Diabetes Canada job cuts a symptom of changing charity landscape

The recent loss of jobs at Diabetes Canada offices across the country is the unfortunate reality of health charities fighting to stay financially viable, the CEO of the national charity said Tuesday.

John Reidy said the decision to cut staff by 20 per cent last week was made as Diabetes Canada tries to find ways to stretch donor dollars.

"While actions such as the one we took last week are unfortunate, they're a necessity to drive us forward with the objectives we set for ourselves," he said in an interview, citing advocacy, education, research and the charity's camp programs among its areas of focus.

The job losses follow the closure of Diabetes Canada offices on P.E.I. and in Moncton, N.B., as well as the merger of three camps for children with Type 1 diabetes.

The company's annual report says there's been a drop in clothing donations and the last two years have been difficult.

Diabetes Canada estimates there are 11 million Canadians with Type 1, Type 2 and prediabetes. (Reed Saxon/The Associated Press)

"To call us being in financial trouble is a stretch, but we are not a rich charity," said Reidy, adding the charity has run deficits. "We have to live within our means."

Diabetes Canada spent between $ 400,000 and $ 500,000 to rebrand itself less than two years ago in what Reidy said was a push to get new members and stay current.

But Reidy said even if the organization had three times its revenue, it wouldn't be enough to meet the needs of 11 million Canadians with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as well as prediabetes.

"Our need is enormous. Our capability is much more modest," he said. "We have had a lot of change, by necessity. We're not different to any other health-care charity."

Charitable donors on the decline

The president and CEO of Imagine Canada — a national charity aimed at strengthening other charities and non-profits — said there is widening gap between a demand for services and the ability to pay for those services.

"This sector is going to be under strain to be able to actually continue to provide the services that we, as Canadians, have come to enjoy and expect," said Bruce MacDonald.

Canadians remain generous, he said, but there are fewer people opening their wallets.​ As such, MacDonald said he wasn't surprised to hear that Diabetes Canada was cutting staff.

"It is interesting that a large organization with a significant brand name is also taking this action because this is one that people know a lot about," he said. 

"I think clearly the board and the staff there are positioning themselves to go forward in a sustainable manner, but I think this question about long-term sustainability is around for every single charity in the country."

Other health charities making cuts

This summer, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada laid off more than 100 employees and closed 26 offices.

Charlotte Comrie, CEO for Heart and Stroke in Nova Scotia and P.E.I., said it wasn't a purely financial decision.

With an eye to new donors, the organization is growing its digital presence while realizing the need for traditional offices isn't as great as it once was.

"These are challenging times to raise money. There are more charities than ever, donors have more ways to give, they have crowdfunding, they have door-to-door canvasses, special events, all kinds of ways to give," she said.

"We need to be loyal to the donors that we do have and we need to provide new donors an opportunity to give in the ways that they want."

Reidy said Diabetes Canada is moving away from local programming, investing more in advocacy and actively pushing all levels of government to take up the cause.

The CEO of Diabetes Canada says even with three times its revenue, the organization couldn't help every single person impacted by diabetes. (Joerg Sarbach/Associated Press)

Historically, he said Diabetes Canada stepped in to provide programming when it felt the government should be doing so.

"We're not shutting down programs, we're looking to partner with appropriate organizations," he said. "For them to actually carry on the programs and us not provide the service anymore."

The charity's efforts to reassess have been paying off so far, said Reidy, and he doesn't expect any other major changes. 

MacDonald said the best thing charities can do is be proactive.

"Understand the data and understand where dollars are coming from now, where they're likely going to come from in the future, that continued generosity of older generations. Reach out in an intentional way to engage young people," he said.

"Organizations need to look at their missions, their mandates, their structures and say, 'How are we adapting our operations to meet the needs of our communities?'"

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