The Implications of COVID For Community-Based Philanthropy Research

Par Edmund Yirenkyi , Incoming PhiLab masters student
02 September 2021

By: Edmund Yirenkyi (Incoming PhiLab masters student in Atlantic Hub for Fall 2021)


The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a new landscape which alters existing relationships between philanthropy and measures of quality of life. It is therefore necessary to better understand the implication of COVID-19 on CBR to provide better understanding into rural reconstruction post COVID. Over a year has passed since the COVID-19 pandemic began and the crisis continues to impact financial demands, community-based capacity, and organizational income, as well as staffing decisions and philanthropic contributions. This crisis is drastically changing the mode of operation of philanthropic foundations, as well as the number of them still in operation (Imagine Canada, 2021). The crisis has also affected rural communities around the world in varied ways, posing a significant challenge to large-scale policy and funding responses (Hall et al., 2020). Policy and program responses must be sensitive to the degree of remoteness, the economic diversity, and the capacity of communities (Walker, 2020). Furthermore, some resource-dependent communities in Canada have suffered particularly severe economic consequences, while others are discovering new growth potential (Lasby, 2020). Philanthropy research has used community well-being as a barometer for impact while place-based funders have also been a strong ally in community philanthropy. The pandemic has a profound effect on CBR which has the capacity to shed more light on collaborative decision-making process, participation in planning, implementation of policies and evaluation of community indicators (Ridzi, 2021). In this way, CBR could encourage openness and equity in the sharing of knowledge, experience, expertise, and ideas on community capacity building and provide diverse perspectives on community-based philanthropy research topics.


Post-COVID Rebuilding: The place of community-based philanthropy

Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC, 2020) observed that the impact of the crisis has placed a high-level of consideration on using regional delivery for program and stimulus support to better capture and accommodate the differences in the needs of various rural communities. As home to over 18% of the national population, rural Canada remains at the forefront of the national economy contributing approximately 23% of the national gross domestic product (Hall et al., 2020). Yet, rural communities in Canada are increasingly finding themselves under new and alarming pressures, making the question of how to build local resilience more and more pressing (Lasby, 2020). Undeniably, it is at the community level where some of the most urgent global challenges— climate change, inequality, migration—are being felt most strongly. Add in the adverse impact of COVID-19, and rural communities in Canada face a severe problem. The implication of COVID-19 to CBR has attracted the attention of several researchers, with some studies focused on community-based philanthropy. A study by Ridzi (2021) focused on measuring place-based philanthropies’ impact on community well being post COVID-19. The role community-based philanthropies are playing and can play for post COVID-19 is an emerging area of research. Against this backdrop, what are community-based philanthropies doing and what can they do to help in post COVID rebuilding? As countries emerge from the shadows of the COVID-19 crisis and attempt to rebuild rural communities, studies seeking to understand the implication of the pandemic for community-based philanthropies and the importance of community-based philanthropy becomes even more relevant.


Government interventions and growing demand for community-based philanthropy

 It is almost impossible to predict which way the pendulum will swing in the face of this pandemic (Hall et al., 2020). The nature of the crisis has highlighted the necessity for government intervention, while at the same time the response of many governments around the world has been criticized for their lack of scale and speed in responding to the crisis. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Canadian governments have mobilized funds towards sustaining the country’s economy and keeping people safe. To mitigate the financial pressure experienced by institutions and to support projects in communities to prepare for successful recovery, the Government of Canada took an abrupt, considerable, and prompt decisive action to support Canadians, especially those in rural communities who were facing hardship as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. For instance, the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF) offered relief assistance to institutions and communities that required additional support to manage and recover from the pandemic. Over the past year, an estimated $2 billion in relief funds have been disbursed by the Government of Canada to the Community Futures Network of Canada and regional development agencies ( This has helped to preserve more than 143,700 jobs.            

With the gradual easing of restrictions and as states are steadily recovering from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, governments’ focus remains primarily on reshaping the labor market, in particular, support for green and digital skills, help for the vulnerable, and initiatives to bolster the creation of quality new jobs (Candid, 2021). Many see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink and rebuild labor markets to allow them to be more resilient, more inclusive, and more productive (OECD, 2021). However, COVID-19 has also exposed the cracks in the foundations of the well-being of those in rural communities (Imagine Canada, 2020). To fill this gap, many community-based philanthropic funders, donors, and companies have stepped up their efforts in responding to the needs of those in rural settings and have shown an ability to be flexible and responsive, which has put them at the forefront of efforts to respond to COVID-19.

The pandemic has wreaked serious havoc on philanthropic organizations on every level. Due to the weakening economy, donations have decreased, and government restrictions on social gatherings have resulted in the cancellation of fundraising activities. Even as community-based philanthropies reduce their budgets, close offices, and lay off staff, demand for their services continues to rise. While the role of philanthropy is not to replace government (Sato et al., 2020), foundations, such as community-based foundations, have positioned themselves to strengthen their localities and have become more relevant for post COVID rebuilding. CBR can support this process. As Ridzi (2021) has suggested, CBR actively involves all stakeholders—whether residents of rural communities, beneficiaries of community-based giving, members of the local government or experts, in a collaborative decision-making process that can be used to improve rural community rebuilding post COVID-19 through a reflexive process of planning, implementing, observing, and reflecting.


Recommendations for the post-COVID19 rebuilding of rural communities

Research on the role of community-based philanthropy becomes even more valuable to provide better understanding into rural reconstruction post-COVID. Given the role of community-based philanthropies as potentially strong catalysts in community planning and development, for providing opportunity for authentic engagement with indigenous communities, and in mobilizing efforts toward rebuilding resilient communities after COVID (Levett et al., 2020).  Hall et al., (2020) opined that since the “community” is where local assets are located, services are provided, governance occurs, and identity is formed, adopting a community-based approach to philanthropy is critical to supporting rural recovery and resilience after the COVID crisis. Minnes & Vodden (2019) suggested that there is therefore the need for new development approaches that can build on and further enhance resilience in rural communities while recognizing their place in wider, interconnected regional contexts that include both rural and small-town and urban settlements. Levett et al., (2020) also proposed that greater engagement with local and regional governments is needed to prepare for high levels of complexity and mobilize the significant resources and capacity required for rural development. Policy, planning, and investment interventions must also integrate immediate, medium, and long-term plans for supporting relief, recovery, and resilience efforts (Hall et al., 2020). This should take the form of investment and policy frameworks that provide targeted and immediate social and economic relief measures, as well as long-range strategies that respond to changing rural realities through key areas such as climate resilience, green energy, new governance arrangements, and diversified economic development strategies. This complicated landscape is ripe for building collaborative and meaningful research partnerships with the philanthropic community.

This article is part of the special edition of September 2021: Respectful community engaged research. You can find more information here


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