Whether it’s a startup or a charity, funding announcements usually include a line or two about what the organization plans to do with its new cash. The similarity ends there.

While startups are built to pivot and change how they deploy their money, charities and non-profits have their funding tied to a specific program or capital project. They cannot quickly change to meet new or evolving needs.

Recognizing there was a need to fill, a group of local leaders has created The Essentials Fund at the Kitchener Waterloo Community Foundation (KWCF). The new fund will disburse funding to several local charities to buy essential items that the organizations can’t usually purchase. These items can include anything from clothing to hygiene products to diapers and formula.

Jane Arnold, one of the fund’s committee members, said the idea for the fund came from seeing numerous local charities asking for donations of essential items during the pandemic. Arnold is also a partner at Social Venture Partners Waterloo Region (SVP) and saw an opportunity to create a fund using a similar model to the one that organization uses to support charities. With the idea in mind, Arnold called Lynne Short, Vice President at KWCF, to pitch the idea.

“What I’ve learned through my involvement with Social Venture Partners is that an unrestricted grant is so helpful to organizations. I thought it would be really great if we could fundraise to provide an unrestricted grant so that the charities would have that flexibility to purchase what they need, when they need it,” Arnold said.

Partnering with KWCF made complete sense for Arnold. The foundation was founded in 1984 with the mission to create caring communities, where everyone thrives

KWCF manages more than 260 funds that make annual grants to charitable organizations that serve people in our community. The foundation has approved more than $61 million in grants to local charities and non-profits over the last 38 years. In 2021, they provided 755 grants totaling more than $4.7 million to 355 organizations. 

“They have their eyes and ears on the ground as to what’s happening in the community and I’m really thankful that they said that they would partner with us,” Arnold said. 

KWCF manages the collection of funds, issuing tax receipts and disbursing funds to the charities once the committee selects them. Essentials Fund committee member and David Johnston Research & Technology Park Manager Mike Pereira said that KWCF has the expertise to make the fund a success.

“They’ve been doing this for so long and they have a network that we can tap into. Part of the challenge is getting the word out and KWCF has that network already built in. They can tell us where the needs that they’re seeing are in the community, which helps us in our decision-making process and keeps our process transparent. They’ve also got the knowledge and the acumen to oversee the management of the fund if it becomes a long-term fund,” Pereira said.

This campaign for The Essentials Fund is a pilot to validate the idea, which sets it apart from the typical fund managed by KWCF. In a standard fund, the original donation is not spent. Instead, it is endowed and that donation generates income that is distributed through grants to support charities and non-profits in the community. The investing and granting process helps make a lasting difference for organizations.

Making a difference and connecting with charities were motivating factors for Essentials Fund committee member and Director of Community Impact at Vidyard, Laura Galbraith. She said she was attracted to the fund due to the growing need for charitable support due to the pandemic.

“It was important to me to help raise awareness and create a fund that was flexible and unrestricted so organizations could use funds how they needed them, and when they needed them,” Galbraith said.

Dan Robert, Director, Philanthropy at KWCF, agreed that The Essentials Fund is helping to raise awareness of these needs in the community. Robert added that the foundation is excited to work on the pilot project to test how the community will respond. 

“There’s a need in the community and this fund is trying to bring the community together,” Robert said. 

Communitech and many of its member companies have worked with KWCF with funds for community organizations. In 2020, the ‘This, Too, Will Pass’ campaign raised $208,858 to support local charities during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Robert said another great example is local tech company Uvaro. The Waterloo-based sales training startup has partnered with KWCF to offer its employees an opportunity to donate to the Uvaro Community Fund through a payroll deduction program

“Uvaro made an initial donation to get the fund up and running. Their staff contribute annually through payroll deductions and they send over one lump sum donation every year. One benefit is that when you donate via your payroll, your tax deduction is part of your T4. When you’re filing your taxes, the deduction is already there in Box 46 of your T4,” Robert said. 

Having a company fund is more than a tax deduction. It’s also an opportunity to build and strengthen your culture. 

“We can bring companies a shopping list of needs in the community that we think fits with their culture and values. They can then get employees together inside the company to help decide which organizations are to receive grants. There’s so many charities in the community that have a need. When it’s hard to pick which charities you want to support, and you want to support more than one, partnering with KWCF to set up a fund is a great way to manage that,” Robert said.

The Essentials Fund campaign runs until Saturday, April 30. You can learn more about the fund and donate at kwcf.ca/essentialsfund.