In November 2019, when we founded The Pale Blue Dot Foundation, nobody could have imagined the magnitude or the speed at which our lives would change in the year to come. We hadn’t yet heard of a new virus emerging in Wuhan, or imagined that it would sweep around the globe fast enough to touch us.

2020 proved that we live in a complex time. The Foundation originally planned that the first year would be spent learning how to assess charities to determine which ones would produce the greatest amount of change per dollar invested. We would learn the basics of operating a charitable foundation, and establish financial plans that would sketch out the next decade of expansion. We would add a modest amount to our seed capital and perform our first disbursements.

Instead, we watched the world around us try do deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. This year has exerted incredible pressures on our planet.

We saw positive signs. With many international borders fully or partially closed, the burdens on our ecology were dramatically reduced: fewer flights, fewer trains, fewer ships, fewer trucks, and fewer cars. Less fuel was burned, emissions were reduced, and the constant traffic that bombards plant and animal life with sound, light, noise, and danger declined. Plant and animal life showed signs of recovery in only a few months. People around the globe focused on fighting the spread of the virus. They came together to try and support front line workers in rendering aid to the sick and the dying. They rallied behind companies seeking to develop therapies and vaccines. They supported changes in our behaviour to keep infections below the level at which our hospitals would collapse.

We saw negative signs. Although the pandemic touches all of us, the fact is that we are not all in the same boat… some of us were well-positioned to weather this storm, and others were crushed almost immediately. Shutdowns designed to reduce the spread of COVID have had far-reaching economic impacts that have increased inequity. The disproportionate effects of COVID-19 have worsened the position of Black, Indigenous, and People Of Colour (BIPOC) and reversed decades of progress across gender lines. The middle class continues to erode, leaving more people closer to poverty and more wealth in the hands of even fewer people than the year before. While single-use plastic decreased in some areas, it was replaced by more use in the medical space. Masks and gloves litter our air, land, and water.

We have been humbled by the number of people—long-time and brand-new—who have stepped up to support the pandemic response, but this has been a tumultuous time to try and establish a charitable foundation.

In December 2020, it was described as the perfect storm:

  • 68% of charities have seen a decline in donations since the onset of the pandemic;
  • 70% of charities also report a decline in the number of volunteers since the onset of the pandemic;
  • 74% have seen a decline in the number of volunteer hours they receive;
  • The demand for services continues to trend upward – 46 per cent of charities are reporting an increase in demand versus a 35 per cent surge early in the pandemic;
  • Charities are being stretched to do more even though their service capacities have either declined or remained about the same; and
  • Increased demand is adding pressure on the social good sector, which is showing signs of fatigue. 51% of charities report their ability to maintain an appropriate work/life balance for staff and avoid burnout is decreasing.

By March 2021, the situation for charities in Canada continues to worsen“We have a very real concern that, without a major infusion of funds to help charities weather the storm, the sector is in real danger of going dark,” says Bruce MacDonald, Imagine Canada’s president and CEO. “The essential services provided by charities that millions of Canadians rely upon will no longer be available unless the government stands up now to ensure the sector’s survival. Federal government action to provide emergency relief will determine the future viability of Canada’s charities.”

This is the context in which we find ourselves. Our foundation has been quiet for the last year, trying not to compete for attention with the many organizations that were much better positioned than us to make a difference. In spite of this, we have still managed some successes, including:

  1. We have more than doubled our seed investment;
  2. We have performed our first years’ worth of disbursements to charities around the world; and
  3. We have begun making connections in the charitable giving space that will position us to continue our growth into a second year.

Nearly a year since the onset of the pandemic, the COVID-19 crisis continues to have a significant impact on demand, capacity, and revenue, and is influencing staffing decisions and volunteer contributions. The Pale Blue Dot Foundation isn’t going to let this stop us from trying to protect the only home humanity has ever known, but we are definitely going to exercise a lot of resilience and flexibility in charting a path through 2021.

Operations for 2021 are well under way, and our next post will share with our community the first charity that we are working with this year.

To everyone who worked with the Foundation this year, we offer our sincere thanks. You have made a difference, and together, we can continue to make a difference.

The Earth is where we make our stand.