Nonprofit Sector Working Together for Flood Relief

by Katherine van Kooy, President and CEO, CCVO

In the weeks following the devastating flooding in Southern Alberta, nonprofit organizations and funding agencies have been working tirelessly to restore services and support in-need communities. CCVO has been working closely with government and nonprofit agencies to get a clear picture of the long-term effects of the flood on the sector.

When we assessed the immediate and long-term impacts of the flood on local nonprofits and charities (see our Flood Impact Survey), demand for services and immediate financial pressure were identified as two key areas of concern. As we continue to connect with the provincial Flood Taskforce and agencies such as The United Way of Calgary and Area and The Calgary Foundation, it has become clear that these issues are still very much at the forefront, but we are seeing that the sector, known for its ability to be flexible, responsive and creative in times of need, has stepped up in inspiring and encouraging ways, showing the positive impact we can have when working together.

Helping Address the Demand for Services

Based on our flood impact survey, of those organizations affected by the flood, 30% identified needs related to an increased demand for services. Many nonprofit groups were in the unfortunate position of experiencing this increase while being displaced from their own offices, seeing huge need in the face of limited resources, yet staff leapt into action, scrambling to find new locations as facilities were evacuated, some facing debilitating damage to their buildings, and directing Calgarians eager to help to the most in-need areas.

The stories that arise from this are beautiful illustrations of the capacity for the nonprofit sector to find creative solutions to seemingly overwhelming problems, many of which seemed seamlessly facilitated in part because of the on-going positive relationships between the organizations.   Trinity Place saw 80% (more than 600) of its senior citizen clients evacuated from housing in the East Village area. Trinity experienced an instantaneous outpouring of help to relocate hundreds of seniors from housing groups such as Bishop O'Byrne, Bethany Care Group and Kiwanis Seniors, as well as support from NeighbourLink, who provided household goods to furnish the temporary homes.

When recovery centres Aventa and Simon House  were evacuated, Fresh Start found a way to house an additional 96 guests in a centre that only holds 50, knowing that the only thing that mattered while the waters were rising was that everyone was accounted for, and receiving basic needs like shelter, personal hygiene products, food, and warm beds courtesy of NeighbourLink.  The Calgary Inter-faith Food Bank was very supportive in donating a variety of food products to help off set the costs of providing food services for 146 clients.  Guests stayed safe and dry in meeting rooms and the gymnasium, which, for the men of Fresh Start, meant no space to run their programs. Instead, they took to the neighbourhoods, helping people remove debris from their homes.

Does your organization have a similar story about the flood? We want to hear it! Contact Johanna at or 403-261-6655.

Alleviating Financial Pressures

In a crisis, there is always a financial toll. Many efforts that were hailed as successful responses to the crisis, including the relocation of multiple shelters and crisis housing, came with a hefty price tag, one which the already-stressed organizations did not anticipate.

CCVO’s recent Alberta Nonprofit Survey found that 41% of respondents had one month or less in operating reserves. This pre-flood survey paints a picture of a sector that has a limited capacity to shoulder unforeseen costs, such as the flood-related increased service demands, damage to facilities and equipment, and loss of revenues from cancellation of fundraising events.

The immediate response to the floods was a spontaneous act of volunteerism, a coordinated effort that was organized to best identify areas of need through grassroots communication (see In  much the same way, a wide variety of funding agencies have come together in a coordinated response, working together and taking a holistic approach to funding high-needs organizations.

By guiding the generosity of Calgarians towards flood relief and rebuilding funds, agencies such as The Canadian Red Cross, United Way of Calgary and Area, The Calgary Foundation and Calgary Arts Development Authority are  able to support nonprofits as they target critical areas of need, directing monies to both short- term and long-term relief, rebuilding neighbourhoods, providing restoration funds, and addressing mental and physical health concerns that may arise from the crisis.

Funders are complementing their individual funding streams, leveraging the impact of the support they can provide, and ensuring that organizations are receiving as much support as possible, with a minimum of administrative effort.

This ability to quickly move funds towards relief efforts is in part the result of a healthy on-going connection between these agencies and their front-line organizational partners. Marked by a confidence in the good practices of the organizations, and knowledge of what the immediate benefit to the community will be, funders are able to make quick and effective decisions by flowing financial support to organizations with limited paperwork required, so that organizations can spend their staff time addressing critical needs.

We Work Better Together

Fundamental to the emerging picture of the nonprofit sector in a post-flood Alberta is the spirit of collaboration shown from all stakeholders. Organizations are working closely together, citizens are donating their time and money, funders are listening to the needs of the sector, and the government is fast-tracking key services to help us return to normal following this disaster.

While the flood may have shown that a force of nature can quickly change a city, destroying homes, displacing communities, interrupting events, and damaging infrastructure, the nonprofit sector, supported by a community of volunteers, funders and businesses, has responded with creativity, undeterred optimisim and a “get ‘er done” mentality. We will be able to rebuild the lives of affected Calgarians, restore our communities and spaces, and better understand how to prepare for what the future holds. We will not only return to normal. We will return to better.

Katherine van Kooy has led the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations (CCVO) since its inception in 2003. Katherine has a broad and diverse background in public policy and public sector management, consulting, strategic planning and organizational change. She has an Honours B.A. in Political Science from the University of Waterloo, graduate studies in International Affairs at Carleton University and an MBA from Cornell University.

Robyn HounjetComment