Spotlight: Canada, coming together in a time of change

Oliver Henman was Head of Partnerships & International at NCVO, and blogged about civil society around the world. Oliver left NCVO in July 2014 but his posts have been kept here for reference.

In the build-up to the joint CIVICUS event at NCVO on 3 July we will spotlight a number of key partners from across the world who have been active in NCVO’s international membership.

Marcel Lauziere, Imagine Canada

marcel_lauziere_100pxLast November, we held the first ever National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector in Canada. More than 500 leaders from across the country came together to discuss and identify common action on a number of “drivers of change” we collectively face. These include financial sustainability, the attraction and retention of a skilled workforce, new ways of engaging volunteers, and the need to reframe our narrative and connect with Canadians in a new way.

These “drivers of change” are unique neither to our sector, nor to Canada. They reflect a number of trends, some demographic, some broader, that are coming together and greatly affecting the environment in which we operate. These trends include:

  • Stagnation in the donor base – both in terms of average annual donations, and the proportion of people making donations;
  • Changing expectations of volunteers, particularly younger volunteers;
  • The aging of society, which will increase both the demand for services and the competition for staff and volunteers;
  • Growing calls for transparency and accountability and finding new ways to measure and demonstrate impact;
  • Fiscal restraint by governments at all levels as they deal with the legacy of the 2008-09 financial crisis and economic downturn; and,
  • Increased questioning of the role of charities in advocacy and the development of public policy.

There have been a number of recent challenges in the public sphere, which we have worked to turn into opportunities. In 2010, a law (Bill C-470) was proposed which would have capped compensation in the sector. We used the opportunity to educate Parliamentarians about the human resource challenges facing us. We worked in a broad coalition of the whole sector, including hospitals and universities, to amend the bill and remove the concept of a cap on compensation.

In recent months, criticism by government ministers and some Parliamentarians of environmental charities has called into question the role of foreign funding in the sector, and the legitimacy of charities engaging in public policy and advocacy. This has actually galvanized charities and we have spoken up forcefully about the legitimate role they play in the public sphere and how governments and communities have benefitted from the role charities play in public policy debates. We look forward to sharing this knowledge with partners facing similar situations around the world.

Imagine Canada is a national umbrella for Canadian charities and public-benefit non-profits. A registered charity ourselves, we act as a forum and meeting place, create an enabling environment for organizations, and act as a collective voice on overarching and cross-cutting issues facing the sector. We have 1,400 members and we connect with between 8,000 and 10,000 organizations annually. We work on behalf of the entire sector.

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