Andrea Barrack: We need to act now to ensure the sustainability of the not-for-profit sector

By Andrea Barrack
Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship
TD Bank Group

COVID-19 has impacted almost every facet of life as we know it. The interconnectedness of health, social, economic and environmental issues has never been clearer for individuals and organizations. Much commentary to date has focused on the pandemic's impact on the business community, particularly on small- and medium-sized enterprises. Within that cohort, it’s critical we pay special attention to the needs of the not-for-profit sector, a vital force in communities across the country that will play a key role in getting our economy back on track.

According to Statistics Canada, not-for-profits contribute 8.5 per cent of Canada's GDP – more than the entire retail trade industry – while employing 2.4 million Canadians, 70 per cent of which are women. These organizations operate locally, regionally and nationally in every area of our lives, from the community YMCA, to housing and food, health care and social services, to large institutions providing emergency and counselling services. Most operate using a mix of private and public funding, while others generate revenue through sponsorships, tickets and user fees. All of them run on very tight margins.

Helping to establish a new normal

The not-for-profit sector is uniquely positioned to deal with society’s daily acute needs, and will help us support a long recovery, prepare us for a potential second wave, and most importantly, facilitate our transition to a new normal. Beyond today's immediate needs, the sector will play a critical role in creating the social resiliency we need post pandemic.  

The sector has lean operational budgets and very little latitude when hit financially. Community-based organizations are grappling with managing the pandemic directly and trying to determine whether they will be able to continue operations after a precipitous fall in revenue. Many individuals and corporations have stepped up to contribute to the sector’s immediate needs in the pandemic, including healthcare, food security, domestic violence programs, crisis help lines and others. Recently, the federal government announced an additional $350M to assist the not-for-profit sector. This is timely and important. 

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However, it’s also important we support the notion of long-term sustainability of the sector itself. We need to balance managing urgent community needs with consideration for the sector's future viability, particularly in areas like arts and culture, or the environment. Acting to stabilize the not-for-profit sector today will ensure the organizations we need down the road will be there for all of us. A disciplined, comprehensive and balanced approach is what we all need, and it is urgent.

Ensuring the sector’s survival

The reality is that many organizations are laying off staff and may not survive at a time when society needs them the most. While some consolidation in the not-for-profit sector may happen, we can work now to help build resilience in key organizations through core operating grants and increased access to government relief programs. Those efforts will ensure the sector is healthy enough to help us prepare for an uncertain future. A strong non-profit sector ensures our society is able to take care of the most vulnerable, connects people through arts and culture, and protects urban greenspace that bolsters our wellbeing and connection to nature. 

When TD launched the Ready Commitment in 2018, we believed a focus on four interconnected areas would help us create positive change for a more inclusive and sustainable tomorrow: Financial Security, Better Health, Connected Communities and a Vibrant Planet. We didn't anticipate that in early 2020, our world would face COVID-19, which is making a fundamental impact on life as we know it and demonstrates the interconnectedness of health, social, economic and environmental issues in the most palpable way.

Through the Ready Commitment, TD recently introduced the TD Community Resilience Initiative – a comprehensive program that includes funding, employee engagement and on-going collaboration with organizations and community groups across TD's operating footprint. Through this initiative, TD allocated $25 million (CAD) to help strengthen community resilience, both today and in the future.

As part of the TD Community Resilience Initiative, not only have we found new opportunities to support the communities we serve, but also adapted existing programs to help address current circumstances. For example, this year's TD Ready Challenge, an annual TD initiative, is focused on supporting innovative solutions for communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. By pivoting this year's focus, we can help drive change toward accelerated, sustained, and equitable recovery.  

As we move forward, organizations need to address the not-for-profit sector’s issues holistically. Many companies have stepped up to meet the challenge head on by donating money, time and expertise to COVID-19 relief efforts. It’s critical we all help not-for-profit community stakeholders weather this storm so the initiatives we believe in will be able to deliver maximum impact in a post-COVID-19 world. That is true sustainability. It’s never been more important than right now.

Andrea Barrack

Global Head, Sustainability and Corporate Citizenship

TD Bank Group