Sector News Digest – July 14, 2021

Mary Simon named Governor General; using radio to share residential school stories; new ONN survey; fresh StatsCan data on the sector’s performance; a case for funding community infrastructure; and a US court ruling on donor privacy.

Mary Simon named Governor General; using radio to share residential school stories; new ONN survey; fresh StatsCan data on the sector’s performance; a case for funding community infrastructure; and a US court ruling on donor privacy.

Canada’s first Indigenous G-G

Inuk leader Mary Simon has been named Canada’s 30th Governor General, becoming the first Indigenous person to serve in the role.

“I can confidently say that my appointment is a historic and inspirational moment for Canada and an important step forward on the long path towards reconciliation,” she said.

Simon has held numerous roles during her storied career: chairperson of the National Committee on Iniut Education; president of Canada’s national Inuit organization, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami; Canada’s first Arctic ambassador; Canada’s ambassador to Denmark; Honorary Witness at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings.

“Today, after 154 years, our country takes a historic step. I cannot think of a better person to meet the moment,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said. “It is only by reaching out to those around us, it is only by building bridges between people in the north and south, just like in the east and west, that we can truly move forward.” The appointment came just weeks after hundreds of unmarked graves were identified on former residential school properties across the country.

In “The Urgency to Make a Personal Commitment,” part of a series on Indigenous communities and philanthropy published in The Philanthropist Journal in 2016, Simon discussed her commitment to initiatives aimed at tackling social and economic injustices, the statement of apology made by former prime minister Stephen Harper in 2008, and the Idle No More movement that followed.

“It is a critical time in the relationship between Indigenous peoples and Canada,” she wrote. “Our nation is confronting and recognizing the cruel history of assimilation policies while at the same time seeing the existing strength of all Indigenous communities and the enormous opportunities of the future.”

A day for listening

On June 30, radio stations across Canada partnered with the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund (DWF) to take part in A Day to Listen, an initiative dedicated to sharing stories from Indigenous leaders, residential school survivors, Elders, musicians, and teachers in recognition of National Indigenous History Month.

“DWF was incredibly honoured to have been able to help coordinate the day for all radio broadcasters in Canada to listen to Indigenous voices,” said Sarah Midanik, president and CEO at DWF and a member of The Philanthropist Journal’s editorial advisory committee.

More than 500 radio stations took part in sharing almost two dozen recordings, which remain on the website as a resource. DWF’s mission is “to create a pathway towards reconciliation, and to improve the lives of Indigenous people by building awareness, education, and connections between all Canadians.”

New ONN survey on COVID-19 finds government aid lacking in non-profit sector

Nearly 70% of Ontario non-profits did not receive provincial support geared toward the sector during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a new report on the impact of the crisis.

Published July 14 by the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and l’Assemblée de la francophonie de l’Ontario (AFO), COVID-19: State of the Ontario Nonprofit Sector One Year Later [LF1] focuses on the experiences of non-profits during the pandemic, the state of their operations in 2020 and 2021, and whether governmental relief measures for non-profits during the health crisis were adequate.

According to the report’s key findings, nearly seven out of 10 non-profits – and eight out of 10 smaller-budget organizations – did not receive any provincial support. Fewer than one in 10 survey respondents benefited from the Ontario Trillium Foundation’s Resilient Communities Fund, which was intended to support non-profits. “Of the respondents who did apply for the Fund, only half received it,” the report states.

Meanwhile, only one in 20 non-profits accessed Ontario’s Small Business Support Grant, a factor the report links to poor public communications about the grant that did not identify non-profits as being eligible. “Unlike federal relief measures that clearly targeted both businesses and nonprofits in their communications, provincial supports for employers consistently left nonprofits out of messaging,” the report says.

Other findings highlight the resilience and innovation the sector showed in serving communities – through virtual concerts, mobile food programs, wellness support for Indigenous youth, and the rollout of COVID-19 vaccinations across Ontario – while also addressing the need for long-term investments in non-profits.                            

“Responses reveal much about the dedicated efforts nonprofits have made to continue serving communities, the fragmented and inadequate government measures to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, and the work ahead as Ontario transitions into a recovery,” the report states.

Conducted between May 17 and June 4, 2021, the survey, open to all provincial non-profits, received 2,983 responses. A similar survey was published by the ONN and AFO in June 2020.  

Childcare agreement reached in BC

Childcare advocates in British Columbia celebrated last week after a funding agreement 50 years in the making was finalized. Advocates say the agreement, struck between the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia, represents a framework for building a universal public system of programs and services that benefit early learning and childcare. “We celebrate this first federal–provincial agreement because it includes the key elements necessary to transform child care in BC and because it serves as an excellent model for the funding agreements still to be negotiated with each of the other provinces and territories,” Morna Ballantyne, executive director of Child Care Now, Canada’s national childcare advocacy association, said in a statement.

Ballantyne highlighted four key aspects of the agreement: the reduction of parent fees to an average of $10 per day for licensed childcare for children under six within five years; improved affordability and quality of care that includes an increase in workforce compensation and support through public funding of licensed childcare and early learning services; public funding for the expansion of licensed services, which will be directed to public and non-profit institutions; and improved and equitable compensation and working conditions for childcare employees. “We have been saying over and over again that governments must take responsibility for the supply of early learning and childcare services – its quality, availability, and affordability – and this agreement puts us on the right path to get there, and it sets clear goals and timetables to ensure ongoing progress,” Ballantyne said.

The announcement came on the heels of the release of an open letter signed by numerous non-profit and charity leaders, urging the federal and provincial governments to ensure that all those new childcare dollars go to non-profit/public providers. “Recognizing that much of Canada’s child care services now operate as commercial ventures,” the group’s statement noted, “the intention is not to abolish for-profit child care, rather to ensure public funds do not support its growth in existing or new programs.”

The case for sustainable infrastructure

The Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development this week released a literature review recommending not just more climate-resilient infrastructure, but also additional investment in what the authors describe as “natural infrastructure,” a category that takes in everything from wetlands, salt marshes, and maritime forests to green roofs and permeable paving materials. The report, Advancing the Climate Resilience of Canadian Infrastructure, comes in a week when rail transport regulators had to order freight trains to slow down in heat-scorched parts of BC to avoid the risk of sparks triggering forest fires.

“These nature-based solutions also generate a range of co-benefits, such as biodiversity habitat, carbon sequestration, recreation, water purification, and mental well-being,” the report notes. “Studies show that natural infrastructure is cost effective and is often a more efficient use of funds compared to relying solely on built infrastructure to adapt to climate change and increase resilience. Natural infrastructure, though, also can be affected by various climate hazards, and its own resilience should therefore be ensured through planning and assessment, structural changes, and ongoing monitoring and maintenance.”

And, the case for community infrastructure

In a recent Toronto Star op-ed entitled “Let’s Reboot Canada’s Infrastructure by Including the Community Sector,” non-profit community organizations made a pitch to be part of the planning to reinvigorate Canadian infrastructure post-COVID-19.

Community Foundations of Canada president Andrea Dicks and Amanuel Melles, executive director of the Network for the Advancement of Black Communities, note that the federal government’s $140 billion in proposed infrastructure spending could either perpetuate social inequality or aid in eradicating it.

“We have a choice,” Dicks and Melles wrote. “New infrastructure spending to tackle goals such as net-zero carbon, should, at the same time, meet other social outcome tests. This won’t happen without overhauling how infrastructure in Canada is designed, implemented, managed and evaluated.”

The authors highlight emerging infrastructure models that are “intentionally designed so that incomes or other social benefits are shared much more equitably,” such as the Indigenous Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (ICIE), which is set to open next year. According to the City of Toronto, ICIE is “designed to give the Indigenous community an opportunity to explore their entrepreneurial aspirations by providing space, business programming, advisory services, mentorship supports, shared co-workspace, community event space and connections to business networks.”

Also noted is the Healthy Communities Initiative (HCI), a $31-million investment from the Government of Canada in partnership with the Canadian Urban Institute, 8 80 Cities, Park People, MaRS, the Canadian CED Network, the National Association of Friendship Centres, Community Foundations of Canada, and “placemaker” Jay Pitter.

“The crisis of COVID-19 has created a watershed opportunity,” Dicks and Melles say. “Canada can truly ‘build back better’ by summoning the ambition and courage to do so. Opportunities like this come once in a lifetime. Let’s seize it.”

Worsening economic headwinds for the sector

Newly released Statistics Canada data on the non-profit and voluntary sectors paint a worrisome picture about the trajectory of recovery. First-quarter GDP for Canada’s non-profits rose just .2%, down significantly from the 2.4% and 1.3% expansion rates clocked for the third and fourth quarters of 2020. The agency also reports that employment in the non-profit sector, estimated to be 2.4 million, is down by half a percent.

Also of note in the data: much of the growth that does appear in the statistics comes from organizations and agencies taking on contracts from the public sector. “Excluding non-profit institutions serving governments,” the report noted, “GDP declined 1.3% in the first quarter of 2021, following a 7.1% increase in the third quarter of 2020 and a 2.5% increase in the fourth quarter of 2020.” Imagine Canada pointed out in a brief commentary that it welcomes more consistent data releases from the national statistics agency, noting the almost total absence of regular reporting on the sector between 2010 and 2019.

Big win for Toronto social housing non-profits

Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) will transfer its portfolio of single-family homes to the non-profit sector.

The move, approved last month, will see 643 properties located in neighbourhoods across the city transferred from TCHC to the Neighbourhood Land Trust and Circle Community LandTrust. According to a June 25 press release, “The transfer will help improve service to the tenants, bring the units into a state of good repair, protect the houses as affordable housing in perpetuity, and build capacity in the non-profit housing sector.”

The shift is part of Toronto’s Tenants First strategy, which aims, among other goals, to ensure that TCHC, as a social housing agency, operates well-maintained buildings and provides its tenants with opportunities to connect to appropriate community services. The property transfers are set to begin in the first quarter of 2022 and will be completed by the end of the year.

Landmark US ruling on donor privacy

The United States Supreme Court on July 1 overturned a California donor-disclosure law, ruling that the legislation was an intrusion on donor privacy.

The law required charities to disclose the names of major donors to state regulatory officials but prohibited the public release of their identities. While California officials argued that the disclosure requirements helped to ensure the charitable purpose of tax-exempt organizations and curb fraud, plaintiffs in the case, both conservative organizations, claimed it violated their First Amendment rights.

In response to the ruling, the California Association of Nonprofits issued a statement saying that “the opinion today will inevitably reduce public trust in nonprofits in California because it takes away the Attorney General’s ability to ask for an unburdensome disclosure to prevent and investigate fraud and other possible wrongdoings by nonprofits.”

The case marked yet another skirmish in the ongoing fight over the use of “dark money” to fund political advocacy campaigns through so-called super PACs (political action committees). Such organizations don’t really exist in Canada, which has stricter regulations around partisan political activity by charities and non-profits. In fact, in a contentious move, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government last month invoked the notwithstanding clause in a legal challenge to a law that sought to limit third-party spending outside formal election periods.

Support for non-profits building back

Endeavour, a Canadian registered charity that provides pro bono consulting services to non-profits, is currently recruiting clients for its fall 2021 session. Applications are due July 16.

“As Canada begins the long recovery from the pandemic, we believe non-profits need our support more than ever,” said Rachel Yuen, co-director of marketing communications at Endeavour. If selected, non-profit organizations will receive support on an identified project for a period of three or six months, with the next consulting project round beginning in September.

Youth entrepreneurship celebrated

Futurpreneur, a national non-profit, announced the recipients of the RBC Rock My Business Start-Up Awards on July 6.

The awards, which drew more than 160 applicants this year, were given to eight recipients in total, with six winners between 18 and 29 for the Youth Entrepreneur Awards, one for the Emerging Black Entrepreneur Award, and another for the Emerging Entrepreneur Award.

Kole Casey of Nordic Vale Honey Farm, located in Dawson Creek, BC, is the recipient of the Emerging Entrepreneur Award. The winner of the Emerging Black Entrepreneur Award is Ajoké Olorundare of SUGR Wax Inc., located in Toronto.

The recipients of the Youth Entrepreneur Award included Adèle Blouin of I Got It From MAMA, located in La Prairie, Quebec; Bonnie Yang of Make Nice Company, located in Vancouver; Alex Neumeyer of Canadian Filaments Inc., located in Edmonton; Sarah Davies of More Granola and Hannah Brennen of Sleepout Inc., both located in Toronto; and Maria Munoz Castillo of Planted Souls, located in Mississauga.

“We help entrepreneurs overcome the challenges associated with starting a business, and our aim at Futurpreneur is to make entrepreneurship accessible to anyone with a great idea,” CEO Charles Finley said in a press release.

“Thanks to support from RBC, we are thrilled to provide these eight recipients with both the foundational knowledge and funding to help make their businesses a reality. These aspiring young entrepreneurs are great representatives for our redesigned and expanded three-part digital Rock My Business Series, which is available to all those who are in the early stages of developing their business.”

Reimagining Edmonton’s non-profit space

A new report, Transforming the Non-Profit Community in Edmonton, published by the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, is aiming to reimagine how non-profit organizations operate.

“Not only has the pandemic revealed the magnitude of our society’s systemic injustices, it has also emphasized our interdependence at local, regional, national and global levels,” according to the 52-page report. The authors suggests a “model for change,” including four “pillars of non-profit action” that aim to address two questions: How can the non-profit community begin to address the historical injustices that have been magnified by COVID-19? How can we use the knowledge of these historical injustices to imagine and develop new non-profit structures and practices: ones that transcend our status quo and bring us closer to our desired future?


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