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Can giving differently mean giving better?

Everywhere we look, Canadians need help right now. Nine months in, and well into the second wave of the pandemic, we’re hearing fewer banging pots and pans, and COVID-19 burnout is settling in for the long winter ahead. Around Canada and the world, people are struggling, and the very organizations meant to bridge those gaps are wrestling with declining donations, and fewer volunteers.

Nearly 70% of charities are reporting decreased revenue, with revenues dropping by 30% on average. In-person fundraising events have been cancelled and almost half of the organizations can no longer host regular program volunteers as they did before, mindful of safety protocols and heeding public health directives not to gather in groups.  

This reality is moving us to ask: how can corporate Canada look beyond funding alone to lead in a different way? In fact, all Canadians have something to give – and we all have a stake in this recovery.

Food insecurity is fueling demand for food banks to levels not seen before. Close quarters and financial instability are increasing the demand for domestic violence supports. Shelters are struggling to provide beds in the face of strict health and safety protocols. Youth facing barriers have fewer opportunities to access in-person support. And families without technology at home are struggling to support virtual learning.

These are challenges we must collectively tackle now.  But conventional thinking won’t get us where we need to go. We need to take the assets and expertise we have in the business world – and leverage them in partnership with the charitable sector for new levels of impact.

  • Technology is a bridge.  Technology can connect vulnerable Canadians to the resources and supports they need. Imagine Canada research finds charities are rising to the challenge, with more than half of organizations transitioning in-person programs to online, and 42% developing all-new programs in response to needs during the pandemic. At Rogers, we paired the power of our technology with the tenacity of charitable organizations to uncover new ideas. We worked with school boards to enable students to learn at home and we teamed up with Jays Care to transform summer camps into virtual experiences for 13,000 children. Our technology is sparking new solutions as we work with Women’s Shelters Canada and Pflag to extend digital lifelines through devices and free data plans for at-risk women and the LGBTQ2S+ community, coupled with awareness campaigns across our media platforms.  The pandemic pivot also sparked innovation, like powering mobile testing units for hospitals, and working with start-ups like tiptap on touchless giving – a Canadian first – on Salvation Army holiday kettles.  How can you channel the technology you have directly into community support?  
  • Get creative with unique assets.  Imagine Canada research finds two out of five Canadian charitable donors say their giving has dropped since the pandemic began. Butthinking differently about how your resources and purpose aligns with community need can reveal enormous potential – and help make up lost ground.  We cleared the field to transform the Rogers Centre into the world’s largest food pantry, using our stadium – and volunteers – to pack 390,000 food hampers for Food Banks Canada. We leveraged our TV and e-commerce platform Today’s Shopping Choice to produce and sell Hearts & Smiles t-shirts and masks, fundraising $1 million toward The Frontline Fund to support hospitals with PPE and COVID research.  We used our 54 radio and digital platforms to support small businesses with “shop local” promotion.  Giving doesn’t have to look the same from one business or sector to the next. In fact, it shouldn’t. When all of us tap into our own distinctive resources and expertise, we expand what’s possible for charities nationwide. How could the elements of your business that make your company unique enable a charitable organization to thrive?
  • Build on people’s boundless potential (and passion).  People are the innovators who move any business forward. Channeling their abilities into community support and service drives huge impact also.  At Imagine Canada, we know 40% of giving happens in the last eight weeks of the calendar year. Empowering your teams with a bigger runway to contribute money and time right now can have a lasting impact that extends into 2021 and beyond. At Rogers, we come together to give together – even if that looks different this year. We’ve challenged our 25,000 colleagues to donate record levels of their time by next Canada Day – and we’ve already seeing our goals exceeded. Giving blood. Delivering groceries to self-isolating neighbours. Sewing masks. Tutoring kids online. These personal acts of service are uplifting our communities every day.  How can you empower your people to follow their passions, to give how and where they can?

The social costs of the pandemic are immeasurable.  But cross-sector collaboration is an invaluable currency we can spend against them. We are at our best when charities, businesses, and governments join forces for collective impact.  So let’s raise the bar of how we use the range of assets we have – to raise the floor for all Canadians.

By Sevaun Palvetzian, Chief Communications Officer and lead for corporate responsibility for Rogers & Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO, Imagine Canada, a non-profit research and advocacy organization representing the Canadian charitable sector