January, as always, is a time for forecasting by philanthropy observers and “opiners”. But during this never-ending pandemic period, as I read and listen to blogs and podcasts about the year ahead, I notice that no-one is being definitive about their forecasts. Uncertainty is greater than ever. People don’t want to make predictions. They would rather express hopes or, more gloomily, voice fears.
I think that hope is a better starting point. This is shared by Phil Buchanan of the Centre for Effective Philanthropy who posted his first 2022 blog with five hopes for philanthropy and nonprofits. Phil points out that there has been more change over the last two years in how US foundation leaders approach their work than in the previous two decades combined. As he says, “for all the suffering and loss it brought — and continues to bring — the pandemic has shown that deep change, even at institutions often derided as insulated and slow to evolve, is possible when it’s necessary.” In my view, this is also true in Canada, in all sectors.
In early January 2021, I wrote about a new agenda for philanthropy and for what I called the “social good sector”. As I reread my words from twelve months ago, I realize that I was voicing my hope that funders and nonprofits would ask and answer challenging questions that might set them on a new path post-pandemic. Questions such as:
- How do we add flexibility, responsiveness, and adaptability to our funding practices?
- How do we build capacity to collect and share data to map landscapes and build evidence for policy and program design?
- How do we support new leadership pipelines and ladders, and more effective systems of governance?
- How do we educate ourselves, develop awareness of bias, racism and exclusion, engage in more participatory program design?
- How do we build stronger financial models to access more capital, invest in talent and tools, and stop starving ourselves?
These are all questions about doing things differently…and, I hope, better. I acknowledged then that thinking about these questions is tough and answering them through action is even tougher. But I believe that at least some of them are taken seriously, demonstrated by the conversations at various nonprofit conferences and webinars that took place through 2021, and the funding practice changes that have not been rolled back or discarded. These questions are just as important as we head into a new year, with the pandemic still over our heads.
For 2022, I want to put out two hopes, two fears and one wild guess. Perhaps these could be provocations for discussion at board and management tables along with the still important questions that I suggested for 2021.
- That more funders (including public sector funders) move their grants into multi-year, operating support grants, and loosen restrictions on program funding, including requirements for operational accountability. Foundations have seen and heard in 2021 that it’s been helpful to remove conditions and support core operations of the nonprofit organizations with whom they have relationships. Accountability has not been lost and results have been promising. For one example of the learnings, read the Lyle S. Hallman Foundation’s evaluation of its General Operating Support grants made in 2020.
- That more governments recognize and act on the need to create specific strategies and plans for stabilization and post-pandemic recovery for the nonprofit sector. As the Ontario Nonprofit Network has repeatedly pointed out to the Government of Ontario, this is crucial to the long-term survival of many nonprofits. Other provincial governments such as British Columbia and Newfoundland and Labrador have moved to create dedicated portfolios or Ministers responsible for nonprofit sector policy. Could more governments, including the federal, step forward?
- That collaborative and collective efforts at local levels lose momentum. In 2021 we saw new collaborative funds emerge such as the Indigenous Peoples Resilience Fund and the Foundation for Black Communities. We also saw many community-level collaborative funding initiatives managed through local community foundations and United Ways. These collaborative initiatives may falter as the pandemic recedes. It will be important to document their value and push for their continuation in a non-emergency context.
- That nonprofit sector infrastructure will weaken and become less effective. The value of regional infrastructure bodies such as the Ontario Nonprofit Network, and national infrastructure bodies such as Imagine Canada has been demonstrated over the past two years. But they continue to be thinly funded and struggle to do their work, particularly when it comes to advocacy. Some funders have been stalwart supporters. But more is needed. Sustained multi-year support (or the actions of a major Canadian donor along the lines of Mackenzie Scott) would make a huge difference.
A Wild Guess
- That the federal government will act to reform the Income Tax Act provisions that drive CRA’s “direction and control” regime. There are many actions that the federal government could take to improve its regulation and the charitable sector’s flexibility and access to funding. This is one that has wide support from across the charitable and legal communities. Senator Ratna Omidvar has proposed an amendment that has already been passed by the Senate. Maybe 2021 will be the year that this change is finally realized for the benefit of many charities and non-charities.