Health charities play a critical role in Canada, delivering care, services, research, and education, writes Kimberley Hanson. Pexels photograph by Matthias Zomer

Welcome to the HealthPartners blog – a forum where we’ll share the latest on the tremendous impact our 17 member health charities are having, trends in philanthropy affecting them, and how Canada’s policy environment can best help charities help YOU.

HealthPartners is extremely proud to be a coalition of 17 nation-wide health charities that serve more than 90 per cent of Canadians affected by chronic and acute medical conditions. As a coalition, we have a perspective on the issues that are common to all our members. To better serve our members and grow our revenue and impact, part of HealthPartners’ three-year strategy is to increase recognition of HealthPartners to build trust among donors. 

That’s why we’re very happy that, today, the Hill Times published our op-ed on how our federal policy environment can better consider impacts on health charities, and thereby “help the helpers.” Please enjoy and share your comments below!

How governments can help charities help those who need it most.

By Kimberley Hanson, CEO, HealthPartners

As Mr. Rogers famously said, when you look for helpers, you will always find them, and nowhere is that truer than in Canada. Charitable organizations and the individuals who support them in Canada do extraordinary things. But they themselves need a helping hand from our policymakers to keep doing so.

We are living in times where many people need help. Canadians are struggling financially, from inflation to housing costs, and more than 7 million Canadians are struggling to put food on the table. Food banks are well over capacity in every part of the country. Similarly, our health care system is in a crisis unlike anything we’ve ever seen, from hospital and emergency room closures to wait lists for critical care growing longer by the day.

There’s no question that community and medical supports like these are at the front line of response to challenges that are top of mind for most Canadians right now. But there’s an important other source of assistance with the problems of spiking inflation and lack of access to medical care that isn’t as recognized: health charities. And though they provide meaningful, tangible support to millions of Canadians, their role in doing so is often overlooked when policy decisions are made, which comes at a significant cost to society.

Health charities like the 17 members of HealthPartners play a critical role in Canada, delivering care, services, research, and education. Every year HealthPartners’ member charities fund more than $100 million in research and provide education, resources, and access to care for the nearly 35 million Canadians who are living with or are at risk of developing a medical condition like heart disease, cancer or diabetes.

With access to healthy food and medical care strained like it is right now, more and more Canadians are turning to health charities for practical supports like wheelchairs or lifts, for urgent medical information on how to live with a new diagnosis while waiting to see a doctor, or for advice on how to afford a much-needed medication that is now out of reach.

Demand for the services health charities provide has spiked since the onset of the pandemic and it shows no signs of slowing down. Already, 57% of charities are unable to meet current levels of demand for service and no relief is in sight. Yet they lack the financial support they once had and policy measures increasingly have unintended consequences for health charities that are putting them under increasing pressure.

It’s no secret that charitable giving has been trending downward for years, making it harder for charities of all kinds to raise the money they need to deliver the critical support and resources that positively impact the lives of Canadians. Health charities have been particularly hard-hit in recent years. Canada Helps’ 2023 Giving Report shows that rates of donations to health charities have declined significantly in recent years, imperilling their ability to deliver on their missions.

Adding to the problem are policy measures that adversely affect health charities. For example, programs like the Community Services Recovery Fund that provide critical support to other charities can be very difficult for health charities to access. Some tax measures, like changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax, which can reduce the impact of donation credits to the point that someone might donate millions less in a given year than they otherwise might have, will likely have a significant adverse impact on charitable giving. And changing trust reporting rules may require any given charity to divert thousands of dollars a year to accounting instead of to providing patient supports.

Too often, policy measures are taken without full consideration of possible unintended consequences, particularly for charitable organizations who, lacking a home in government, can easily get overlooked by policy-makers. Even as governments rely on charities to deliver on many promises and programs, there is no entity in Government responsible for ensuring the well-being of charities and nonprofits as a sector. This means that implications on charities of policy measures may not be fully considered.

To address the funding gap of charities, some have called upon corporate Canada to open its wallet. There is no question that corporate philanthropy is a critical source of support for Canada’s charities. Fortunately for corporations, philanthropic activities like direct donations, fundraising in the workplace and employee volunteerism make good business sense, increasing both employee engagement and corporate reputation.

Corporate giving is only part of the solution. Canada also needs policies that incentivize donations of all kinds. That’s why HealthPartners calls upon government to consider the impact on the charitable sector of any policy measures before implementing them. Health charities and the millions of Canadians who rely on them, not only implore government to consider this, they depend on it.

In times of crisis when the social and economic structures struggle, the groups and people who offer help to fill in the gaps become the front line. Health charities stand ready to partner with governments to inform policy the best enables them to do so.

About HealthPartners

HealthPartners is a national charitable organization connecting Canadians to 17 of Canada’s most respected and well-known health charities, which represent some of the most devastating chronic diseases and serious illnesses faced by Canadians. Since 1988, its campaign work has brought employers the tools they need to build more engaged and healthier workplaces while its targeted campaigns have raised in excess of $200 million for life-changing research, programs and community services – benefitting millions of Canadians.