Celebrating ten years with a new vision for ONN’s future

ONN’s steering committee signing incorporation papers.

ONN’s early story began in 2007 when a creative and intrepid group of cross-sectoral nonprofit leaders recognized that there was a gap in Ontario’s nonprofit sector. It appeared no-one was paying attention to public policy issues affecting all nonprofits across the province – and decisions were being made that affected how the sector operated, was governed, funded, and provided services without input from the sector.

The Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act (ONCA) became our “founding and forever” issue, and was the platform that created ONN – a cross-sectoral issue that affected all nonprofits incorporated in Ontario. 

After a successful number of years incubated by the Centre for Social Innovation, ONN incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation on February 11, 2014.

As I reflect on this process, I am full of pride, and also admiration, for how far we have come in evolving and expanding our work. Over the last ten years we have picked up a few (a lot!) of other public policy issues to work on, and our team and network has grown exponentially. Of the many strides we’ve made as a network, here are some I’m exceptionally proud of:

  • ONCA – advocating for an improved Not-for-Profit Corporations Act and ensuring there was support for the sector to transition to the new rules.
  • Pension plan – launching Canada’s first portable defined pension plan for nonprofit workers, the majority of which identify as women.
  • Decent work – building a movement to create a culture of decent work and encourage decent work practices in Ontario’s nonprofit sector.
  • Reimagining governance – building a learning lab through thought leadership, tools, resources, and dialogues on how we can reimagine governance in the sector.
  • Participating in, supporting, and leading sector advocacy such as COVID supports including liability insurance coverage and stabilization funding.
  • Building network connections through our Nonprofit Driven conference and regional gatherings.

As a network, the work we do is influenced by input from other nonprofit networks and organizations, our members, and what the data on our sector reveals. I am incredibly grateful for the support we have received from our network and generous funders and partners that have made these strides possible over the last ten years. 

ONN’s strategic path moving ahead

Our most recent strategic plan, released back in 2017, was a guiding document to steward ONN over the following three years. In early 2020, we started preparing for a new strategic planning process but in March 2020 those plans unraveled. 

Part of being a nimble and emergent network meant that, as the pandemic progressed, ONN pivoted to continually address high priority needs and advocacy for nonprofits and charities. What became a temporary “hold” on our strategic planning process kept getting extended, and we found ourselves in 2022 still telling ourselves that we would start when the time was right. 

The delay was positive in many ways – it allowed us to stop and think, reflect on the pandemic period, identify what questions we had about ONN’s future, and intentionally plan ahead. 

Instead of jumping into a traditional strategic planning process, we adopted an emergent strategy approach, and decided to do a strategic thinking process. The outcome would be less focused on a single document (a “plan”) and rather focus on ensuring we had the organizational foundations in place to keep us on track.

Throughout 2023, we worked with facilitators to consider, review, and rethink our culture, values, vision, mission, intended impacts, and strategic initiatives. With spaciousness and intentionality, and through a cross-team working group, staff retreats and sessions, and board discussions, we deliberated on the key issues and opportunities ahead of us.

By September 2023, we presented a strategic framework to our board that was approved for implementation this year.

The future we envision will be both familiar to our network and new – our focus on creating an enabling public policy environment for nonprofits and charities to thrive remains unchanged. But, our experiences have helped us further hone into what ONN’s unique role is. Our new strategic framework will guide us over the next three years – coinciding with the next provincial election in 2026. This feels like the natural moment to re-think and strategize depending on the political and sector environment.

A teaser – our updated mission and vision

Our ultimate vision is that communities are thriving because people are connected, well-resourced, and effecting change for the public good. This is the vision of the world we want to contribute to, and is intentionally very “big picture” and not about the sector alone. Our mission is how ONN contributes to this vision directly: To connect, strengthen and advocate with and for the nonprofit sector in Ontario. 

Through the spring, we will be rolling out our new strategic framework including our beliefs and values in how we work, our intended impacts, strategic initiatives, revitalized policy agenda and network engagement activities, and how we are embedding equity throughout all we do. This new strategic framework will provide ONN with the scaffolding that will continue to strengthen the nonprofit sector for years to come. Through this preview document, we are pleased to share some highlights of what is to come, including how we are embedding equity in our work, and the beliefs that anchor our work.

ONN is a strong voice for the nonprofit sector, and a network that’s guided by those it serves – nonprofits and charities in Ontario. We look forward to sharing more with you, and working with you to ensure communities across the province are thriving.

March 5, 2024 at 1:31 pm
Cathy Taylor
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