2022 Reflections: It’s time for transformation

Planning cycles within the nonprofit sector vary – from fiscal to academic years, calendar years, to seasonal and/or lunar cycles. But whatever the start of your official fiscal year or unofficial planning cycle, December always seems to be a great time to reflect on the year and plan for the future.

It continues to amaze me both how fast the last year went by and how slow and repetitive it seemed at times. I am finding it hard to tell the last three years apart! 

  • Still reeling from a worldwide pandemic? Check. 
  • Facing economic crises and uncertainty? Check.
  • Worried about climate change? Check. 
  • Dealing with a staffing crisis and volunteer shortage? Check. 
  • Revenue still down? Check. 

Looking back, 2022 seemed much like 2020 and 2021, with some exceptions. When the pandemic started, it was scary but communities really banded together, to help and protect each other. Decision-makers were doing things quickly and differently – opening up possibilities of creating a new world and “building back better”. As the pandemic set in through 2021 and 2022, this collectivity seemed to diminish while polarization in our communities, in our politics and in the media increased. The new reality became rife with pandemic fatigue and a pressure to return back to “normal”. 

ONN’s fourth pandemic State of the Sector Survey released in August 2022 reinforced what we learned in 2020 and 2021 about how our sector was faring. Frankly, the new data painted an even grimmer picture of the challenges facing nonprofits and charities. 

Leading during turbulent times

Like many nonprofits in Ontario, we experienced similar challenges this past year – staffing turnover, increased demand, increased costs due to inflation, difficulty getting our messages amplified and heard by decision makers, unending to-do lists and overwhelming email inboxes. Leading during this tumultuous time continues to be difficult. I have struggled with trying to spend the right amount of time on the right things. I continue to struggle with my white privilege and how to truly contribute to building a network that embeds a deep commitment to, and action on equity and spaciousness in all we do. I know I’m not alone in wondering at times how much more energy I have for all of this work.

And yet, I am finding optimism and hope in the year that was 2022, and as I look towards 2023. I’m not exactly sure why but I think a big part of it was the vibe (my teen would be both delighted and horrified that I am using that word!) at our recent conference, Nonprofit Driven. Over 550 folks joined us over two days in early November, the first face-to-face gathering since 2019. I won’t deny that our team was downright anxious about the risk of illness and becoming a super-spreader event, whether we would build an agenda and no-one would come, how to ensure we welcomed everyone respectfully and meet them where they were at, and whether the tone would be depressing or inspiring.

Thankfully, it was inspiring! We were thrilled by:

  • Engagement of folks new to our network.
  • Younger generation of nonprofit leaders committed to making our sector the best it can be.
  • Willingness to talk about challenging topics and address issues openly.
  • Tone of disruption that was so clear in every conversation.

It felt that we, as a sector, had an opportunity to transform, not just tinker around the edges. It felt that our sector was ready to truly build back better.

I still get goosebumps thinking about some of the conversations and insights I gathered from those days. And as someone who has been working from home a lot these last three years, I so enjoyed being together with people!

This gathering – now six weeks ago – is still motivating me to ask deeper questions, challenge assumptions, identify new opportunities to advocate together, and ensure that the nonprofit way remains community driven and led, and is supported so it can thrive in Ontario.

A new strategic journey begins

I don’t know what 2023 will hold for our sector but I do know that it feels like a new beginning. I know that ONN will be embarking on a strategic thinking journey which will help guide our network in the future. Our team and board will do everything they can to ensure that nonprofit sector issues and priorities are top of mind in all that we do. I know there will be tough slogging ahead and I know that I personally will learn, make mistakes, and then learn some more.  

More than anything, I am grateful as I reflect on 2022. Grateful for the good health of our team and our families, grateful for the wisdom and support of those in our network, grateful for the commitment to continuous learning that is so strongly embedded in our culture, grateful for the opportunity to advocate with, for and alongside the amazing nonprofits and charities that serve Ontarians each and every day.

I wish all our network members, supporters, staff and volunteers a restful and joyful season and look forward to engaging in 2023!

December 20, 2022 at 12:51 pm
Cathy Taylor
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