Canada’s charitable and nonprofit sector is the second largest in the world, employing two million people and representing $135 billion or 8.1% of the GDP. But for too long, federal policies have been developed without much sector input, and with insufficient consideration for their impact on charities and nonprofit organizations.
The solution says Bill Morris, National Director, Public Policy & Government Relations at United Way Canada, is to act more like a sector and actively participate, as a sector, in shaping public policy that impacts us collectively. Morris is part of a core group of charity leaders that conceived the idea of the Imagine Canada-led Charities Day on the Hill. First held in 2015, we use this event to showcase our sector’s strengths, breadth, diversity, and collective impact as well as the shared constraints that limit our ability to do even more to advance the public good.
Charities Day on the Hill 2017
Building on the momentum of the first two years, more than 40 charity and nonprofit leaders from across Canada gathered in Ottawa at the third Charities Day on the Hill in October of 2017. Participating organizations represented environmental, health, faith, community development, immigrant settlement, arts, international development, Indigenous, and educational missions, as well as a number of umbrella organizations.
“Like many charities, the United Way has contact with government officials about issues within our mandate: examples in our case would include poverty and homelessness. But we are rarely in touch about the issues that affect our business operations – issues that are common to our sector as a whole,” explains Morris. “Imagine Canada is the glue that brings us together, with their ability to speak and lead with credibility on cross cutting issues that impact the sector as a whole. And this is where their Charities Day on the Hill comes in.”
With ten teams and more than 50 meetings with MPs, Senators, senior officials and cabinet ministers, our message for the 2017 Charities Day on the Hill was to “get on with it.” We asked the government to take action on promises they have made about legal and regulatory reform but have yet to deliver.
Morris explains that the nonprofit sector has been operating under a 17th-century legal framework, which puts regulatory limits on the ability of charities to pursue their missions: “For an organization like United Way, we are allowed to alleviate the symptoms of poverty, but not prevent it; to fund a food bank, but not to take action to fundamentally address food insecurity. The reality is our donors and the people we serve, want and need to go beyond Band-Aids to drive real solutions and social change. Regulatory reform offers all of us the opportunity to expand the role and impact of charities.”
Additional benefits: relationship- and capacity-building
The benefits for organizations participating in Charities Day on the Hill extend beyond each year’s specific “ask.” For example, in coming together, charities and nonprofits build relationships that open up opportunities for future collaboration. And the Day itself is a capacity-building exercise for those organizations and sector leaders who are newer to lobbying and advocacy.
“Like any other sector, there will always be reasons for us to engage with policymakers and ensure they are sensitive to the way regulation and the public policy environment impacts us,” says Morris. “By establishing Day on the Hill as an annual event, we’re successfully creating expectations in Ottawa and building a presence. This can only enhance our collective capacity to positively impact those we serve and building a better Canada.”
Would you like to engage in public policy and see sector advocacy in action? Get in touch to participate in our next Charities Day on the Hill.
About the Author
Marlene Oliveira is a copywriter and communications consultant at moflow and founder of the Nonprofit MarCommunity. Marlene specializes in helping nonprofits to produce better content and has worked in the sector since 1999. Marlene’s approach is to work with clients and community members, tapping into the knowledge and wisdom they already possess, to help their communications ‘flow’.
Guest contributions represent the personal opinions and insights of the authors and may not reflect the views or opinions of Imagine Canada.