2016 nonprofit predictions, the Eeyore version

Eeyore's in the Alps, Chamonix, France
Image credit: Sheri

This post was inspired by Joanne Cave’s and Lee Rose/Claude Lauziere’s recent pieces on predictions for the Canadian nonprofit sector in 2016.

Consider mine the Eeyore version. You know, one that’s a little bit of a bummer. 

Here are my predictions/wishes for the Canadian nonprofit and charitable sector in 2016.

1. Death of “social innovation.” Please.

Especially as a catchphrase. Or at least this is my solemn wish.

Social innovation is a new-ish word for a thing that has been happening since the beginning of charity. People and organizations finding different, improved, transformational ways to benefit their communities. Piloting, experimenting, trying new things. This is all good. But it’s not new.

I previously found it hard to articulate one of my discomforts with the focus on social innovation, but I recently identified it while reading a lovely 2013 Salon article on why innovation (currently) has nothing do do with being creative. It’s that in today’s world, in order for something to be considered “innovative,” it has to be acknowledge by the institutionalized “innovation class.” For social innovation in Canada, that would be orgs like SiG or CSI or MaRS or McConnell etc. As Thomas Frank writes:

Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does. … What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.

There are so many issues with social innovation as a thing right now.

  1. More and more organizations are feeling forced to label their work “social innovation” to fit funding opportunities. When really funders should be focussed largely on what works, not only what’s new.
  2. Most of the people talking about social innovation are mostly doing that – talking. The ones that are doing social innovation use the word because it’s “in group” language, not because of its inherent value for our communities (admission: I use the word too).
  3. The new and trendy and “innovative” which attracts people, attention, and funding rarely does the deep, sustainable work that our communities and the vulnerable people in them desperately need.

Instead, I dearly hope that organizations will work to improve upon knowing what works well, and trying new ways when things don’t.

2. People and organizations with lots of money will continue talking about the opportunity for social finance to unleash capital for social good. Skeptics will question the ethics of commoditizing disadvantage. Nonprofits will question the relevance of social finance to their work. They will all be correct.

I don’t think social finance is the be-all-end-all to funding interventions, but I do think we need to experiment with new funding models, and this is one set of approaches.

I question whether risk is distributed well (especially in the case of social impact bonds) and whether big business would be better to spend their money ensuring they don’t, um I don’t know, exploit the poor or the environment through unchecked negative externalities.

And most nonprofits are absent from the conversation. As they should be. Because either they don’t measure their impact to the level necessary for social finance, or their work doesn’t fit the social finance model (e.g. social impact bonds currently focus on employment, literacy, recidivism, and other short- to medium-term outcomes).

3. Nonprofit leaders of large nonprofits who suffer from data and tech illiteracy will unwittingly hurt their causes.

Not internalizing the importance of integrated use of data and technology will mean missed opportunities. And because it’s hard to know when something isn’t there (as opposed to spotting obvious issues like funding gaps or broken equipment), it will be easy for organizations to continue to ignore opportunities like shared platforms, data standards, automation, and other uses of tech and data that streamline our work and provide opportunities for collaboration and advocacy. You know, mission-related work.

4. Nonprofit leaders will wax on about the salary inequities within and outside the sector and then continue to pay shitty wages and use contract employment.

To be fair, they often do so because of the uncertainty of their funding environment.

But many pay little because they can get away with it. Not in a mwa-ha-ha evil way, but because it’s been done before, money is tight, and the job market continues to allow it.

5. No (large) nonprofit or charity will recruit unpaid interns for more than 15 hours per week.

Recruiting for unpaid internships over and above about 12 to 15 hours per week mean only the most privileged will benefit from these experiences, as the rest of job seekers are working and/or going to school full time. Public awareness about the exploitative nature of internships has increased over the past year in particular, and I hope that nonprofits (and not just businesses) have heard the message. Just because we are charities, doesn’t mean that full-time volunteer roles are ethical.

6. Increasing voice of Gen X and Y leadership.

Baby boomers continue to hold the traditional “leadership” roles in the sector. However, Gen X and Y will continue to move up in traditional organizations AND lead newer, non-traditional initiatives, and these new initiatives will hold greater space in the traditional national conversations hosted by organizations like Imagine Canada, Volunteer Canada, Community Foundations of Canada, etc.

These new initiaitves are already holding their own conversations, learning from each other, and networking (and not just with other nonprofits). They don’t need traditional organizations to gain leadership legitimacy, but they can and do play nice when the potential power of new forms of structure and strategy are more and more respected, admired, and coveted by the old guard.

7. Southern Ontario will continue to get most of the attention, support, funding for sector-level work.

I’m always amazed (or…annoyed) that people in Ontario can call their initiatives “national” as long as they invite/email people from outside southern Ontario, but the same initiative out of Halifax or Saskatoon or Vancouver wouldn’t be given the same benefit of the doubt (or benefit of funding/sponsorship). This means many of the important conversations about the future of the nonprofit sector are happening among a narrow set of people, and that’s not OK for our diverse organizations and missions.

8. Rise of the quiet changemaker.

Well, this prediction is just selfish. It’s my own initiative and one that I hope will raise the voices and potential of the more quiet and introverted people making the world a better place. Read more here.

What are your predictions for the nonprofit sector in 2016? Can you out-grump me?

Budget 2015 and Canadian nonprofits (HIGHLIGHTS)

The federal budget was released today, and there are plenty of potential impacts on and opportunities for the nonprofit sector. One item not included is the charitable donation stretch tax credit championed by Imagine Canada, but here are the most relevant tidbits I found during a cursory review.

General implications

Ability for charities to invest in limited partnerships (LPs): A gamechanger for social finance and a policy priority championed by Philanthropic Foundations Canada and Community Foundations Canada. This is one of the largest roadblocks to opening more impact investment / social finance in that the most natural legal structure for many social finance vehicles that the charitable sector (especially foundations) would like to invest are limited partnerships.

Exempting donations of private shares and real estate from corporate gains tax: There are currently exceptions for charitable donations of publicly traded shares (aka securities), but opening this up to other investment donations will do good for areas of Canada where there is a combination of high net worth individuals and real estate investment / private companies (ie Vancouver).

Creating of a government “Social Finance Accelerator”: ESDC is the federal government lead on social finance. However, a risk averse government and a untested social/market tool do not equate to quick innovation. I hope ESDC works with external partners to make this happen (“workshops, advisory services, mentorship, networking opportunities and investor introductions”) in a timely manner. I know the people in ESDC working on this file and they are smart wonderful hardworking people, it’s the highers up that slow things down. In a fast moving field like Social Finance, doing things “in house” can lead to irrelevance quickly.

$56.4 million over four years to Mitacs, an independent organization that provides funding to businesses (eligibility was opened to nonprofits earlier this year) to solve business challenges through research collaborations with universities via paid graduate-level internships.

Unclear changes to the governance of not-for-profit organizations and co-operatives: this budget item started with a focus on increasing women and diversity on corporate board, but finishes with “Amendments to related statutes governing cooperatives and not-for-profit corporations will also be introduced to ensure continued alignment among federal laws.”

Support for specific nonprofit organizations

Futurpreneur Canada: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $14 million over two years, starting in 2015–16, to Futurpreneur Canada to support young entrepreneurs.”

Organizations that provide loans to newcomes for foreign credential recognition: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to reallocate up to $35 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, to make the Foreign Credential Recognition Loans pilot project permanent to support internationally trained workers in their pursuit of foreign credential recognition.” [I got to see some of this while on contract recently in the social innovation unit within Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Pre- and post-loan incomes for newcomer clients with one organization went from ~$14,000 to over $100,000. Most loans are <$10,000.]


Organizations that support women entrepreneurs: “Economic Action Plan 2015 announces support for the Action Plan for Women Entrepreneurs in order to help women entrepreneurs succeed, through mentorship and increased access to credit and international markets.”

Working with post-secondary to train the nonprofit labour force: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide a one-time investment of $65 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to business and industry associations to allow them to work with willing post-secondary institutions to better align curricula with the needs of employers.”

Organizations that support employment of Aboriginal peoples: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $248.5 million over five years beginning in 2015–16 to support Aboriginal labour market programming.”

Organizations that want refurbished computer equipment and work with vulnerable populations: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $2 million over two years, starting in 2016–17, to expand the Computers for Schools program, extending access to refurbished computer equipment to non-profit organizations such as those that support low-income Canadians, seniors and new Canadians.”

Improvements for community infrastructure: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to create a new dedicated infrastructure fund to support the renovation, expansion and improvement of existing community infrastructure in all regions of the country as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.”

Organisations who do work in financial literacy: “In 2015–16, the Government will release a National Strategy to strengthen the financial literacy of Canadians.”

Organizations with mortgages for social housing: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $150 million over four years, starting in 2016–17, to support social housing in Canada by allowing social housing providers to prepay their long-term, non-renewable mortgages without penalty.”

Organizations who do work related to Austism Spectrum Disorder: “Economic Action Plan 2015 proposes to provide $2.0 million in 2015–16 to support the development of a Canadian Autism Partnership.”

Other items of interest

Updating labour code to protect interns in federally-regulated industries (not the nonprofit sector, but still a great step). See more about regulations re: internships via Canadian Intern Association. This is a good reminder that just because volunteering is OK, unpaid internships are often not, in the nonprofit sector.

There are many items relevant to clients of nonprofit organizations not listed here.

Any other items I missed?