Vancouver Foundation

The Living Wage and non-profits: a funder's perspective

The Vancouver Foundation is a community foundation that has a mission to create healthy, livable, vibrant communities across British Columbia. They’ve granted out more than $1 billion to non-profits and charities since they were founded in 1943.

They have been a certified Living Wage Employer since 2015 and have helped fund the Living Wage for Families Campaign through their Systems Change grant


As one of the biggest funders of the charitable sector in BC, the Vancouver Foundation see an opportunity to support the Living Wage campaign not just to benefit their staff, but every charity and non-profit.

Paying non-profit employees a living wage starts with funders

“We believe that supporting non-profits and charities to pay a living wage will help make the non-profit sector more just and more equitable,” says Dara Parker, our Vice-President of Grants and Community Initiative.

The majority of people who work in non-profits are women, meaning that many people working in non-profits face systemic discrimination that disadvantages them in the job market. A living wage is the first step to ensuring everyone can participate and succeed.

“Right now, it’s dependent on funders like us to set the bar and encourage grantees to pay a living wage,” Dara says.

One way Vancouver Foundation’s grant programs support non-profits to pay a living wage is by not limiting how much a charity can request in a grant application to fund staff salaries. However, because staff salary limits are still the norm at many philanthropic foundations,

“many still have the perception that you can spend money on anything except salary or overhead,” says Dara.

Breaking the non-profit starvation cycle

“The non-profit sector is deeply undervalued, and this has resulted in the non-profit starvation cycle,” says Dara.

The non-profit starvation cycle refers to the chronic under-resourcing of non-profits. Funders often underestimate how much money it takes to sustain a program and can be reluctant to fund overhead. As a result, non-profits ask for less than they need to appear competitive on overhead costs.

Non-profits then have a hard time recruiting and retaining staff because they aren’t able to offer adequate wages, professional development opportunities, and job security—in many cases due to a lack of funding for staffing salaries and costs, which are often seen as overhead.

Vancouver Foundation as a Living Wage Employer

Vancouver Foundation has 55 full-time staff. We were certified as a Living Wage employer in 2015.  Starting in 2017, they began to encourage a living wage in the non-profit and charitable sector. To support this commitment, they increased the maximum grant amount that a non-profit could request when applying to their grant programs.

Some of the non-profits that they’ve supported that pay a living wage include:

  • West Coast LEAF
  • Justice for Girls
  • Out on Screen
  • Check Your Head
  • Generation Squeeze