Conversations is a series created by Offord Group to profile leaders in the charitable sector. We work with clients that impress us with their compassion, innovation and commitment to make the world a better place and we want to share their stories with you.
Jill Farber, Executive Director, Autism Speaks Canada
Autism Speaks Canada is a national Canadian charity, dedicated to promoting solutions across the spectrum and along a life span for needs of people with autism spectrum disorder and their families.
Jill was appointed Executive Director in October 2013, following her active involvement as a member of the Board of Directors. She has more than 25 years of experience working with the autism community and has spent over 15 years as a private consultant and therapist, specializing in ABA for children and youth with autism.
How has the pandemic changed your plans?
As soon as the pandemic hit, the most important thing for us to do was to stay true to our goals. With everything changing so quickly, we needed to be sure that we were doing our part to support the autism community. Many autistic Canadians and their families are being directly impacted because of disruptions in supports and services and the added stress that comes with the pandemic.
Something that I found invaluable was having an Annual Plan in place before the pandemic. We first worked with Offord Group to create the plan in 2017 and then again last year. Having a solid structure for our goals and objectives, timelines, and budget has helped us to stay organized and on track.
As for our events, we had to rethink about how to move ahead in a different way. When I look back now, we came together as a team to rethink on how to do things differently and met the challenges throughout the various phases.
1. What are we going to do?
World Autism month was in April, a month typically when we host many events that now needed to be cancelled. Although we lost a lot of revenue, it was even more disheartening to lose the opportunities for awareness, education and engagement of the community.
2. Let’s be realistic on what we can do now.
We had to consider what would be most realistic. We decided that we would lose impact if we moved events online as we don’t have the capacity to be truly virtual. It made sense to postpone all events to the Fall when they can be done effectively.
3. Let’s get energized.
Over the last few months, we have had the time to be thoughtful and brainstorm what we could still do in the current environment that would be unique. We want to be able to do something original and innovative. We are excited to unveil our event plan in the near future.
What are you hearing from your donors?
Our donors are critical to our success as an organization and we prioritized connecting with them early on. We received an overwhelming response that they are committed to changing the landscape of autism services, support and research, and that COVID-19 didn’t take that away.
Our corporate partners were the first ones on our list to reach out to because we knew that with their ‘superpower’ we could do so much good together. We asked, “What could we do that would be unique to them to support those in the autism community during this time?” Our two lead corporate partners Toys“R”Us Canada and Samsung Canada responded right away. And I think those first early phone calls had a lot to do with our successful outreach. We worked together to identify the need and acted with expansions on our current programs and building new ones. Samsung ended up providing 1,000 tablets to families and individuals in need across the country and Toys“R”Us Canada developed stay-at- home play packs for parents to use as developmental tools for their children.
We know that being there for your community during this time is a priority. By working together with our partners, we realized we didn’t need to start from scratch but instead use the plan in place, focus on the needs of the community, and reimagine our plan to create valuable impact now.
What feedback have you received from Canadians with autism and their caregivers about how they are affected by the crisis?
We have received positive feedback from our community in response to three projects where we leveraged off our set goals and reimagined them to adjust to our current climate.
1. Pandemic Canadian Autism Needs Assessment Survey (PanCANS)
We launched a very successful survey with over 1,000 respondents. Our goal for the survey is directly connected to one of our annual plan goals, to encourage social inclusion. The survey helps us better understand what autistic Canadians and their caregivers need during this pandemic and share that with others.
2. COVID-19 Information and Resources
We set up a COVID-19 page on our website and have since had over 10,000 unique visitors. This aligns with another goal identified in our 2020 Annual Plan to increase efficient and effective programming. We enriched our resource navigation so that there are COVID-19 specific resources for children and caregivers and adults on the spectrum.
Autism Speaks Canada is a national organization, and we can share information in one convenient place where people can easily access all the information they need.
3. ASC CONNECT
ASC CONNECT has been a key project for the last three years. This virtual platform allows people to share resources and information with each other and connect with others. Since COVID-19 hit, we have seen an increase in users and with their engagement with the platform. We want to have a resource for people to connect, even if they can’t be together in person.
Our team has been phenomenal throughout this experience. We have remained open and transparent with one another. We speak frequently and consistently, reimagining our existing goals to create an even stronger impact during COVID-19. We are very proud of the action we’ve taken so far and will continue to work together with our partners to realize great things in the future.
We will have to keep working together as individuals, families, not-for-profit organizations, for-profit organizations and all levels of government to ensure we all get through this and come out even stronger.