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Nova Scotia charities face uncertain future as ‘fundraising pie’ sliced by COVID-19

Non-profit organizations struggling to make ends meet during COVID-19
The pandemic has forced non-profits to suspend key fundraisers and close up shops. Elizabeth McSheffrey reports.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on local economies, the non-profit sector in Nova Scotia is feeling the financial squeeze.

Closures and layoffs have tightened the public purse, dried up donations and forced charities to cancel or suspend key fundraising events.

Easter Seals Nova Scotia, for example, lost roughly $75,000 during the month of March — the month it typically holds its Bunnyland fundraiser at the Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth and collects cash from paper egg sales.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to make that up in the long run,” said local Easter Seals president Joanne Bernard.

“There’s only so much of the fundraising pie to go around, so it’s extraordinarily difficult on organizations. We’re still running programs here.”

Most of the non-profit’s staff are working from home, she added, while critical services like the wheelchair and assistance devices programs continue unfunded.

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Non-profits have access to the same federal and provincial assistance measures as other businesses, including wage subsidies and rent deferral programs. That will help cover a portion of their costs, but without substantial revenue, they say services will eventually take a hit.

Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia has already shuttered its secondhand store in Halifax permanently. Its location in Dartmouth will eventually reopen, but with its $1.5-million revenue stream “essentially disappeared” for now, the organization has postponed construction on the largest affordable housing project in its history.

“We worked hard between 2016 to 2018 to get it approved, got all of it approved — it was $100,000 we raised to get it approved,” said board chair Kevin Riles. “And then we’re just getting ready this fall to get geared up for the capital campaign, COVID-19 hits, and of course, we have to put that on delay.”

The $20-million Habit Way project, slated for construction next to J.L. Ilsley High School in Halifax, was set to begin in the fall with roughly 80 affordable dwellings on offer. Almost all of the organization’s staff have been laid off, but Riles is confident the organization at large will successfully weather the storm.

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“We are fortunate in this. We have some assets we can sell, so we’re going to sell those assets over the next three or four months, save our pennies and then come out leaner and tighter and more efficient,” he said.

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Kevin Riles, board chair of Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia, said the pandemic’s impact on operations is “regrettable.” He’s seen here at the Dartmouth ReStore on April 6, 2020.
Kevin Riles, board chair of Habitat for Humanity Nova Scotia, said the pandemic’s impact on operations is “regrettable.” He’s seen here at the Dartmouth ReStore on April 6, 2020. Elizabeth McSheffrey/Global News

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The Alzheimer Society of Nova Scotia, which has not laid off staff due to the pandemic, said it’s likely going to feel the financial impacts of COVID-19 later in the fiscal year. The organization benefits from a secured portion of government funding, but the annual Walk for Alzheimer’s — its major fundraiser — has been suspended for the time being.

John Britton, the society’s CEO, said he hopes to announce news on the fundraiser later this week, but he’s not sure what will happen to other events scheduled for the year, including awareness campaigns and conferences.

“It’s going to be an incredibly challenging year for us, but at the end of the day, Alzheimer’s and other dementias do not pay attention to pandemics,” he said.

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“We need to be here both during the crisis for our clients and, I think, even more so after the crisis. I think we’re really going to see the residual effects at that point.”

3 staff members tested positive at Halifax’s largest nursing home
3 staff members tested positive at Halifax’s largest nursing home

On Monday, federal Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer called on the Trudeau government to increase support for non-profits by temporarily increasing the tax credit for charitable donations in 2020. He also vouched for removing the capital gains tax on charitable donations from private company shares and real estate.

“Local charities, community groups and religious organizations have been playing a significant role in helping Canadians get through this crisis,” Scheer said in a news statement.

“And while the need for their services only continues to increase, the donations that they rely on have declined dramatically, as in-person fundraisers and events have been cancelled, and many Canadians who normally contribute are no longer in a position to give.”

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Bernard, who served as an MLA in Nova Scotia before working for Easter Seals, said the non-profit sector is “always overlooked.”

“It contributes so much to GDP and is such an economic driver, but it often has to fight for recognition at a national level.”

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.