Making ends meet despite Calgary’s economic downtown

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Despite the economic downturn, four Calgary non-profit organizations are listed as some of the most successful in Canada by Money Sense’s online magazine.

The Calgary Foundation, United Way of Calgary and Area, Calgary Health Trust, and Calgary Inter Faith Food Bank received final grades ranging between a B+ and an A+ for 2016.

Money Sense scores the biggest charities and non-profit organizations within Canada on four key areas: program spending efficiency, fundraising costs, governance, and reserve funding size. After receiving a letter grade for each category, the charity is given an overall grade.

Mark Brown, reports and rankings editor for Money Sense, states in the overview section for the Charity 100 that having yearly grades for non-profits and charities provides a guideline on what organizations are doing for those interested in becoming involved.

“Doing good is its own reward. Our annual Charity 100 grades help ensure your donation is well spent,” Brown explains. “Giving is a personal decision, and far be it from us to tell you where to donate your money. But don’t make it an afterthought. Giving is much like investing, except that the payoff is measured in social benefit rather than as a financial one.”

Money Sense does not rate non-profits for effectiveness at raising money, but given the recent economic downturn in Alberta, the four organizations have done well in attracting donations throughout 2015.

Kerry Longpré, vice president of communications for the Calgary Foundation, says it has yet to see exactly how everything will play out financially this year. She adds that the financial year for the Calgary Foundation finishes at the end of March, and so that is when exact numbers regarding donations will roll in.

However, these numbers are tracked throughout the year, and those estimates are giving the Calgary Foundation a reason to be optimistic that donations will continue to come in.

HaysboroParkeditsThe new Haysboro Community Natural Playground is the result of resources pooled by the Calgary Foundation and the Haysboro Community Association. The park is different then most, as it includes more green spaces for all ages.
Photo courtesy of the Haysboro Community Association
“Time will tell as to the number of donations we’ll get. We might anticipate they would be less,” says Longpré. “Having said that, CBC exceeded their goal, CBC Food Bank Drive exceeded their goal, Calgary Herald exceeded their goal this year, and the United Way met their goal. So that confirms for us that Calgarians are generous, and we could well see Calgarians sustaining their level of giving.”

In 2015 the Calgary Foundation received an A as a final grade from Money Sense, and in 2016 the final grade increased to an A+. Within the past year, United Way of Calgary and Area, as well as Calgary Health Trust, decreased their overall grades from an A+ to an A, and an A to a B+, respectively, while Calgary Inter Faith Food Bank has remained at an A+.

However, Lucy Miller, United Way of Calgary and Area’s President and CEO, explained that the organization saw a demand increase within the last year, and in some cases, that increase was by more than 100 per cent.

Miller is grateful to those living in and around Calgary for stepping up and helping whenever they could, in whatever way they could – whether it be donating their money or their time.

Miller says the organization has faced an increase in crisis calls from the women’s emergency shelter, domestic violence calls, and calls to the distress centre’s crisis line since the downturn.

“These are pressing social issues, but when we come together as a community, we can provide opportunities for every Calgarian to thrive.”

United Way of Calgary and Area has yet to reveal its achievements from the 2015 campaign, but this information will be released on Feb. 10 during the Spirits of Gold event.

Sarah Schmidt, who works in design and development at Propellus, explains that their organization aims to help strengthen organizations – especially in times of financial need.

SarahSedits copySarah Schmidt, who works in design and development at non-profit aid group Propellus, says in most cases economic downturns hit charities later in the year, but they still feel the sting. Schmidt adds that in the last year the requests for grants and funding from member organizations of Propellus have gradually increased.
Photo by Melissa Kadey
“We need the non-profits to take care of the causes, the people, or the critters that mainstream society that has maybe left behind – not necessarily on purpose – but we’re there to compliment the community and make it a great place so that way everyone can thrive here in Calgary, not just for some folks and not others.”

Because Propellus works towards helping charities and non-profit organizations, Schmidt says more and more of its members have been asking for funding related help lately – this could be anything from grant writing, to getting ideas on how to position the organization in a light that is attractive to people.

“We’re hearing a lot more from our members that demands for their services are way up, volunteer inquiries are way up, but of course their biggest challenge is funding to keep the doors open,” Schmidt says.

Ben Atkinson, associate professor in the policy studies faculty at Mount Royal University, suggests that charities having a difficult time should try to lobby the government for extra support. Atkinson recognizes that though charities and non-profits apply for grants, only a small number of them can actually be given the money.

Longpré stresses the importance of communicating an organization’s message and making people aware of the work that is being done.

“If [people] don’t know about you, you’re going to be highly challenged. We are (also) now building, supporting and putting more funds into charities to communicate their message.”

Furthermore, Atkinson explains that the best thing for non-profits to do in an economic downturn is to be as efficient as possible with the money and the volunteers that they currently have. He believes that by making their existing donations and volunteer’s time stretch as much as possible, it will help them in the future.

“It’s like Keynesian economics says, you save during good times and spend during bad times and it balances out in the long run.”

Thumbnail courtesy of the Haysboro Community Association.

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie,

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