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Imagine Canada

Strong Charities. Strong Communities.

Accelerating change with a new policy network

Tuesday, September 6, 2016
Sector News
Public Policy
Bernadette Johnson & Bill Schaper

Imagine Canada’s policy team is shifting toward what is commonly known as a network model. We believe that by doing a better job of tapping into the expertise and energy of organizations across the country and building on each other’s efforts, we can accomplish a great deal more. This is especially important at a time when the federal government has an ambitious agenda that will impact on our sector in a myriad of ways. 

Charities and nonprofits need improved federal policy to thrive and best serve their causes. The federal government has committed itself to a renewed legal and regulatory regime, for both charities and nonprofits; it has also committed itself to action on a wide range of issues important to individual organizations. If we want to fully take advantage of the opportunities before us, we can’t act in isolation. By working together, and getting more organizations involved in the policy process, we can better present ideas and solutions to the government, rather than waiting to see what the government comes up with. None of us have the capacity to do this on our own; but by working together, we can have a real impact.

A network structure will allow us to advance policy positions that are informed and co-created by the experience and knowledge of our diverse sector. A network, as a concept, involves bringing individuals and organizations together to work on common problems and potential opportunities, to achieve deeper understanding through the sharing of experiences, information and resources. From there, we can collaborate to identify solutions and recommendations. 

Imagine Canada wants to bring individuals and organizations together around policy issues that affect us all. Some examples of relevant policy areas include access to data, social finance and social enterprise, and how to make infrastructure spending work best for the communities we serve.

Moving towards a network model offers many advantages to all involved

  • We can achieve greater scale and focus working towards a common cause. In building on our respective strengths towards a common productive aim, the sector can become more adaptable to shifts and changes in the environment. Networks are also more resilient; as one organization leaves, space is opened up for others to fill their place.
  • Sustainable, long-term change becomes more possible. We can work on many different policy files at once, while retaining bandwidth to react to externally-initiated issues as they arise.  While we broaden our reach at the federal level, we also deepen our understanding of the issues by collaborating to share experience, perspectives, and resources.
  • Working together allows us to match the pace of government. Better connected and engaged on common causes, we can respond more quickly and efficiently to seize opportunities and react to potential threats as they arise. 
  • Being better connected on common issues encourages us to think and act more cohesively. Involving representatives from different subsectors, for instance environment and the arts, will help the collective better understand the implications of policy responses in other areas of the sector. 
  • A lot can be learned when we are open and transparent regarding policy generation. A healthy network creates new opportunities for relationship building and collaboration on other issues. For instance, strengthened ties pave the way for one organization to call upon another to mobilize a campaign on a particular issue.

We’re kicking off this new approach with three pilot working groups 

The first working groups will focus on:

  1. The regulation of charities’ political activities
  2. Youth employment in the sector
  3. Data - both data about the sector, and the sector’s ability to access and make full use of data made available by the government

Other working groups will be created as issues arise that affect the sector, and in areas where organizations want to come together to develop new policy ideas to take to the government. 

At times, ad hoc teams will be assembled to determine a sector position on an issue that arises; having provided all of us with the analysis, tools, and messages to speak up, they will disband. In other cases, groups will be more long-standing, assembled to provide ongoing monitoring, analysis, and recommendations on particular policy areas.

The network needs members to activate it and to grow 

We will be featuring the work of current and future working groups on our website, where we will also be placing calls for spontaneous action or in-depth policy development. There will be disagreement and conflicts will arise, but we recognize these are byproducts of meaningful collaboration. Together we can co-create a network of talented sector representatives that will help us surface and address the issues that affect all of us as we work to serve our communities. 


About the Authors

Bernadette Johnson

Bernadette Johnson is our Manager of Public Policy. She has an MA in Conflict Studies and a Master’s in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership. She’s worked in the sector in Rwanda, here as an MP staffer, as a research consultant for Indigenous Affairs, and as a research coordinator for Canada’s TRC. Current projects include a hobby social enterprise and research on impact investing.


Bill Schaper

Bill Schaper is the Director of Public Policy in Imagine Canada’s Ottawa office. In past lives he was a political staffer on Parliament Hill, the senior policy advisor to a federal cabinet minister, a policy analyst and GR practitioner for universities, an independent policy consultant, and a communications specialist for the United Kingdom’s Auditor General.

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Submitted by David Porter on
All three are very interesting to me yet the political activity impact t has hindered many charities. Furthermore the tightening of the laws around who gets a charity number and how no status ngo's raise funds is a major barrier. What ever assistance I can provide I offer. thank you, David.

Submitted by Katie on
Great job, as always, by Imagine Canada. Looking forward to seeing how this new model unfolds!

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