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Leadership In Changing Times: Trends For A Bright Sector Future

Leadership In Changing Times: Trends For A Bright Sector Future

The following is an excerpt from ONN’s newly-released report, Leadership In Changing Times

The vast majority of charities and nonprofit organizations operate locally and are rooted in their communities. Each plays a small part, but together they make Canada a vibrant place to live, work and play.

We take it for granted that local citizens, on seeing a need—whether for a local swim club, a new business venture for people with disabilities, or to monitor lake water quality—will figure out a way to get it done. It is just how we are. What we fail to appreciate is how very rare and precious this approach to building resilient and vibrant communities is.

Canada’s nonprofit sector is the second largest in the world. We have one of the most vibrant and dynamic civil societies. It is vitally important that our sector’s contributions are recognized and supported across the country. Our nonprofit sector ’s staff and volunteer leadership play a critical role in Canadian communities.

However, these are times of change. The context and circumstances within which the sector does its work are changing: growing income inequality; pressures to silence civil society voices; changes to traditional funding and revenue sources; the changing and increasingly precarious nature of employment; changes (or lack thereof) in sector legislation and regulation; the rapid pace of technology development and new ways of working. Is there a nonprofit that has not been affected? How can local organizations keep up? How do volunteer board members know where to start?

Leadership In Changing Times is a report created to bring attention the wider forces, issues and opportunities that may already be impacting your organization—or are soon to. These trends and developments swirling around our organizations challenge traditional ways of operating. Knowledge of these trends will inform conversations locally and ensure you can take advantage of, and contribute to, the collective wisdom we have as a sector to find new ways forward. There is no better strategy than to pool our sector’s experiences and our knowledge, to learn from colleagues in other organizations who have tried new ways of working. Networking and sharing are vital to the prosperity of our sector—and, fortunately, what we do well.

These are challenging times for organizations doing good and needed work in our communities. Many join Boards of Directors hoping to make a difference in their community – to give back. However, the task of providing leadership and governance can be overwhelming, particularly when the going gets tough. Acquiring the resources to do our work seems to get harder and harder, as the challenges our communities face grow more complex. Operating a nonprofit organization, never simple, is ever more challenging in today’s rapidly changing environment.

Nonprofit leadership and board members are typically fully engaged in keeping their organizations and programs running, leaving them little to no time to think about the big picture or how larger trends and forces are changing the way we work. This resource is written to address this gap. It has been prepared to provide every nonprofit- the community soccer program, dance theatre, disability support organization – all of us – with background on key trends and the implications for our work.

Our work is made easier if we come to understand that our organization’s problems are not unique, nor are they necessarily a failure of our own lack of effort, and that the problems we are confronting are happening elsewhere. These problems require new solutions that we need to discover together.


Lynn Eakin

Lynn is ONN's Policy Advisor. Lynn has been providing consulting services to the nonprofit sector since 1989. Currently Lynn, one of the founding members of ONN, is involved in better positioning the sector to address the cross-cutting policy issues it faces. She continues to engage in sector research and is involved with ONN in identifying, developing and advocating for systemic reforms to improve the ability of the sector to undertake its important work. For more on Lynn’s background, see her website: www.lynneakin.com.

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