Michelle Baldwin advocates for the Nonprofit Sector at House of Commons Finance Committee Meeting

“We need you. You need us.” Michelle Baldwin, Executive Director of Pillar Nonprofit Network and Chair of Ontario Nonprofit Network spoke at the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance this week to testify on the current harsh realities being felt in the impact sector and the urgent need for support.

Thank you for the opportunity to illustrate the urgent need to support nonprofits, charities and social enterprises. Because none of us can afford the collapse of this sector. We need them - now and after.
I want to acknowledge our MP Peter Fragiskatos, London North for his support of our sector.

I am the Executive Director of Pillar Nonprofit Network and we are a regional network in Southwestern Ontario that supports more than 610 members including individuals, organizations and enterprises.

We operate a 32,000 sq ft shared space in London, Ontario – called Innovation Works – and we invest $4M in our region through our social finance program, VERGE Capital.
I am also the Board Chair of the Ontario Nonprofit Network.

Our work at Pillar is driven by the belief that having the three pillars of nonprofit, business and government working together is essential for communities to thrive.

We believe in the collective power of networks; and the federal government is a key partner within this network.

We need you. You need us.

Nonprofits, charities and social enterprises are uniquely positioned to be invaluable partners for government to develop programs, services and policies that incorporate diverse perspectives and are responsive to community needs. Their significance has been amplified by the extraordinary resilience and adaptability they have shown in response to COVID-19.

That being said, there is a harsh reality we are now facing in the nonprofit sector:

  • organizations have had to lay off staff and temporarily suspend operations – across Canada layoffs of between 117,000 and 194,000 people are estimated;
  • revenues are declining quickly – as you heard from Imagine Canada who projected financial losses of $9.5 to $16 billion for registered charities alone;
  • demand for services has in many cases increased – even for organizations that are not on the “front line”

In addition to measures needed to respond to COVID-19, there are many other issues that are being exacerbated by the pandemic - homelessness and housing; addictions and mental health; violence against women and children; other health issues not treated. We must work to limit and prevent the downstream costs from the deterioration of health and well-being caused by this pandemic.

Take for example a local board I serve on - Atlohsa Family Healing Services that supports Indigenous-led programming, including a women’s shelter and resting spaces that have seen an increase in demand for services and anticipate even greater demand once we come through this crisis.

To date, the Federal Government has invested a great deal in helping individuals, businesses, and organizations. Regrettably, many nonprofits, charities and social enterprises simply do not qualify for the economic response measures. 50% of our sector does not have paid staff, but their finances are still taking a hit. Many sports leagues are fueled by volunteers, yet they contribute to the economy and to our health and well-being.

We appreciate the investments that have been made in organizations providing front-line services to the most vulnerable people and communities.

But these measures are not sufficient if we want to maintain vital social infrastructure across the country including arts, culture, sports, faith etc.

Sunfest, a cultural music festival that attracts 225,000 attendees annually, and our Home County Music & Art Festival have both cancelled this summer’s events. This is a $6M loss in revenue to local businesses.

In addition, organizations that may fall between the gaps in funding that’s already been announced include many nonprofit social enterprises (e.g., YMCAs, Habitat ReStores, as well as courier services, catering, and child care). These nonprofits rely on earned income to supplement government funding streams. In fact, 45% of revenue for the core charitable sector is from earned revenue – they are suffering from the loss of sales of goods and services just as small businesses. Goodwill Industries, Ontario Great Lakes, has had to lay off 850 staff – many of whom already faced barriers – and the organization has seen a loss of $125,000 per day – that represents 90% of their funding.

A broad fund for the sector would alleviate the challenges I’ve outlined today. That is why we – along with the thousands of organizations and people you have heard from – are supporting the Sector Resilience Grant Program proposal submitted by Imagine Canada…

  • It will manage the multiple requests from various sectors
  • It will save the government time, including the time spent by staff and elected officials with each sub-sector
  • It will save the government money in the long run

We estimate that around $6 billion in emergency funding is still urgently needed. This number was not brought forward lightly, it illustrates that our sector is a significant economic and social driver in this country.

More importantly, the cost of doing nothing is even greater. Canadians have spent generations building a sector that delivers services more efficiently and effectively than government, provides good jobs in every community, addresses equity and inclusion, and contributes enormously to our quality of life.

Take a moment to imagine your community without support for people with disabilities, mental health issues, without shelters and without organizations rallying for the eradication of diseases. Without supports for those new to Canada and for seniors. Without places of worship, amateur sports, and community centres. Without community theatres, festivals and museums. And so much more.

It would take years – and far greater investment – to rebuild this sector than it will take to preserve it today.

While you consider our proposal, I ask you to pause to imagine the organizations you personally support and engage with – pause to imagine if they no longer existed.

Every single person in this country benefits from this vital sector. We cannot afford to let it collapse. This is the moment for your support.

Thank you for listening.

A full recording of the House of Commons Finance Committee meeting held May 7, 2020 can be seen here.  

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Advocacy and Awareness

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