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'Frankly, we are exhausted': Alberta non-profits set out priorities ahead of provincial election

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Alberta non-profit leaders gathered on Tuesday to unveil the sector's top priorities for the party that forms government in the upcoming provincial election.

It comes as non-profits deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and labour shortages.

"In my 30 years of working in this sector, I have never seen it in crisis the way that it is now," said Karen Ball, president and CEO of the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO).

"I hear every single day from non-profit organizations that are struggling to hire staff, that are turning away those in need and that are stretching their last dollar to pay the power bill. And frankly, we are exhausted."

The non-profit sector contributes $5.5 billion to Alberta’s economy annually and employs nearly 300,000 Albertans, according to the CCVO.

There are approximately 30,000 non-profits in Alberta, with services spanning from food and mental health to child care, seniors care, housing, immigrant settlement, recreation, environment and the arts.

"This isn't just a non-profit problem. When non-profits fail, our society fails," Ball said.

Ball and other non-profit leaders in the province have outlined five top priorities they want to see included in party platforms to help the sector recover and stabilize.

They include:

  • Providing $300 million over three years for non-profits to address the impacts of the pandemic, inflation and historic under-resourcing.
  • Building a plan to attract the workforce needed to fill thousands of vacancies, specifically in frontline roles, and ensure women and immigrants, who make up the majority of their labour markets, can build viable careers inside non-profits.
  • Collaborating on better data collection to anticipate trends and make better decisions.
  • Working together to explore how a cohesive view of the province’s 30,000 non-profits can generate efficiencies and cut red tape.
  • Sharing decision-making with non-profits around allocating government funds.

"Without a vision and commitment to support non-profits, many will be forced to close their doors completely or stop programs and services that we rely on," Ball said.

In November, Ball asked the provincial government for a one-time cash injection of $30 million for the province’s non-profit sector, citing the same concerns.

"That funding has not materialized and it is still so desperately needed," she said.

"Many organizations are seeing as much as 150 per cent increases to their insurance alone. And unlike the private industry, we cannot raise our prices when our costs go up."

Ball acknowledges that $300 million is a bold ask from non-profits, especially after her call for even less late last year went unanswered.

"This is what all non-profits universally could benefit from," she said.

"This is not a new number. It's not coming out of the sky and in relationship to an election. You can see those formal requests on our website, so we’ve been very consistent. I know they're listening. I know they hear the pressures. We just need them to make the connection to how they invest in our sector."

HEARING FROM NON-PROFITS

Salimah Kassam, executive director of Rise Calgary, says it is facing a 43 per cent increase in demand for basic-needs services, which help keep low-income people housed and fed.

She says Rise Calgary has gone from serving about 3,500 Calgarians in 2020 to 5,500 last year.

"The social sector is built on trust … It's built on the trust between us and our team members, the people we work with, the people in our organizations, the people who are on the ground every day, working with Calgarians, hearing stories, listening to trauma," Kassam said.

"Right now, due to the fact that demand is rising, and we're just not able to keep up, that trust is eroding."

Francis Boakye, who runs ActionDignity, says it is facing similar challenges.

The organization has been leading initiatives that address issues of diversity, human rights and racial inequities for two decades, but Boakye says it's becoming increasingly difficult with less resources.

"It is so essential that our provincial parties understand what is happening in the non-profit sector, how to support our sector and ultimately, ensure the services we provide are available for decades to come," he said.

IMPORTANCE OF VOLUNTEERS

Amanda Jensen, executive director of Volunteer Lethbridge, says volunteers at non-profits in Alberta provide more than 227 million hours each year.

"Alberta cannot function without volunteers," she said.

Volunteer Lethbridge represents around 100 non-profit organizations in Lethbridge and surrounding areas and provides training, resources and advocacy.

In 2020, it developed a volunteer database and screening program.

Jensen says with stability, the program can revolutionize how volunteers are safely matched with non-profits.

"Once they're screened and processed through Volunteer Lethbridge, they don’t have to be screened again or go through another intake process when they want to go to the next organization," she said.

"We want the government to truly understand the value of the sector and resource it accordingly."

UCP RESPONDS

Jeremy Nixon, minister of seniors, community and social services, says the UCP is committed to partnering with the non-profit community.

"Which is why we increased funding to the Seniors, Community and Social Services budget by nearly $700 million this year. This funding supports countless non-profit organizations as they care for Albertans throughout the province," he said in a statement.

NDP RESPONDS

Nicole Goehring, culture critic for the Alberta NDP, says the party has advocated for more support alongside the non-profit sector.

She says the NDP can't commit to the $300 million, but would support all the other asks if elected.

"What I can do is commit to working with them to ensure they have strong stability in their funding formula," Goehring said.

"Having them at the table, having a clear understanding of what their needs are, and a definite commitment to work alongside them to make sure that their needs are met, is a commitment that we have."

The provincial election is scheduled for May 29. 

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