Imagine Canada Sector Monitor Reports Ongoing Challenges for Charities During COVID-19
February 2021 Charity & NFP Law Update
Published on February 25, 2021

By Jennifer M. Leddy


Nearly half of charities in Canada have experienced increasing demand for services during the COVID-19 pandemic, while struggling to find the capacity to meet that demand, according to a new report from Imagine Canada. Over 1,000 organizations provided data for Imagine Canada’s latest Sector Monitor report (the “Report”), published on February 17, 2021. As the ongoing pandemic dramatically affects how organizations operate, many charities are finding it difficult to adjust, with fewer paid staff, volunteers and precarious finances.

Among the highlights in the Report, 45% of charitable organizations reported higher demand compared with April 2020, with 34% reporting demand outstripping their organizational capacity. This was most common for charities delivering “human services”, such as education and healthcare. At the same time 31% of charities are reporting fewer paid staff compared to earlier in the pandemic, and 60% reported a decline in volunteers. Half of charities are reporting staff burnout and poor work/life balance.

Revenues declined an average of 43% since the start of the pandemic, with revenue from donations declining the most as government support increased. Event-based fundraising underwent the most widespread decline among charities (67%), followed by major donors (35%) and sale of goods & services (33%). Organizations are drawing on reserve funds, acquiring debt and selling assets in an effort to offset losses, according to the Report.

More than half of charities (53%) with paid staff applied for government support through the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS). Altogether 42% of charities received some form of government financial aid either through CEWS, the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA), or the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA). Those that did not apply indicated that they did not believe they would meet the eligibility requirements for the various programs.

Not all charitable organizations are experiencing increased demand, however. Most arts, culture & recreation organizations (67%) have experienced a decrease in demand, and a significant majority (83%) experienced a decline in revenues. Especially hard hit by social distancing measures, they are over twice as likely as other charitable organizations to have temporarily suspended their operations.

If current trends continue, 16% of reporting charities believed they would no longer be able to operate in a year from now. About 30% reported they could operate for at least a year, but are uncertain for how much longer. Most charities are making efforts to change how they operate: 78% reported increased innovation and experimentation; but the short term is more of an issue, with 67% reporting priority work to address immediate challenges rather than long-term capacity.

Imagine Canada hopes that the Report can be used in a variety of ways such as in “advocacy efforts to stories in the media to helping local leaders compare their own situation to that of peers” and in this way “ensure that Canada’s charities continue to be cornerstones of their communities.”


Read the February 2021 Charity & NFP Law Update