This column was originally published in BIV Magazine's Philanthropy issue.
I have worked in the not-for-profit sector, in various parts of Canada and internationally, for the past 15-plus years. Every organization I have worked with has had similar struggles: A talented and dedicated workforce that experiences high levels of stress and burnout, limited ability to invest in infrastructure, short-term grant cycles that lead to high staffing turnover and short-term programs.
Ultimately, these are conditions that create challenges that in turn distract from the ability to focus on the core community work for which such organizations exist.
Each of these issues has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the understanding of the value of not-for-profit organizations has never been clearer.
When COVID-19 hit, most sectors shifted to working from home and our streets became bare. It was pandemic heroes who stayed on the frontlines and supported community members in one of their toughest moments. This includes health-care workers, grocery clerks, transit workers, not-for-profit teams and several other groups. I worked at a neighbourhood house in 2020 and when fear was at its peak, my team stepped into high gear: Accompanying seniors to pharmacies to get essential medications, arranging grocery delivery for older adults and people with immunocompromised health, setting up food distribution centres for people who could no longer access their local food bank, supporting youth who were experiencing isolation and challenges with mental health, shifting arts and physical literacy programs online so people could still enrich their minds and bodies. The list goes on.
My neighbourhood house was no exception – not-for-profit organizations showed up in neighbourhoods and communities, large and small, all across Canada.
Neighbours expressed gratitude for these frontline heroes who went above and beyond to meet the needs of community members. They banged pots and pans nightly to thank us all for our efforts.
Now that we are in a different phase of the pandemic, I have to wonder if it is possible to show gratitude and support for not-for-profits in a more sustainable way. After working in unstable conditions for decades, many sector leaders have asked ourselves: Can we do better? And if so, how?
I am now the CEO of Vantage Point, a B.C.-based not-for-profit that serves other not-for-profits in British Columbia.
We convene, connect and equip leaders to lift organizational capacity and elevate the not-for-profit sector. Our services in education and consulting provide resources to B.C. not-for-profit leaders so they can enhance their capacity to guide their organizations towards their missions.
Over the past few years, Vantage Point has been exploring the role we could play in overall sector development to strengthen the connections, organization and visibility of the not-for-profit sector in B.C., and build the bridge between not-for-profits and government.
Learning from our counterparts in other parts of Canada and the world, we have come together with partners to explore the development of a formal BC Not-for-profit Network. If B.C.’s not-for-profit sector was more organized, connected and visible, could our conditions change for the better? Could we move from surviving to thriving? Could increased advocacy and partnership at a strategic level allow our sector to stabilize, and could communities experience increased impact? We certainly hope to find out.
Zahra Esmail is CEO of Vantage Point.