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7 min read

Community philanthropy in the time of Covid: The view from Canada

Profile of Nicole Richards
Written by Nicole RichardsPosted on 6/8/2020

As the world continues to reel from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic, community foundations across the globe have stepped up their efforts to activate innovative, place-based solutions that support local communities.

In Canada, the nation’s 191 local community foundations have rallied to disburse emergency funding and additional support, including funds made available through a $350 million emergency funding program from the Government of Canada.

The Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF), administered by Community Foundations of Canada in collaboration with the Canadian Red Cross and United Way Centraide Canada, is designed to help communities experiencing heightened vulnerability during the COVID-19 crisis.

Dana Decent, who leads Partnerships at Community Foundations of Canada, recently shared insights and perspectives from her vantage point at the national leadership organisation for Canada’s community foundations.

Dana Decent, Partnerships Project Manager, Community Foundations of Canada

To date, Canada has recorded more than 8,000 Covid-related deaths – what is the prevailing mood like there? Has the pandemic become heavily politicised?

DD: Honestly, people are tired. There are still people who say they just want things to go back to normal but there are other people saying what was normal is not okay anymore, that this is a time to reflect and change.

One thing that most people are grateful for across the ten provinces and three territories, is that overall, all the levels of government have been quite consistent in their advice about wearing masks, maintaining physical distance requirements, so it hasn’t felt as politicised as what we’ve seen in the US.

How would you characterise community philanthropy’s response to the Covid-19 crisis?

When it hit, a lot of groups came together very quickly to launch an emergency response – it was clear that this was not a time for ego, it was a time for collaboration.

In the last couple of months, the Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted the ongoing racism in this country and how Covid has brought existing inequalities to the forefront.

Most people, even very early on, saw this as something that was going to impact philanthropy very differently to the 2008 financial crisis which was for many foundations about protecting assets for a rainy day. What I’m hearing now from foundations is that this is the rainy day.

People are saying that maybe your endowment won’t be growing quite as much, but this is the time to grant out more; that seems to be a pretty solid understanding.

Here there were calls early on for the need for stabilisation and funding for the charitable non-profit sector – a lot of early funding went towards front line workers and charities on the front lines but soon after there were calls that ALL our non-profits are needed for the long term. For instance, there has been a lot of advocacy around supporting arts and culture organisations which do so much to bring people together and foster belonging. They may not be delivering food, but we can’t afford to forget about them.

Knowing that the philanthropy model is part of the problem, conversations are underway in relation to topics like more diverse and inclusive committees and we’re seeing more innovations and collaborations among foundations to tackle the issue.

In the last couple of months, the Black Lives Matter protests have highlighted the ongoing racism in this country and how Covid has brought existing inequalities to the forefront.

Knowing that the philanthropy model is part of the problem, conversations are underway in relation to things like more diverse and inclusive committees and we’re seeing more innovations and collaborations among foundations to tackle the issue. Philanthropy here is still very White and I find that some people are not called out as much as they could be, but I think that’s changing.

I often hear people saying, ‘At least we’re not as bad as the States’ but we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves in that way. We still have to look at ourselves and the impact on Indigenous communities and how systemic racism exists here. There was slavery in Canada and there are no excuses for the systemic racism that remains.

How did the Indigenous People’s Resilience Fund come about? What kind of impact has it had so far?

Two Indigenous leaders from the sector were instrumental in establishing the Indigenous People’s Resilience Fund (IPRF) which is an Indigenous-led effort to respond to urgent community needs while taking a long-term view on building community resilience.

Philanthropic leaders in Canada signed the Philanthropic Community’s Declaration of Action five years ago in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and we’ve been on a journey since then.

Five foundations had been working together for this so when Covid hit, there was already a high degree of trust among the core group of funders.

Community Foundations of Canada is the host partner but even though the funding lives with us, we are merely holders of the Fund. The decision making is in the hands of Indigenous leaders. The Fund is governed by an Indigenous Advisory Council that approves all governance, resilience fund projects, communications and fund‐raising strategies and recommendations related to the work of fulfilling the purpose of the IPRF.

So even though we host the Fund on our website for now, we expect it will have a standalone website later this year.

One of the most exciting things about the Indigenous People’s Resilience Fund is that we were able to work with a lawyer to broaden the Fund’s abilities so that it can provide resiliency funding to non-charities as well as charities. That’s important because some Indigenous groups may not want to become a charity which, in some cases is seen as colonised format, and some others may not want to report to the Federal Government.

Any Indigenous-led organisation or Indigenous-serving organisation working to foster resilience in Inuit, Metis and First Nations communities anywhere in Canada can apply for resiliency funds ranging from $5,000 to $30,000.

From your vantage point at CFC, would you like to see philanthropy do more (or less) of in response to the pandemic?

More looking inwards at ourselves, really thinking how we’re part of the problem but also part of the solution because of that.

I’d also like to see more thinking being done about trust – trusting the organisations to do the work. During Covid we’ve seen the relaxation of reporting requirements and an increase in unrestricted granting and I hope that continues.

Finally, I’d like to see a little more thoughtfulness about granting in an intersectional way.