We are watching as Covid-19 spreads across the world and there have been a number of cases in Canada. The situation is fluid and it is important that Canadian charities pay attention. Depending on how the Covid-19 virus plays out it may have little influence on some charities and quite a bit on others – or alternatively it may have a large impact on almost all charities.

Now is a good time to keep on top of recent developments and try to follow or use reliable sources only and not pass along or share unreliable or sensationalist information.  Canadians expect a higher standard from charities, whether you are a health care charity or not.

Some good resources in Canada include:

As a lawyer with no medical training here are some tentative thoughts. It makes sense to speak to health care professionals knowledgeable about your own community especially as the situation evolves.

Coronavirus can affect organizations in many different ways:

  1. You need to monitor the news and reliable sources to see if changes are needed to your current operations.
  2. People may prefer not to have in-person meetings or get together for gatherings.  We have seen a number of conferences being cancelled, although at this point in time this is probably not necessary for most organizations.   This may result in volunteers and staff not wanting to or being able to show up for assignments/work.  It also may increase the number of people who would attend a virtual meeting, conference or course.
  3. To what extent can you use virtual means for work, communication and programs? Do you have video conference technology (such as Zoom)?  Zoom is one example of an inexpensive and easy to use video conference/conference calls system that people can use with on different devices and even if they only have a phone.  People may be worried, not only about large meetings but also using public transportation. If you can avoid an in-person meeting by having a conference or video call it can help people in a number of different ways.  Does your charity have a policy dealing with working from home?  Do your staff and volunteers have the tools they need at home to carry out their responsibilities?  If you must travel internationally, have you checked the latest Canadian Travel Advisories?  If you travel within Canada, some municipalities may have up-to-date information such as OttawaToronto or Vancouver.  If you need to have meetings in person where people will use public transit some may prefer that the meeting is not around rush hour but instead at off-peak hours.
  4. Do you have contingency plans for staff who may be quarantined and how that could impact their work?
  5. Has your organization reviewed how it conducts its activities and thought about best practices for prevention of the spread of the coronavirus and have you incorporated them into your practices?  For example, do you have a place for people to wash hands? Do you have signs reminding people to wash hands? Do you have alcohol-based sanitizers available?  Do you have adequate cleaning of your facility? Do you encourage people who are not feeling well to stay at home?
  6. The coronavirus will have different impacts on your beneficiaries depending on their situation.  We are already seeing some very concerning behaviour amongst a small part of the public who are avoiding certain restaurants or even a brand of beer.   As someone commented, the coronavirus is bad, but the moronavirus is far worse! If some of your vulnerable beneficiaries are quarantined, will they have enough supplies to survive for 2 weeks?  Will they require extra support?  Will you be able to provide that support?  Will you need to involve other organizations with expertise to assist?
  7. We have already seen a run on supplies in some communities – do you have a reasonable amount of supplies to be able to service your beneficiaries?  The need or demand for your services may increase and therefore the supplies that you need may increase.  Avoid panic buying but maintaining a prudent amount of supplies can be important for the charity.
  8. Funders should look at whether groups they fund should get more support because they are dealing with coronavirus including, by providing beneficiaries with assistance or having to cancel fundraising programs because of the coronavirus.  Additionally, funders may want to fund new groups that are on the frontline – whether in terms of research, health care or Meals-on-Wheels etc.
  9. Now might be a good time to review insurance policies and what is or is not covered?  Should you obtain more insurance?
  10. If the coronavirus impacts your revenue in a negative way – such as cancelling your main fundraising event – have you considered what cuts are needed to programs or where you will be able to find the extra funds?   The sooner you can plan the better.
  11. As the regular flu kills far more people than coronavirus, it might be a good idea for charities to remind employees and volunteers about the annual flu vaccination.  Every year between 25,000 – 55,000 Canadians will get the flu and many will die from it.   According to IPAC “The death rate for influenza in Canada is 500 to 1500 cases per year.”
  12. There might be specific public health guidance available depending on your type of organization.  For example, the Federal government has put out Public Health Guidance for Schools (K-12) and Childcare Programs (COVID-19)

Many of the steps above are things that organizations should already be thinking about.  While it will not work for every charity and every person within a charity, having good technology that allows for remote work can be very helpful, irrespective of the coronavirus.   With climate change, you may find that attitudes are changing in terms of travel, especially by plane, and it is worth asking whether there are too many face-to-face conferences/meetings and whether some charity executives travel too much.

The UK umbrella organization NCVO has put together a helpful guide on “Your Organisation and Coronavirus“.

We may update this post – if you have any thoughts let us know.