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Whistler charities reeling after difficult year

Social entrepreneurship may be part of the answer as groups forced to adjust to the economy

While there are some encouraging signs that the economy may be turning a corner, relief can't come fast enough for the Whistler charities and non-profits that are struggling this year with smaller donations and downsized grants.

Typically non-profits can see a surge in donations during the holiday season, as people feel generous and are also mindful of the Dec. 31 deadline for charitable donations on their tax returns. If that's the case this year, then Santa Claus can't come soon enough.

Carol Coffey, the executive director of the WAG animal shelter, says the year has been quite challenging.

"It's been a tough year, just looking at the number," she said. "If I compare our year until Oct. 31, the last month where we have our financial statements, to Oct. 31 of this year, our donations are down about 20 per cent. That's really significant for us and means we're down maybe $14,000."

To make up the difference WAG is holding more fundraising events than in past years. Usually WAG holds four fundraising events in a year. Some of the additional events include WAG's involvement in the opening of the new Prime Restaurant at the Creekside base and the Purina Incredible Dog Challenge. As well, WAG is hosting a second round of pet photos with Santa on Dec. 22 at the Hilton from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Coffey says the economy is the main culprit behind the reduced donations.

"That would be the feedback I've gotten from people, although it's really hard to say. We have had people give donations who have said 'sorry that it's not as much as last time, but times are tough.' People are still helping out, but are not able to give us as much as last year."

Another issue is the loss of coin boxes around town as new businesses have moved in. Many of those businesses are franchises, and are not allowed to have coin boxes, unless they are for charities supported by head offices.

Meanwhile, Coffey says the flow of animals never stops. In fact, they have had to care for more animals. Some relief is on the way, she says, as several prospective pet owners anticipate moving into their own homes in the future.

"We run into people who want to adopt but they're not allowed under their rental agreement, especially for cats. But they've purchased in Cheakamus Crossing or Rainbow and are waiting to move in," she said.

If you can't donate money to WAG, Coffey says the organization is always looking for volunteers to walk dogs, help out with fundraisers and take on other responsibilities.

"As long as animals are in need we have to keep going. We have to staff the shelter 365 days a year," she said.

While they are more dependent on grants than donations, the Whistler Adaptive Sports Program is in a position where they have had to withhold programming.

"We're very much in the hunt for funding... and only offering programming as the funding comes in," said executive director Chelsey Walker. "We're basically limiting the amount we're offering based on whether we can fund a particular program at a particular time."

WASP provides instruction, training and equipment for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. The main focus has always been on skiing and snowboarding, but the organization has moved into Nordic skiing, paddling sports, hiking, hand cycling and other activities.

WASP's fiscal year ended July 31 with the first loss in the history of the program. One of the reasons, says Walker, is the loss of two funding sources - one corporate and one governmental - that accounted for $50,000 in annual funding. As well, the provincial gaming grant program has been reduced, which in turn has created more competition for grants available from foundations and other government sources.

Walker says some grant opportunities are currently in the works and she hopes to be able to announce some new funding in the New Year.

Finding grants that aren't related to capital costs, however, can be challenging, which is why WASP also depend on donations.

"We're really fortunate that people are generous donating for capital projects... like if we purchase a new sit-ski or ask for contributions for our new building," she said.

"For us, general donations are extremely important because they represent unrestricted funding, which can go towards society costs, payrolls and other areas. It is not as sexy as other funds, so we rely quite a bit on donations to get us through. Whenever possible we include those costs in our grant applications, with 'x' dollars for the capital project and 'y' dollars for the administrative side of things."

Donations also make it possible to seek matching donations from grant organizations, many of which require a charity or non-profit to fund a share of the cost for a project.

WASP has benefited from some last minute donations in the past, including a significant donation last Dec. 31. They often receive donations from members of the community who support WASP, but the majority of contributions typically comes from disabled individuals and their families that participate in WASP programs.

"Some will recognize that we use our funds to keep fees low for participants, and those that can afford to will make a donation to show their appreciation," she said.

The Whistler Get Bear Smart Society is also coming off a challenging year, according to director and founder Sylvia Dolson. While donations from coin boxes are continuing to come in, grants are down significantly.

"We're not doing well financially. This year we had to use up all of our cash resources," she said. "I don't want to use the word 'desperate' but that's how the situation is financially.

"This year has been the worst in terms of grants. A lot of foundations didn't have a funding cycle, or like the Vancouver Foundation they had one instead of the usual two. That made it more difficult for everyone to be successful with their proposals and grants were made for less than the amount requested, and so on."

The society is taking steps to become less dependent on grants, which Dolson says are declining every year. That means selling educational merchandise to raise money for programs. They recently released a book called A Whistler Bear Story , written by Dolson and Katherine Fawcett, which they hope to sell over the Christmas holidays and during the Olympics.

"We're heavily invested in our inventory at the moment," Dolson explained. "We used up our cash reserves... and we're hoping to have some sales come in on that to provide revenues for us going into next year.

"(Merchandise) is not a bad model for us, it's the only thing that kept us afloat this year. But when you're a grass roots charity and come out with a new product it sucks up all the money you have and you are then in a situation where you have to sell the product before you move forward again."

The Community Foundation of Whistler (CFOW) has both good and bad news this season. The organization was only able to give out a few small grants this year compared to past years after their invested funds lost so much value in the economic collapse in late 2008.

Donations to the foundation are also down, mostly as a result of the Resort Municipality of Whistler's decision not to make a contribution to the CFOW's Environment Fund.

"It's definitely been a challenging year for us, and for everybody in the charitable sector for that matter," Kerry Chalmers said. "At the end of last year we were down about 16 per cent, and that was reflected in our granting.

"But there is good news as well. As of Nov. 30, on a pooled basis, we have regained all of our losses from last year, our portfolios are back up 17 per cent. Not all of our funds are back up but most of them are, so we will be doing some granting in 2010."

The CFOW is an endowment organization, where money raised and donated is invested and only the interest is distributed annually to non-profits and charitable organizations within Whistler and the Sea to Sky corridor. They have roughly $3 million in various funds.

While the principal has recovered in the last year, Chalmers said it could be years before their investments are earning enough interest to provide grants on the same level as the past.

"It was a quick drop, and it's going to be a gradual hill back up but the good news is that we are going up," she said. "As a community foundation, we are here for the long run and we have an operating model that allows us to ride out the hills and valleys."

The municipality's decision not to make a contribution this year is responsible for a large part of the drop in donations, but Chalmers said it was understandable given the situation.

"The municipality has been a pretty big contributor to the Environmental Legacy Fund the last seven years, they have been contributing anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 a year toward the fund (using landfill tipping fees and other funding sources). This year was the first year they were not able to make that contribution."

The CFOW is also looking at the way it grants money and is hosting a strategic planning session in January with board members.

"It's been a challenge, but it's also been an opportunity to sit back and look at what we do, who we are, who we serve, and how we can be more creative about what we do," said Chalmers.

"I'm not sure what that looks like, but it could mean focusing on specific areas that we want to support, or when people come to us for funding to make sure that they're partnering," she said.

Another possibility is social entrepreneurship, and funding for-profit business models that in turn "can sustain both the social and environmental sector," she said. "It's an interesting shift, and we're looking at a few events in 2010 that will broach the subject in different ways.

"It's also a question of looking at how we can offer support. Sometimes it's about building capacity in the organizations we provide grants to. Some organizations need money, some need knowledge or human resources or volunteers or even access to information about other grant programs they may not know about."

The social entrepreneurship model has proved crucial to the Whistler Community Services Society (WCSS), which has also faced challenges this year. How challenging is still to be decided.

"It's difficult to answer because we've done our application for a provincial Direct Assistance Grant... but my anticipation is that we're not going to get it, based on arts and culture grants earlier this year and what the Solicitor General is telling us," said executive director Greg McDonnell.

"That means we would have to raise money elsewhere."

The WCSS has applied for a Direct Access Grant of $50,000 but may only receive half of that, if anything. If necessary, the organization can use funds from the Re-Use-It Centre to make up the difference, but that would mean less funding for other programs that currently rely on that money.

Some of the projected shortfall has already been recouped as a result of a very timely and unexpected grant from the Virani Family Foundation. McDonnell was speaking to a former classmate at his school's 20 year reunion who is a member of the Virani family. When he told the person what he does for a living McDonnell was told to apply for a grant. The foundation, which provides money for youth programs, came through with $12,000, which has allowed WCSS to hire a drug and alcohol prevention worker who was laid off from her position with Sea to Sky Community Services because of cutbacks.

McDonnell believes the future for many non-profits and charities is in social entrepreneurship, like the Re-Use-It Centre. The WCSS is currently raising funds for their Re-Build-It Centre, which will recycle and reuse building materials and funnel profits back to the WCSS. As well, WCSS is in the process of raising money for a commercial greenhouse, that would used recovered heat from the landfill to grow food year-round. That produce would be sold to local restaurants and grocery stores. It could take a few years to pay off costs, but one day the profits will go back into the WCSS for programming.

"There is a real need for non-profits in this day and age to do some research in the area of social entrepreneurship, and to take ownership of their funding," said McDonnell. "Grants come and go, and it's really hard to plan ahead if you don't know what you're getting. I know a lot of groups could benefit from more dependable sources of funding, and from being able to spend more time on programming than fundraising."

For more information:

Whistler Community Services Society -


Get Bear Smart Society -

Community Foundation of Whistler -

Whistler Adaptive Sports Program -

A complete list of registered charities in Whistler is available at Type Whistler in the charity name box to get the complete list.


Donate and save taxes

In Canada, registered charities are allowed to issue receipts to donors that can be applied to your tax return. According to the Canadian Revenue Agency, the first $200 in donations is eligible for a federal tax credit of 15 per cent of the amount. After the first $200 the tax credit increases to 29 per cent of the amount, up to a limit of 75 per cent of your net income. For example, a donation of $200 will amount to a $30 tax credit you can put towards the money you owe at tax time. A donation of $500 will result in a tax credit of $145.