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Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Your Pre-Budget 2018 Cheat Sheet

Monday, July 17, 2017
Public Policy
Government Relations

Pre-budget season has begun. Never written a submission before? We’ve got your back with info on why you might want to submit and tips on how to do this well. We include insights from our Chief Economist, Brian Emmett.

The House of Commons Finance Committee recently released its call for pre-budget consultation briefs as the government considers its policy priorities for the 2018 federal budget.

Every year we review the submissions from charities and nonprofits to get a sense of what the sector is asking for. The number of submissions has grown from around 40 charities in 2014, to over 100 last year. While this growth is promising and reflective of an increasingly engaged sector, it is a very small portion of Canada’s 80,000+ organizations. We’d love to see this figure skyrocket for Budget 2018.

Why might you submit a consultation brief?

According to Chief Economist Brian Emmett, it is a mistake to think about the federal budget as an economic plan. Rather, “it’s a statement about the government’s agenda and how this agenda will be fulfilled.” If organizations have a view on these priorities, this is the time to come out and talk about it.

Each year, when preparing the federal budget, the government has to consider how it can address the well-being of its citizens, and it has invited you to advise them with this process. As charities & nonprofits, you exist for public benefit. Arguably no group of actors is better placed to advise them on this than charities and nonprofits; you are the experts when it comes to the intricacies of your causes and the needs of your communities.

What should you include in the brief?

What issues are you grappling with as you work to serve your missions? There is a good chance federal policy can help address the problems you see, or that federal programming may leverage and even scale the successes you’d had in your service delivery. Keep in mind that requesting the removal or refinement of existing federal policies may also help to alleviate some of the challenges associated with your mission. .

The Finance Committee usually poses questions to guide the submission process, those who participate are expected to frame their policy recommendations around these themes. This year’s questions are much narrower than in recent years, particularly when it comes to making recommendations for sector-wide policy reforms. For 2018, these are:

  1. What federal measures would help Canadians to be more productive?

  2. What federal measures would help Canadian businesses to be more productive and competitive?

The second question is problematic, because the focus on businesses excludes discussion of policies that would assist civil society, charities and nonprofits.

But the first question the Committee poses lends itself to potentially thoughtful recommendations. Charities and nonprofits can be seen as equipping individuals and communities to, in the language of the Committee, be more “productive.” In line with this theme of productivity, Brian offers, “while charities make an important contribution to economic growth, the quality of growth matters just as much. Charities are part of that solution too, because we’re experts on those quality measures like inclusivity, equitability, environment, social justice.”

Note: For those of you who may have concerns…making a submission to the Finance Committee does NOT count as political activity!

How do you do this, and do it well?

The submission process doesn’t come with direct costs, but it will take resources in the form of staff time. Bookmarking this time of year in your strategic planning is a good idea.

Play by the rules

Follow the guidelines established by the Finance Committee that year. Ensure your asks actually fall within federal jurisdiction, and just try your best to fit your recommendations within the themes or questions posed (this can take some mental gymnastics and is more art than science).  

Think about your audience

The best way to make a recommendation to government is to put yourself in their shoes, according to Brian: “If you understand what they want to accomplish, and pitch your request in a way that will help them achieve their ends, you’ll have more chance of success.” At the same time, bear in mind that, “supporting charities is in the government’s interest because they contribute to jobs, economic growth, and well-being.”

How does one get to know the government’s agenda? Read the last Speech from the Throne, the mandate letters, and highlights from Budget 2017.

In GR and advocacy work, it’s best to view government as a stakeholder in policy development, rather than an adversary. The aim is to be convincing and influential: there is ample psychological research to show that when convincing someone of your point of view, it is crucial to avoid putting your audience on the defense. While it’s important to be honest about how federal policy impacts your communities and causes, avoid being harsh and look to the future as much as possible. Try to maintain a positive (or at least neutral) tone.  

Provide some context

Who are you, what do you do, and why? See this submission as a way to introduce government to your organization and cause. Brian advises you to “tell them about the impact you’ve had, show them why you are successful.” Tell the government why they should be concerned about the issue, and convince them to get on board with your solutions.

At the same time, be clear and concise

Brevity is important here. Formulate clear and direct policy asks so that they stand out and are memorable.

Toward this aim, subheadings are your friend. Consider placing your recommendations up front, near or on the first page, before going into any detail.

Back it up

This government is especially big on evidence-based policy development, so back up your asks as much as you’re able to. Include examples, numbers, figures, and qualitative data to illustrate problems and how your recommendation will lend solutions.

Go public with your asks

According to Brian, “submitting your pre-budget recommendations to government is your chance to go on record with what you care about.” But why stop there? After you send in your submission, you might consider penning a blog post for your supporters, publishing the entire submission on your website and highlighting it via your communications vehicles and social media. Remember, advocacy is a long game. If you believe in your vision for federal policy, take every opportunity to voice this loud and clear. In Brian’s words: “get out there and illuminate the darkness.”

Consider not going it alone

Many organizations decide to enter this process as a coalition (see Green Budget Coalition’s submission below). This has several advantages for those with common interests and vision for the budget, particularly for smaller organizations.

With coalitions, organizations are able to coordinate efforts on producing the document instead of overlapping with similar recommendations. You may also be more effective if you can be seen speaking with a cohesive voice, together with key players in your interest area. Finally, operating in this way makes communications efforts more impactful, should you decide to mobilize public support for your policy vision.

Some useful examples

Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada (2016)

Imagine Canada (2017)

Green Budget Coalition (2015)

Ladies Learning Code (2017)


We’re hoping we’ll see your brief this year during our review of the consultation submissions!


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