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Calgary non-profits make plea for $30 million in emergency funding

Consequences of lack of funding to affect three in 10, or over 1.25 million Albertans, over the next six months say non-profit leaders

An immediate injection of $30 million is required to stave off the worst effects of a collapsing non-profit sector.

That, according to the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO), which outlined the challenges for the sector, and potential outcomes for Albertans who rely on the social safety net provided by non-profits.

“Economic uncertainty is softening donations and fundraising particularly at this critical time as we head into the holiday season,” said Karen Ball, President and CEO of CCVO.

“This means that potentially thousands of critical nonprofit roles remain unfilled, programs are triaged, and people go without essential services.”

The results, said Ball, will directly impact the critical services that Albertans rely on. That will eventually put more pressure on programs and services directly provided by the government.

“In simple terms, if Alberta’s nonprofits fail, more Albertans will go to bed hungry, go to sleep without a roof over their head, and be put into situations where they have increased need for our healthcare and justice system,” she said.

Among those organizations directly impacted by the declining funding is the Children’s Cottage Society, which provides essential services to families in crisis. Danielle Ladouceur, CEO for Children’s Cottage, said that the workers who are providing critical front-line care are themselves having to rely on other non-profit organizations like the Calgary Food Bank.

“It breaks my heart to see the essential workers who are taking care of the hearts, minds, and spirits of families and children in our community suffering themselves not having enough to make ends meet,” she said.

“We have had to help them complete applications for the food bank, we see them coming in exhausted because they’re working second jobs, and these are workers who gave everything they had during COVID to make sure that families were safe, that they had basic needs, and that they could cope with what they were facing.”

CCVO has released a study two-years in the making entitled Alberta’s Non-Profit Sector: To Essential to Fail, which outlines the challenges faced by the non-profits and charities in the province.

That report indicated that 71 per cent of organizations are identifying mental health and wellbeing concerns amongst their staff, 55 per cent identify issues with retaining staff, and 53 per cent identify issues with obtaining qualified staff.

Funding direct from government to non-profits

Ball, alongside other industry leaders, are asking for a one-time direct funding investment from the province towards non-profit organizations. The funding, said Ball, would go to directly supporting organizations most hit by soaring inflation and rising labour costs.

CCVO would like to see the government’s already existing funding mechanisms used to fund the one-time payment. Among the suggestions is to use Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program alongside reduced red tape requirements for matching funds and limits on applications per year.

Another fund suggested by CCVO is the Civil Society Fund.

“And there’s lots of mechanisms inside government that they could use with the reach that they have to get this money out, pre-elections, pre-next budget year,” said Ball.

She called the $30 million the start of ongoing conversations on how to support non-profits going forward.

“When we looked at the need across 30,000 nonprofits and the impact of inflation on them now, we established that the $30 million is a figure that could start to respond to this need,” Ball said.

“I think it’s the start of a conversation that nonprofits and the Government of Alberta have to have about what strategically required to make sure that all Albertans facing the impacts of inflation have the services that they need from nonprofits.”

Funding an issue that preventions needed professionals from providing services

Chaz Smith, CEO of BeTheChange YYC, is one of the non-profit leaders who was present during the Nov. 22 plea for support.

“What we’re talking about here is many different nonprofits that all deserving: we heard a presentation from the Children’s Cottage, and then you have a nonprofit like us that does homeless outreach with vulnerable folks,” Smith said.

“How do you choose between giving funding for children and giving funding for people experiencing homelessness? And everyone here clearly as deserving has a different mandate.”

He said that the direct investment by the government to individual non-profits would provide badly needed stabilizing funding for today, but also set up better financial health in the future.

“I know for our program, if we had a onetime injection of $100,000 that would stabilize our program, and potentially make it resilient for the years to come, requiring less funding from government even,” he said.

BeTheChange YYC’s Outreach Coordinator Hanna Woodward, said that among the challenges that their organization has faced is that it can be far easier to receive grant funding for supplies and tangible goods, than it is to receive funding for staffing and operations.

“When it comes to operating budget, we are 90 per cent volunteer run, so a lot of the funding banks on the fact that we are volunteer run, but what about the people that need to coordinate the volunteers? Do events like this? Talk to other agencies? Do collaboration events?” Woodward said.

“We can’t all do everything on a volunteer budget, and that’s what they expect us to do, but it doesn’t work.”

Report highlights issues with funding during pandemic

In CCVO’s report, significant issues with stable funding for non-profits and charities were identified as a result of ending pandemic response grant funding, limits on ongoing grant programs, and the types of non-profit sectors being supported by governments.

“Nonprofits were not equitably supported through the pandemic by the Government of Alberta. They were eligible for less than half of the Province of Alberta’s pandemic support programs and had to compete with the private sector for these funds,” the report reads.

Among the highlights of the report was a finding that funds given during the pandemic from the Community Initiates Program was disproportionately applied to venue-based organizations involved in the arts and sports sectors.

Also from that report, less than four per cent of the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant went to non-profits, and only seven per cent of the total hires from the Jobs Now program went to non-profits.

On the federal side, critical worker support funding also disproportionately favoured for-profit over non-profit employees, even when the jobs being performed were identical.

“Three in every 10 Albertans will be accessing nonprofit services for essential needs in the next six months, so we’re already seeing this impact on our sector and on our community,” said Ball.

“We’re seeing impacts like people are having trouble finding long term care for their seniors and loved ones, it’s more competitive to put children into after school programming, so we are seeing those effects now in our community as nonprofits have to triage their programs and services, and we will be seeing those effects down the road.”

Ball said that non-profits will be making a separate ask of the government for additional funding during the next round of provincial budget consolations.

“The first thing we’re asking for is something we’ve been asking for, for a long time is Community Prosperity Funding to meet challenges around equity, diversity and inclusion, digital transformation, inflationary impacts and mental health,” she said.

“Those are the four major stressors in our sector right now, and we want that fund to be $100 million a year, every year for three years.”