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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Is Sector Confidence Rebounding?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Sector Research

Imagine Canada established the Sector Monitor program in the aftermath of the economic downturn to provide ongoing answers to questions like the one posed above. Based on findings from the most recent edition of the survey, the best available answer seems to be “probably”.

Major findings

  • Small shifts across multiple measures indicate that the sector appears to be more confident about the future than it was in mid-2012.

  • However, the sector is not as confident as it was prior to mid-2012.

  • Significant numbers of charities are under stress and they are much less confident about the future.

A more optimistic outlook?

From mid-2011 to mid-2012, we saw fairly steady increases in the percentages of leaders predicting that their charities would be less able to carry out their mission over the near- and medium-terms (see Figure 1). However, this trend does not appear to have continued. The percentage of leaders predicting decreases in organizational capacity over the next three or four months has held more or less steady at 13% (from 14% in mid-2012) and the percentage predicting decreases over the next year may even have decreased slightly to 16% (from 19% in mid-2012). Because these changes are so small, it isn’t possible to be absolutely certain that they are real (i.e., there is a chance they could be due simply to random variation in responses between different waves of the survey).

Figure 1. The percentages of leaders predicting that they will be better able to perform their mission could be rebounding.  


…the size of each of the individual shifts is small, the fact that all of them are moving in the same direction gives us somewhat more confidence that we are seeing real changes.”


However, there is other evidence that also suggests that confidence is rebounding. In mid-2012 we saw sudden drops in the number of charity leaders predicting increased revenues and paid staff numbers, and jumps in the percentages predicting decreases (see Figure 2). Again, the most recent figures are more encouraging, though the size of the changes is too small to be entirely certain that this marks the start of a reversal. That said, although the size of each of the individual shifts is small, the fact that all of them are moving in the same direction gives us somewhat more confidence that we are seeing real changes.

Figure 2. The percentages of leaders predicting increases in revenue and paid staff levels appear to have stabilized, though they have not returned to previous levels.

Organizational stress still a factor

While confidence for the sector as a whole appears to be somewhat higher, we should definitely not be complacent. First, while the most recent figures are more promising, they are not as high as they were previously. Second, a significant number of charities are showing signs of being under stress (about one half are under stress, with one in seven being under high stress) and their confidence levels are lower. As an example, they are much more likely to predict increased demand and decreased near- and medium-term capacity to perform their missions (see Table 1).

Table 1. Leaders of under-stress-charities are more likely to predict stronger demand and weaker near- and medium-term capacities to perform their mission.

I’m glad to have had the opportunity to go over some of the major findings from our most recent Sector Monitor with you. Download the full report, which contains more detail about survey findings, from the Imagine Canada website. This is the type of information that we should all be communicating to our various stakeholders (e.g., board members, community supporters, policymakers, etc.), so they have a better understanding of the current climate of the sector.

If you have any questions or observations, please leave a comment below. I’d be delighted to hear from you. In my next post, we will explore the inter-relationships between organizational stress and confidence in greater detail, and suggest some possible drivers.


About David Lasby. I am Director of Research at Imagine Canada. I have been with Imagine for over ten years. The five letter acronyms that rule my life include NSNVO, T3010 and CSGVP. If you follow my posts, you’ll learn their delights.
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