British Columbia

B.C. charities and non-profits rethink fundraising methods as COVID-19 leads to revenue loss

But many non-profits and charities in B.C. are feeling the squeeze. In May, a survey of more than 1,000 organizations found that 23 per cent of operators feared they wouldn't last six months. Many continue to rely on emergency measures and have pivoted to virtual fundraising events.

With traditional fundraising events off the table, organizations look to virtual events

A volunteer cleans the cages of exotic birds at the Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary in Delta, British Columbia on Friday, November 20, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Colourful cockatoos, amazons, and macaws in dozens of cages line the walls in each room of a rental house in Delta. A skeleton crew of workers and volunteers tend to the birds, unencumbered by the constant cacophony of chirps, songs and screeches.

"It's a lot of work," said Jan Robson, a spokesperson for the Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary. "We have 60 birds in there, and they have big cages — and big poop."

And now, big problems. Greyhaven is among a long list of non-profits and registered charities in B.C. that are grappling with revenue losses due to COVID-19 and rethinking the traditional fundraising model.

Greyhaven has been a refuge for exotic birds for decades. It runs shelters out of two homes and operates entirely on donations, fundraising, and adoption fees to find homes for countless birds, many of whom have been abandoned by past owners.

This year, revenues have dropped, making it a challenge to operate on what had already been a tight budget. Marquee fundraising events like its biannual open house have been cancelled, in favour of virtual alternatives.

There's been about a 15 per cent decrease in funding, Robson said. 

"We're trying to raise funds for six months rent for this particular facility," she added. "That's one of those things where we're like, 'How can we make this work?'"

"When you're caring for over 100 birds, and your money is 15 per cent down, it's a punch in the gut, for sure," she said.

Jan Robson is pictured among multiple rescued exotic birds at the Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary in Delta, British Columbia on Friday, November 20, 2020. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

'These organizations touch all of our lives'

There are more than a thousand non-profits and charities in B.C., a diverse sector that generates billions of dollars in GDP annually. They often fill gaps in under-served communities, providing services for the elderly, people with disabilities, and vulnerable animals.

But many are feeling the squeeze. In May, a survey of more than 1,000 organizations found that 23 per cent of operators feared they wouldn't last six months.

"A lot of non-profits and charities have had to close their doors," said Alison Brewin, executive director of the non-profit Vantage Point.

"Across the board, for all organizations, they're seeing decreases in their earned incomes, their donations, and their other funding sources."

A notable example is the Vancouver Aquarium, which is currently fighting bankruptcy.

"These organizations touch all of our lives," Brewin said. "We all connect with non-profits and charities across the province, and the vulnerability that's shown up is quite scary."

One of many rescued exotic birds at the Greyhaven Bird Sanctuary in Delta, British Columbia. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Virtual events not as effective as in-person fundraisers

In the time since Vantage Point conducted the survey, Brewin said many organizations continue to rely on emergency measures, including the federal wage subsidy.

Groups like Greyhaven have switched to virtual events to raise funding, but the events typically don't generate the same amount of money.

It's a similar trend for larger organizations. The BC Cancer Foundation is down tens of millions of dollars in revenue this year, according to president and CEO Sarah Roth.

The foundation's yearly headline event, the Ride to Conquer Cancer, would typically generate about $8 to 10 million. This year, the virtual event generated about $2 million.

COVID-19 restrictions have also forced the foundation to stop door-to-door fundraising efforts as well, although it says its number of monthly donors has remained consistent.

Vancouver Aquarium staffer Jessica DeBenedetto feeds a sea lion in the main walkway of the aquarium Thursday, September 10, 2020. The Vancouver Aquarium has had to close its doors to the public due to the lack of visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

In all, it expects to end the year with about $40 million in revenue, compared to previous highs of around $70 million.

"Cancer doesn't stop, and neither can we," Roth said. "We just need to adjust, we're being very mindful of our costs."

With a vaccine on the horizon, there's hope that traditional revenue streams could be restored. But mounting cases in B.C. means most groups aren't holding their breath quite yet.

And with COVID-19 restrictions tightening, the sector isn't expected to rebound anytime soon.

The BC Cancer Foundation is anticipating at least another year of its remote model.

"It's just changed," Roth said.

"I think there will be a huge appetite to go back to more in-person experiences for sure, and we'll get ready for that."

About the Author

Jon Hernandez

Video Journalist

Jon Hernandez is an award-winning multimedia journalist from Vancouver, British Columbia. His reporting has explored mass international migration in Chile, controversial logging practices in British Columbia, and the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. Follow Jon Hernandez on Twitter:

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