COVID-19 Flash Survey Findings: April 2020


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Ontario’s nonprofits and charities are facing a triple threat as a result of COVID-19: an abrupt loss of revenue from the cancellation of fundraising events and a steep drop off in donations; the closure of offices and cancellation of programs and services due to pandemic restrictions; and unprecedented human resource challenges in terms of both paid staff and volunteers. The Ontario Nonprofit Network conducted a flash survey to examine how organizations across Ontario are being impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Nonprofit leaders are concerned about the safety of their employees, many of whom are front-line staff with insufficient access to personal protective equipment (community workers, personal support workers, child care workers, and shelter staff). Leaders are also deeply worried about the capacity of their organizations to carry out their missions amid the crisis.
Arts organizations are having to cancel shows, recreation centres have been shut due to the state of emergency, and front-line social services and residential homes are struggling to provide services safely without access to adequate testing and personal protection equipment (PPE). Catering, courier, and retail social enterprises that employ people with disabilities have had to close up shop. Food banks are running low on provisions and volunteers. The situation is dire.
But even in the face of what are challenging times, nonprofits remain resilient, working on the frontlines to support their communities they serve in an unparalleled time of need.
The survey was open to Ontario nonprofits, charities, and nonprofit co-operatives with a mission to serve a public benefit, aimed specifically at executive directors and other senior leaders. It was conducted between March 23 and April 2, 2020 and garnered 483 responses via an online tool.

Read the COVID-19 survey report

Key findings


  • Over three-quarters of respondents have experienced disruption of services to clients and communities
  • Almost one in five nonprofits have closed their doors – at least for now – because of the pandemic or are making plans to do so


  • Close to 75 per cent of respondents have seen reduced revenue from fundraising, with the hard-hit arts sector reporting an 81 per cent reduction in ticket and event sales
  • The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will cost a large minority (43 per cent) of organizations between $50,000 and $249,999 each. Another 10 per cent estimate the financial impact to be $1 million or more. Seventeen per cent estimate the impact on their organization at less than $50,000
  • Of those that are continuing operation during Ontario’s state of emergency, almost 22 per cent will need an emergency infusion of less than $50,000 dollars to maintain operations and meet demand during the pandemic, while 17 per cent will need between $50,000-99,999, given what they knew at the time of responding

Human resources:

  • Nonprofits are experiencing staff and volunteer absences of 35 per cent (45 per cent in the social services sector) due to concerns about contagion in doing their work. Many respondents from nonprofits performing essential services, including community health organizations and long-term care homes, commented on a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • One third (36 per cent) of respondents indicated that their organization has either reduced hours for workers or have had to lay off staff. The pandemic and state of emergency have been particularly devastating for workers in arts and culture, sports and recreation, child care, and nonprofit social enterprises

Some subsector highlights:

Differential impacts are being experienced by different parts of the nonprofit sector

  • Social services: 93 per cent of respondents have experienced or anticipate a disruption in service to clients and community
  • Employment and training: 48 per cent have laid off or will have to lay off staff
  • Arts and culture: has experienced 81 per cent reduction in ticket and event sales
  • Social enterprises: Courier, catering, and retail social enterprises that often employ people with barriers to the labour market have closed their doors for the duration.
  • Health: 31 per cent have resources to sustain their organizations for only the next 3-6 months, while 38 per cent are unsure how long their resources will last because of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic and its effects on physical and mental health

Resiliency and advocacy in action

Nonprofits are demonstrating the depth of their resilience, only two weeks into the crisis. Almost 50 per cent of nonprofits are open and operating, but have modified their regular operations – in some cases rapidly moving their work online, in other cases radically transforming services to accommodate the requirement for physical distancing.

We are operating, but our offices are closed, we’re all working remotely and we’ve changed how we’re delivering almost all of our programs

(survey respondent)

With continued uncertainty about whether nonprofits can access federal wage subsidies at the time of writing, and no announcement to date of a federal or provincial emergency stabilization fund, many nonprofits do not know how they can continue to pay staff and are beginning to lay off workers. With almost half of Ontario’s nonprofits not having even three months’ reserve funds, ONN is deeply concerned about the impact of COVID-19 and the related economic downturn on the sector and the communities they serve.

We urge governments at all levels, as well as other funders and donors, to step up to ensure that nonprofits and charities can continue to meet their missions and serve their communities in these extremely challenging times.

ONN will continue to advocate for:

  • An emergency nonprofit sector stabilization fund that is adequate to address the urgent needs of the nonprofit sector as an employer of one million Ontarians across a vast range of industries: social services, health, arts and culture, sport and recreation, environment, faith groups, social enterprises, and more
  • Flexibility in funding agreements from public and private funders so that nonprofits can do whatever it takes to keep the doors open during the crisis and/or rapidly re-start operations following the state of emergency
  • Paid sick leave and other provisions that support nonprofits to be Decent Work employers – in crisis contexts and beyond
  • Access to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for front-line workers in community settings, such as neighbourhood groups who do isolation visits, along with home care, long-term care, and others
  • Access to emergency child care for workers in settings that have been identified as “essential,” including health care and social services
  • A seat for nonprofits at planning tables focused on economic recovery

Tell your story to government and other funders: ONN encourages all affected nonprofits to tell their stories of the impact of the pandemic, state of emergency, and accompanying economic recession directly to government decision makers, along with proposed solutions for the challenges you face.

ONN will continue its government relations and advocacy as attention turns to an economic recovery. We will advocate for a recovery strategy that ensures our provincial and local economies meet the needs and aspirations of the diverse communities across Ontario.

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