Lasting lessons learned during the pandemic
COVID-19 changed the way charities delivered services, and some of those practices are still being embraced
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While charities across the country are still feeling the pinch of COVID -19, Bruce MacDonald, president and CEO of Imagine Canada, said that some of the operational changes they introduced during the pandemic are now common practices.
“It is COVID pandemic-plus,” he said. “This period of rising costs and prolonged inflation has just added to the challenges for organizations to deliver services, but also on the demand side.”
A registered charity, Imagine Canada works to improve the operating environment in which social good takes place in the country. It does this through research, advocating on a federal level, accrediting charities and also bringing Canadians together to talk about philanthropy.
“Conversations like this speak to that, because certainly we have seen during the pandemic, and now prolonged inflation, the continued demand for services from organizations to meet the needs of families that are challenged,” he said. “We want to ensure Canadians don’t just think about charities when they need their services, but are there to contribute to them with time, money, expertise, time and in-kind services all throughout the year is important.”
Will this is the case, he said charities have changed the way they operate because of the pandemic, and a variety of those practices are being kept because they work. MacDonald said it is easier to have board meetings, which often rely on volunteer members, virtually rather than going to a specific location to meet.
MacDonald said he has also heard from those in the counselling community, whether addiction or mental health, that pre-pandemic 100 per cent of their sessions with clients were done in person. Now, even though meeting in-person is possible, those interactions only account for around 30 per cent of sessions.
“Video was initiated because people couldn’t meet each other during the pandemic, but it had a broader impact in that people would not skip their sessions because they could do it on their phone,” he said. “Many have said, ‘We are going to continue that practice because we can actually serve our clients better because they do not have to get on a bus and come into town and meet.’
“Their no-show rates also dropped, and they had to make an adjustment because staff used to that time to prepare, so they had to rearrange their staffing to address that.”
Still, the recently released report “Toronto Vital Signs: The Power of Us,” by the
Toronto Foundation found 37 per cent of adults in the city say they feel lonely three or four days a week, with current hybrid workplaces being a possible contributor.
“Like any change, there are practices that have more positive implications and others that have negative consequences,” said MacDonald. “I think being mindful that if we are an organization that are doing more in a virtual way, how are we ensuring that connectiveness, belonging and interaction between people to recognize it might be harder to form deep social connections.”
Nicole Danesi is the senior manager of public relations with CanadaHelps, the country’s largest platform for donating and fundraising online. She said that at the start of the pandemic it heard from hundreds of organizations needing support when it came to digital fundraising.
“It really started a whole conversation in the sector about where digital skills and resourcing is at when it comes to registered charities,” she said. “Charities obviously play an important role in communities across the country, and just like businesses, they need to be up to speed when it comes to leveraging digital technologies.”
She said the issue is that the majority of charities are so focused on delivering their servicers to those in need, so investing in technology can take a back seat. She said CanadaHelps surveyed charities across Canada in August of this year and found 46 per cent reported that using digital tools to their fullest capacity is not a priority for them.
“Why should this matter to charity supporters? Supporters need to keep in mind that digital tools, which help so many of us in our daily life, can also help charities accelerate their impact and reach and support new communities in different ways that they couldn’t without that technology.”
MacDonald said challenges with technology go back to a chronic issue with the way charities and non-profits are funded, which is the cost of administration and overhead. Technology falls largely into that bucket, he said, and the sector doesn’t have dollars to invest in computers or systems.
“I think what we are witnessing a re-balancing of what became exclusively digital during the pandemic and a desire to move back to in person, and I think it is going to end up somewhere in between,” he said.
Video was initiated because people couldn’t meet each other during the pandemic, but it had
a broader impact in that people would not skip their sessions because they could do it on their phone.
— BRUCE MACDONALD
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited