British Columbia

Charities face bleak future as fundraisers are cancelled, donations dry up during pandemic

It's not just the cancellation of the annual golf tournament fundraiser that has Ronald McDonald House B.C. and Yukon CEO Richard Pass concerned.

Many fundraising events and volunteer programs for Ronald McDonald House and other non-profits are cancelled

Tanna Fleming, left, and son Ethan, age 8, explore the halls at the grand opening of the new Ronald McDonald House® BC & Yukon, Monday, June 16, 2014, in Vancouver, B.C. (The Canadian Press Images/McDonald's Canada)

It's not just the cancellation of the annual golf tournament fundraiser that has Ronald McDonald House B.C. and Yukon CEO Richard Pass concerned.

Nearly all of the events, ranging from lemonade stands to dunk tanks that people put on to support his charity are postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pass says the absence of fundraisers combined with the economic hardship many families  face make it difficult for all charities to raise money.

"I know that people want to do their best to support us," Pass said. "They just want to figure out where their situation is first." 

Nearly a quarter of non-profit organizations in B.C. feel they may not last more than six months, according to a survey conducted earlier this month by Vantage Point and the Victoria and Vancouver Foundations.

Pass says he's optimistic Ronald McDonald House will continue to provide families of seriously ill children places to stay near hospitals and support for the foreseeable future but he acknowledges that bringing in money is a challenge.

"It's an enormous hit for the charity and we're going to very gently request funds and support because you know the need is still there," he said.

"Boy, donations are a must and a key, so we're hopeful that things start to get a little more back to normal."

Need for space

More than 70 families can stay at Ronald McDonald House on the B.C. Children's Hospital campus n Vancouver at any given time but only about a third of the facility is currently occupied.

When the pandemic hit, hospitals freed up as many beds as possible for COVID-19 cases by cancelling elective surgeries and moving out patients who weren't as ill.

The measures, combined with physical distancing rules at Ronald McDonald House, reduced the demand for rooms.

Pass says, however, the need for rooms at his facility will increase as the pandemic stabilizes and life returns to normal.

"We'll get families back in here but we're really just following B.C. health protocols," he said. "I don't have a timeline."

Kylie Hass, 9, is setting up a lemonade stand outside the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce to raise money for the Ronald McDonald House in Hamilton. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

'Families are missing the volunteers like crazy'

The majority of Ronald McDonald House's volunteer programs, such as the Lego program and art classes, are currently cancelled as a safety precaution.

Pass says volunteers and most staff aren't allowed in the facility to prevent the spread of the virus.

"Families are missing the volunteers like crazy because it's about support and connection and the volunteers are such a vital part of keeping the families engaged," he said.

"Obviously, though, they understand the sensitive medical situation that a lot of these families are in visiting hospitals."

A handful of programs, like popular music therapy sessions, are continuing through video chat apps.

Pass says a family will participate in a session and after they leave, the room will be sanitized so that the next family can enter.

CBC Vancouver's Impact Team investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community and strives to hold individuals, institutions and organizations to account. If you have a story for us, email

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Jesse Johnston worked in private radio from 2004 to 2014 in Vancouver, Red Deer and Calgary. He spent the next five years based out of Surrey (his hometown) as CBC's South of the Fraser reporter until he joined the Impact Team in 2019. Jesse is a two-time recipient of the RTDNA Dave Rogers Award for Best Short Radio Feature. He loves radio, running and dogs. He also loves the Detroit Lions, but if you follow him on Twitter, you already knew that. @Jesse_Johnston