Calgary charities continue to struggle in this economic downturn where unemployment continues to rise according to Statistics Canada.

This has led to a drop in corporate donations for charities even with the New Democratic government maintaining services, according to a survey analyzing the health of Calgary non-profits done by the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO).

“What’s different about this downturn is we have a government so far is committed to maintaining service levels and that has had somewhat of a stabilizing effect on Alberta’s non-profit sector,” says Geoff Braun, director of research and policy of CCVO.

In Premier Rachel Notley’s address in early 2016, she cited the main cause for damaging the province’s economy as the price of a barrel of oil. She said past governments had cut spending to programs to help reduce deficits, but the NDP would not be doing that.

“We will not be slashing and burning the programs and services that families count on,” said Notley.

Rachel NotleyPremier Rachel Notley had been adamant about not cutting government spending from the people who rely on them. Photo Courtesy of Dave Cournoyer, flickr

Corporate commitment… for now

While the government has maintained spending, corporate donations have fallen by 43 per cent according to the CCVO survey. However, that doesn’t mean all corporations have pulled back.

“Some of those corporations are saying we will honour the commitment this year, but we can’t guarantee it next year,” says Dan Thorburn, vice-president of community and grants at the Calgary Foundation. “The needs are growing but the resources aren’t.”

This was to be expected, as oil dropped to a low of $28.50 in January 2016 from $47.30 in October 2015. According to the CCVO survey as a result of lower corporate donations, 83 per cent of organizations reported government funding increased or stayed the same.

The Calgary Foundation is an organization that helps donors get in touch with charities, has been around since 1955. The foundation’s mandate is to strengthen Calgary’s charitable sector. Another method used to boost charity revenue is to apply for a grant, and the Calgary Foundation has a variety of grants.

The foundation offers many different types of grants. These grants range from donations for specific causes of up to $50,000, to major grants of over $1 million. Thorburn expects to see an increase in applications going into next year.

Helping the Homeless

The Calgary Homeless Foundation was a recipient of the Calgary Foundation’s efforts who then redirected the funds into the Resolve Campaign. Calgary Homeless Foundation is a partner in the Resolve Campaign, which wants to provide funds to build affordable housing and supported rental housing for homeless Calgarians. It provided $2 million for the Resolve Campaign.

“With the economic climate it has definitely posed some challenges raising money,” says Megan Donnelly a spokeswoman for the campaign. If the campaign is successful in reaching its $120 million goal it will unlock additional funds from the provincial government.

The provincial and federal governments will provide the primary source of funding for the Calgary Homeless Foundation. “It aligns well with the Liberal and NDP platforms of supporting vulnerable populations,” says Kevin McNichol, vice-president of the foundation. “So far, the funding that we have enjoyed has been maintained.”

McNichol is concerned heading into next year as people’s potential donations decrease especially as demand has increased. The province is facing a substantial deficit, which has charities concerned. “So they are sending messages of fiscal restraint, but what that actually means we don’t know, but at the same time we remain hopeful.”

Infographic Brady 1Charities in the survey said they had enacted the following changes. Graphic by Brady Grove

Individuals make a difference

Not every charity has huge support from corporations or the government. The Poppy Fund, for example, helps veterans with funds for their daily lives and medical expenses such as false teeth or wheelchairs.

“Currently, I would suggest too that our donations are down about 16 per cent from the same time as last year,” says Joey Bleviss, Poppy Fund chief administrative officer.

The Poppy Fund doesn’t receive any government funding or grants. This is because corporations don’t usually donate a lot of money to the organization. Instead, the Poppy Fund relies heavily on individual contributions from the average Calgarian.

“You know, one of the things where we’ve been very fortunate is that the citizens of Calgary are very charitably minded people and strong caregivers as far as our veterans go,” says Bleviss.

Going Forward

Notley’s NDP may have helped the non-profits in 2016 by choosing to run a provincial deficit at an estimated $10 billion. However, it is unknown how the government will react if the deficit keeps increasing, and this is creating uncertainty for charities like the Calgary Homeless Foundation.

If oil prices continue to increase, it will certainly help. According to Bloomberg, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries has announced its first cut in oil production in eight years, which should help out the Alberta economy.

But these things could take months to affect Alberta. In the meantime, charities will have to continue adapting to the realities of a bad economy.

The editor responsible for this piece is Maria Dardano and can be contacted at

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