Together, we can support ‘a Winnipeg where community life flourishes for all.’