In the shadow of the pandemic, a “buy local” campaign spread across the country. Social media featured pleads to avoid retail giants in place of supporting local mom and pop shops. It seems to have been a success as many small businesses are still afloat a year into COVID-19. While the push to support local businesses has been well received and reasonably successful, another sector could desperately use the same help. However, there has been very little light shed on their COVID-related strife. Charities and Not-for-Profit Organizations (NPO’s) have primarily faced similar struggles to most businesses in this current economic climate, without the benefit of a call to action for support.
So, what do these organizations need from us?
Without having a product we can purchase directly from them in the spirit of “buy local,” how can the general population support their neighbourhood charities and NPO’s?
Glenna Banda, Executive Director for United Way Guelph Wellington Dufferin, says she finds one of the biggest challenges to be funding. No matter which sector the organization is serving, the cost of operating in a pandemic is high. There is undoubtedly an increase in community demand, and at the same time, an increase in cost. Purchasing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is not a frugal endeavour. Some programs were forced to pivot from a free service to a “pay what you can” service to balance the increased operation costs due to health and safety requirements.
Jennifer Kraus, Mentoring Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Centre Wellington, says that their organization is doing their best to continue business as usual. They are continuing to recruit mentors (Bigs) for their programs and finding creative ways to connect with prospective volunteers. The organization has embraced the power of Lunch and Learns’ in a digital capacity as a way to get in front of people; however, not everyone connects online. You need to make an effort to engage with people in a virtual setting. Kraus suggests booking the meetings, asking deep questions and getting people to open up.
Another facet that Kraus has embraced is redefining the attributes of the volunteers they are looking for. For example, having a mentor with computer skills or the ability to navigate video conferencing has a much greater urgency and benefit in this current environment.
What other challenges are they facing?
Banda says another issue that the organizations that she works with are facing is the burnout of their staff. The demand for resources and support is at an all-time high. Our communities require more support in the form of meals, mental health resources and other social supports as the days go on. The dedicated staff and volunteers at these organizations continue to work endlessly to continue to support their communities. Family counselling and support service distress lines are flooded. Call rates have gone from receiving 400 in any given month to fielding roughly 1300 calls each month. Shelters are working tirelessly to provide safe spaces and food without the staff getting a break. The demand and capacity can be overwhelming for both the organization and their volunteers. Despite their dedication and their tireless efforts, these volunteers are not receiving the public recognition they deserve. The staff working for NPO’s are rarely overpaid. They are working harder than ever, supporting communities and saving lives.
Kraus has also seen the strain of capacity on their volunteers. Some mentors stepped away from their commitment and ended their matches during the lockdown, which meant that there was no official send-off for the “littles.” This resulted in the youth getting little to no closure, which is not ideal or healthy for the children they support.
Organizations are adapting as best they can.
Kraus is also learning on her feet when it comes to digitally marketing their organization. They do not have a dedicated team member who handles their social media and recruitment advertising. This meant she was forced to learn and engage through social media in a way that was not commonplace before. Kraus says she is learning to film and edit videos and turn them into advertisements.
While the pandemic has been a challenge for most people, Banda is looking on the bright side. “One of the things that the pandemic really has helped is kind of identifying those cracks or better ways that we can work together,” says Banda. Being faced with connecting remotely has undoubtedly brought about innovations and collaborations, which is exciting to see. There are some silver linings to what we have seen.
The bottom line is, how can you help support these organizations?
The scary reality is that charities and NPO’s are at the precipice of losing their relief funding. In a matter of weeks, the government support will no longer be available to them. Yet, these vital supports are still in high demand. It is a known reality that not everyone can make the donations they would like to. There are other ways to support these groups. Since we’re all stuck at home, why not consider attending a virtual event you might not otherwise attend? Many fundraisers these days will safely deliver a meal to your home and include an evening of virtual entertainment. If that isn’t feasible, consider sharing posts you see on social media to get the information in front of those who could give financial support. If you’re comfortable and able, consider volunteering for an organization that is important to you. We know these workers are exhausted and burning out. Perhaps you could provide some respite for someone who could desperately use it?
RLB would like to thank Jennifer Kraus, Mentoring Coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Centre Wellington and Glenna Banda, Executive Director for United Way Guelph Wellington Dufferin, for taking time from their busy schedules to speak with us about this critical issue. For more information on these organizations and their work, we invite you to visit the links below.