Giving Back in Today’s Economy: Challenges and Opportunities from the Non-Profit Sector


Story_FoodBankEconomicImpactsIt’s no surprise that low oil prices and financial uncertainty in the markets has had a negative impact on Alberta businesses and families. Businesses all across the province have been faced with difficult decisions to downsize and lower costs. At the same time, families affected by job loss and lower incomes have relied heavily on personal savings and community supports to weather the storm.

This past month, Alberta’s Promise connected with several non-profit Agency Partners to ask their perspective on the most pressing challenges facing their organizations. Here’s what they had to say about the three top challenges affecting Alberta’s non-profit sector, followed by some ways in which your business can continue to give back despite the economic climate:

Challenge #1: Less Corporate Donations

All across Alberta, the economic climate has affected donors’ ability to give back and support the programs and services valued by Alberta families. As businesses big and small have been compelled to lower their spending, cut employee hours, and downsize, so too have they reduced their community investment budgets in a bid to keep afloat.

Challenge #2: Increased Operating Costs

At the Interfaith Food Bank Society of Lethbridge, which reflects the situation of many non-profits, the price of fuel, groceries and other supplies has driven up the cost of operations. According to Danielle McIntyre, Executive Director of the Society, rising costs have put great pressure on the organization to do more with less, a tall order when the group operates on a limited budget to start. Making food hampers adhere to the recommendations of Health Canada’s Food Guide becomes an increasingly costlier feat, and food banks all across Alberta have been hard-pressed to keep up with the exponential cost increases of food over the past five years.

Challenge #3: Growing Demand for Services

As more families face job losses, lowered incomes, and rising costs of living, the demand on community programs and services has grown steadily. According to Shawna Ogston, Communications & Media Relations Coordinator at the Calgary Food Bank, 38% of people using the food banks in Calgary are working. High housing costs, an extremely low vacancy rate, transportation expenses, coupled with one of the lowest minimum wages in the country have produced a high level of “the working poor.” Add a crisis such as a job loss, illness or divorce, and this has been the tipping point for many families to seek assistance with local non-profits. Program Coordinator for High River Food for Thought, Suvi-Tuulia Lorenz-Curtis, has also noticed an increase in clientele. More and more children are using their free school lunch program, and it is expected that demand will continue to rise in the coming school year as parents struggle to get by due to layoffs and reduced work hours.

How can your business continue to support non-profits given today’s economic situation?

Rather than eliminate all community giving activities, re-imagine your community giving strategy to reflect your economic circumstances. You can:

  • Donate in-kind goods or services. Donations of office furniture, computers, food, and expertise, for example, free up non-profit dollars to provide services directly to clients. Your business may also benefit from a valuable tax receipt.
  • Empower your employees to make a difference. Employees can lead the charge to collect in-kind or financial donations, host team-building events while volunteering at a non-profit, or help non-profits organize fundraising drives. Be a business that supports your employees’ passions and let them be your ambassadors in the community.
  • Make your donation go even further. Instead of cutting community spending, strive to achieve more business objectives with what you give. A conversation with the non-profits you support could result in community investment dollars furthering your marketing and employee engagement strategies as well.
  • Give something rather than nothing. Talk to any Alberta non-profit and they will tell you that even the smallest donations of time, funds, or in-kind goods and services are valuable and appreciated. By continuing to give what you can in hard economic times, employees and customers alike will know your company values community.

It is in these hard economic times that non-profit organizations may be needed most. As a former client of the Calgary Food Bank and single mother of two expressed: “I didn’t have to choose between school fees and groceries. Rent or food. The help I received from the Calgary Food Bank, because of generous and thoughtful donors, helped me move past this crisis and stay on my feet.” Be a business that helps Alberta families stay on their feet. Connect with Alberta’s Promise to learn more about alternative ways to give back and make a difference.