I attended the Ontario Non-profit Network’s (ONN) 2012 Conference ‘Policy to Practice’ in late September. Tonya Surman of ONN updated participants on the Network’s work in relation to five policy priorities identified 3 years ago*. ONN is playing an important role in changing the narrative about the sector and shifting the relationship between the sector and the Ontario government.
We can’t underestimate the power of language to shift perspectives. A number of speakers commented on the disservice we do when we define the sector by what it’s not – i.e. ‘not-for-profit’, ‘non-governmental’. Tonya Surman highlighted some of ONN’s efforts to put the sector on a more equal footing with government by redefining the sector as: “solution innovators”, “community assets”, “community stewards”.
MPP Charles Sousa, from the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration offered opening remarks that reflected greater government appreciation for the sector – he was well-informed about the size of the sector (e.g. representing $50 billion and 15% of jobs) and spoke of the sector as a ‘third pillar’ supporting Ontario’s society, on the front lines of public service. Assistant Deputy Minister Katherine Hewson spoke about how the provincial government’s OPEN for Business Program, which was initially designed to make government easier and more responsive to business and put clients at the centre of services, was expanded to include the non-profit sector. She praised ONN’s attitude of collaboration and interest in working together with government to find solutions.
Questions for leaders:
- Do the words you use when you talk about your work emphasize solutions and assets, or deficits?
- Do you offer compelling solutions when engaging with government partners?
- Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act – influencing the content of the Act (note: conversations continue as proclamation has been delayed until July 1, 2013)
- Sale of Surplus Public Lands – expanding the sector’s ability to express interest in the purchase of public lands before they go on the wider market
- Infrastructure Ontario’s Loan Program – gaining access to government’s low rate capital financing for non-profit organizations (NPOs)
- Police Record Checks Process – seeking greater clarity around process requirements to lessen the burden on NPOs
- Procurement and Vendor of Record – gaining access to public procurement program discounts for NPOs