April 15, 2024

#2 - Houston, ... We Have a Problem

During the Apollo 13 mission, when an explosion significantly challenged the viability of the space capsule and crew, the commander calmly reported to Mission Control, "Okay, Houston ... we've had a problem here.”  This was so unexpected, Mission Control asked for a repeat of the message: "Ah, Houston, we've had a problem.”   -   Since then, this quote has become an often-repeated reference (by those of a certain age!) to imply an unexpected problem.  And this is precisely the message I wish to imply for the charity sector...

We have a growing “Charity Gap” in Canada where demand for charitable services exceeds charities’ capacities.  This is because the needs have been increasing, while generosity from Canadians has been declining.   Our recent research shows this is largely due to several reasons:

a)  Greater Economic pressures  - real and/or perceived – are making ‘generosity’ harder to afford.

b)  Decline of religiosity.     Religious people are more generous so a decline in religiosity in the Western world is a problem to the sector. There are several components within religiosity which support generosity: The principles of the religion; The community among the religious; The frequent messages/trigger to be generous: And the visible awareness of others being generous.

c)  Drop in prosocial values (i.e. the responsibility to help those in need)

d)  Lower social norms for giving.  Where we once had “tithing”, we now have low awareness of a giving norm.  

Importantly, the research shows younger adults are less generous compared to older adults, have lower prosocial values, and have a lower sense for the social giving norm. As the more generous cohort of Baby Boomer passes and is replaced by less generous Millennials and Gen Z, there is a significant threat to the future of the charity sector.  

Ottawa, we have a problem.

In the case of the Apollo 13 mission, it was the crew in the space capsule which ultimately owned the problem. And I feel this is akin to the challenges facing the charity sector.   Charities own the problem.  Our Federal Government has proven to be quite apathetic to the needs of the charity sector over the decades.  Any historical advancements between the sector and Ottawa have not been sustained by the following governments-of-the-day. Furthermore, all levels of government are financially challenged and cannot just spend-away the problems of the charity sector. So, the charity sector needs to step up, own the problem, and find its own solutions...

However, the charity sector is very fragmented, siloed, and without a mechanism for alignment.  Charities lack the structure to help themselves collectively. They have very little agency in Ottawa.

The sector’s call for ‘a home in government’ is over 40+ years old. It has been mostly ignored. Although such a home would be helpful, our sector needs more than a parliamentary secretary role. A home in government is good, but not sufficient for all of the needs of the sector.  Furthermore, I do not believe that being dependent on the political ecosystem provides the long-term stability the sector requires. It has let us down to-date. - We cannot and should not put all of our sector challenges on the shoulders of policymakers.

The bottom line, we need to find an independent solution in partnership with government, but not dependent on government.  -- So, why are we not doing so? Why is our sector not changing (quickly enough)?   This is the topic of the next blog post.

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