Design Challenge

eMERGE - Alternate Funding Models

Project Details




Skills Requirements

Design Strategy




Current situation

eMERGE’s revenue has been severely impacted by COVID-19 - all of its sources of regular income have been drastically reduced or eliminated. March to August projections suggest an 89% reduction in funding. The organization’s future is in jeopardy.


This project will provide key information to help eMERGE understand its audience, and how it can provide value for that audience in a way that continues to generate enough income to keep the organization solvent. Climate change is still a major issue, but it runs the risk of being forgotten or downplayed due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown. With the outcome of this design challenge, eMERGE will be equipped to reconsider its activities, better engage with its audience, survive the economic impact of the COVID-19 shutdown and continue its mission of shifting Guelph and area to 100% renewable.


The output of this project would be used by the Executive Director and staff, under supervision by the board. This project provides key insights into how the organization can survive the economic impact of COVID-19, and how it can continue to fulfill its mandate in the post-COVID-19 world.


Prior to the downturn the ED and staff would conduct home energy assessments. Homeowners would sign up with an online form to schedule a “home tune-up”. eMERGE staff would review all of the sources of energy, water, heating, and gas use in the home to look for any opportunities for improvements. Homeowners would be connected with rebates available to them and receive a report for how they could improve their use of water, electricity and gas. The City of Guelph reimbursed each home tune-up visit through a water reduction program. Guelph Hydro (now Alectra Utilities) also provided funding until last year when provincial climate programs were eliminated. Events organized by eMERGE occurred several times throughout the year and provided opportunities for public outreach. These were generally held at Old Quebec Street mall in Downtown Guelph. These public events would reach 15,000 people per year. eMERGE has been a champion of Electric Vehicles and has promoted them extensively through events and communication to subscribers and in advertising. The organization is now working on moving all programming online through webinars. With the insights gained in this project, the eMERGE team would be able to identify new ways to create value for their audience (Guelph and area residents) and to create new revenue streams to support the organization.


This solution needs to keep sustainability and climate change as key priorities. Any solutions proposed will need to focus on the goal of achieving 100% renewable energy and feasible for the existing staff and volunteers to execute. If the eMERGE team can put them into action to keep the organization running, we will know our solution is the best possible.

Potential Deliverables

  • Insights about the organization’s audience (~1,500 newsletter subscribers) and what has (and hasn’t) changed about their interest in supporting eMERGE.
  • Ideas for how eMERGE can create value for its audience and finding new streams of revenue while staying true to its mandate of fighting climate change.

Other Notes

  • The organization is trying to come up with stop-gap solutions. Donations for webinars have been attempted with marginal success. A virtual home tune-up may be a possible pending demonstration of success and approval by the City of Guelph.
  • There is no budget. The staff are limited in their technical knowledge (e.g., can make limited website changes, can post to social media, and host webinars, but may not have the resources to tackle more complex efforts).

Final Executive Summary

Objectives The onset of COVID-19 and the following physical distancing norms and shutdown forced the organization to discontinue the Home Tune-Up visits. Many pre-planned public events had to be cancelled as well. Impact
  • We helped brainstorm ideas and research different ways to create value
  • Vetted various business opportunities and presented options that are viable so eMERGE can take time for actual implementation
  • Understood and outlined the constraints that eMERGE faces
  • Asked a lot of thought-provoking questions on business practices, audience, prospects etc.