In Quebec and around the world, the COVID‑19 pandemic has created an unprecedented state of emergency.
It is our good fortune to witness many and varied acts of solidarity, outreach and goodness. Taken together, these actions make up a collective response that is up to the challenges the virus brings with it.
A number of fundraising activities planned for the spring of 2020 have been postponed until the fall, if then. Some will be rescheduled for 2021, because next year is something like tomorrow; others may simply not take place. For a great many community organizations, however, generosity cannot wait until tomorrow. While it is true that distancing helps save lives, there is no distancing for these agencies. Quebec has some 8,000 community organizations, nearly half of which are part of Quebec’s independent community action movement.
For agencies providing front‑line services for the most vulnerable people in our society – to name only those – , shutting down operations temporarily is a source of great concern. The evident shortage of financial and human resources has thrown community organizations into an unexpected state of crisis. While saluting spontaneous emergency funding initiatives by the United Way and the Fondation Québec Philanthrope, we need to do more.
- Listening to our inner GPS
Even though Quebec’s volunteer action support program has allocated a total of $20.4 million among the 125 Members of the National Assembly, a humanitarian crisis is following hot on the heels of the health crisis. Providing support on the basis of a subjective assessment is intended as a step in the right direction. But now, at a crossroads, many community organizations are wondering which way to go, or even whether they should just give up and go home. They aren’t taking the time to listen to their inner GPS tell them that G means anticipating Generous response, P means being Proactive now, and S means staying Solid.
Federal government support, too, for the network of community organizations affected by the coronavirus is acknowledged to be a significant contribution. Many agencies do not have ready access to capital funding or loans. Every day counts, and every delay is critical.
Since “Friday the 13th” of March, six weeks into the crisis, we realize that its repercussions are incremental. Services are becoming scarcer as needs are becoming greater: more and more people are hungry, alone or in distress.
The role of food banks, other forms of short-term assistance, and organizations offering psychological and social services is essential in helping members of our communities maintain their physical and mental health.
We cannot let persons living in poverty go without food. We cannot let persons living with mental health issues go without assistance, We cannot let persons living in isolation go without information and support. We need to bandage those wounds, and we need to think about what we want to have happen once the crisis is over.
The pandemic has confirmed real social isolation. We need to overcome that situation by re-creating the social fabric in whatever ways we can, with whatever we have to offer to persons in need.
- Volunteering is vital
Every action counts. Every donation makes a difference. Every volunteer is welcome, especially now during National Volunteer Week! Volunteers, many of whom are over 70 and are being asked to stay home for now, are vital to community organizations. They assist families that don’t have grocery money, workers who lose their jobs, seniors who have no visits, people living with metal health issues, and women who experience spousal abuse. The present situation highlights volunteers’ commitment. Volunteers show up, each with their own colour, to paint the rainbow that brings hope to thousands. What they do matters.
The rainbow that reads “Ça va bien aller” (English speakers might say “It’s gonna be all right”) reflects resilience. We know that money isn’t going to save the world, and that means that philanthropy needs to adapt. It’s probably “gonna be all right” if we each step forward. The fact that Quebec society is on “Pause” doesn’t mean that vulnerable and isolated persons have disappeared. Unfortunately, new needs have appeared: demand for services at many community organizations has doubled if not tripled. That means that we need to activate the “Play” button.
In the medium and the long term, rebuilding and rejuvenating our volunteer base will be front and centre. Summer and fall will see volunteer recruiting efforts focusing on persons under 60. In the next few months, laid-off workers just might find meaning, moving with quiet confidence from “I never had anything that bad happen in my life before” toward “I’ve never had anything this good happen in my life before.”
Together, we need to create that new world, by taking inspiring action that reaches isolated individuals and homeless persons who don’t qualify for the support packages our governments have announced.
- Indispensable partnerships
As well, prophets of philanthropy may well soon foresee partnerships or co‑operative arrangements among numerous surviving community organizations, generating virtual platforms, crowd-sourced funding and innovative programming. Necessary brainstorming will find new ways of doing things; dreams of “What if” will make headlines.
Right now, we are all concerned, if not all in the same way. There will be no “back to normal”. At a time when more and more demands are being placed on the philanthropic ecosystem, the survival of many community organizations depends on philanthropy. Clearly, these organizations’ rethinking and longevity will depend on the philanthropic sector’s necessary and newfound adaptability, ingeniousness and resilience.
Our job is to keep the faith, one day at a time.
Jocelyn Thémens, consultant for BNP Philanthropic Performance