Strengthening the Collective Voice of Nonprofits

What do United Way of the Alberta Capital Region, the University of Alberta, The Bissell Centre, the Edmonton Sport Council and the Edmonton Folk Festival all have in common?  

They’re all part of the Nonprofit Sector.

Our society can essentially be divided into three main sectors: Government, Business and the Nonprofit Sector. Although the Nonprofit Sector in Canada is very big: the second largest in the world on a per capita basis, it is still often misunderstood. A significant reason for this misunderstanding is due to the absence of a strong and compelling narrative that effectively communicates the overarching impact of the sector on the lives of individuals, families and communities. We can all probably point to several non profit organizations in our community and know instinctively what positive impacts their services provide, but finding a voice for the story of the entire sector has proven to be a challenge.  Nonprofit organizations in Canada are so diverse, both in organizational structure and mission, that deciding on and communicating common messages is no small task!

To have a successful civic society, all three sectors (nonprofit, business and government) need to be strong. And while the Nonprofit Sector is passionate, innovative, vibrant and essential for Canadians, the business and government sectors have, traditionally, had a stronger voice in public discourse. This is why understanding and communicating the impact of the nonprofit sector as a whole is so critical.

After two years of conversations, debates and consensus building, involving over 1,000 organizations from coast to coast, Imagine Canada co-hosted the National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector as part of their National Engagement Strategy[1]. Partnering with Community Foundations of Canada, United Way Centraide Canada and Philanthropic Foundations of Canada, the Summit brought together over 500 sector leaders (including over 100 young leaders – like me!) to strengthen the collective voice of charities and nonprofits in Canada and develop strategies to improve some of the most significant social sector issues.  Four priority areas were  identified:

  1. Improved conditions for the attraction and retention of paid staff

  2. More diversified and sustainable financing

  3. Better understanding of our work and our impact

  4. Enhanced support for the engagement of volunteers/external talent

I participated in priority #3: Better understanding of our work and impact. Two action items were decided on by the end of our time together for this priority area. First, led by Imagine Canada, a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document will be developed to address key concerns raised externally by the media, politicians, funders, volunteers, donors and staff. The FAQ will cover areas such as administrative costs, compensations levels, fundraising and impact and outcomes. Second, an overarching narrative will be developed for the entire sector. This narrative will help inspire and excite individuals working within the sector as well as the general public.

There is still more work to do. The group of delegates from the Alberta Capital Region, 29 individuals including 11 United Way Funded Partners, have already planned follow-up meetings to move forward with the ideas and strategies developed during the National Summit. These important conversations are happening across our nation and together, with the leadership of Imagine Canada, we are working to strengthen the entire Nonprofit Sector. After all, “True success is the sum of all of us, not just one of us.”

What impact do you think the nonprofit sector has in Canada?


Amy Dixon, Community Investment Specialist, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region