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A new era for nonprofits’ and charities’ advocacy and engagement

A new era for nonprofits’ and charities’ advocacy and engagement

By John Beebe and Kallee Lins

Imagine Canada has created the Election Hub to inspire sector advocacy and participation in the upcoming federal election. The post below, co-written by Imagine Canada and Ryerson University’s Democratic Engagement Exchange, argues that charities’ engagement in the electoral process is fundamental to furthering the causes we work on and building a robust democracy. You can view the original on Imagine Canada’s 360 platform, or read below for a copy shared with permission. 

This is an exciting moment in our democracy. October 2019 marks the first federal election since changes to the Income Tax Act removed the restrictions that charities have long faced in advocating for public policies that support their causes.

With this change, organizations have entered a new era of shaping public dialogue. Election season is a period of heightened interest in policy. Citizens can decide which issues are important to them – whether or not the parties are talking about those issues – and shape the priorities of the next government through their votes. Increased public and media attention devoted to issues means more opportunities to make sure that your voice is heard.

This summer and fall, The Democratic Engagement Exchange and Imagine Canada are running complementary campaigns to provide election season support across the sector.

The Hub is here to help

While charities now have more freedom to pursue advocacy related to our purposes, recent changes to the Elections Act may impact our policy activity during this season. Have no fear; Imagine has launched an entire Election Hub designed to enable you to get policy-active and involved in what’s happening. The teams at Imagine Canada and Ontario Nonprofit Network have developed an interactive tool to (safely) guide you in the development of your toolkits and campaigns. Advocacy is most successful when multiple voices coalesce around a common message, so we’ll also be sharing the toolkits and resources created by charities and nonprofits across the country.

Bookmark our page and visit often. Learn the rules of engagement; submit your toolkits and campaigns to our platform; understand and promote the policy issues that affect all of us as a sector; and join the chorus of your peers in voicing the policy needs of your beneficiaries and causes.

It is not mission-drift, but mission-critical to the work of the sector to make sure that everyone who is eligible is brought alongside the electoral process.

Charities and nonprofits GOTV (get out the vote!)

Policy advocacy is key to our work – in how we go about our business of nurturing individual wellbeing, in upholding our country’s standard for civility, and in promoting the needs of communities. Civic engagement is also integral to realizing the kind of society that our sector envisions. Our public policy development and advocacy work is most successful when the people impacted by the policy are engaged in our democracy.

Imagine is delighted to be a Champion of the Canadian Vote Coalition, co-led by The Exchange and Apathy is Boring. The Coalition, Canada’s largest voter engagement campaign, is a network of local organizations and leaders committed to voter engagement during the federal election. The Coalition is activating in communities across the country (Iqaluit and Whitehorse already confirmed!) for Democracy Week, culminating in a Day-of-Action on September 15, the International Day for Democracy.

The Exchange is also running free training around the country to teach organizations how to run Vote PopUps, a voting simulation based on best practices in voter mobilization. Vote PopUps are approved by Elections Canada and all materials are provided for free. To find out more click here, and to sign up for, or request a training click here.

Policy advocacy and civic engagement go hand-in-hand

There are 170,000 charities and nonprofits in this country. This kind of scale is proof of the importance of our sector to the Canadians who support our organizations. But voting with a checkbook isn’t enough. Canadians must express their vision for the country they live in at the ballot box. The effect of our hard work as charities can be blunted if the policies that impact us aren’t properly aligned with the needs of the communities we serve.

In issue-based advocacy, campaigns are successful when we both inspire people to vote and give them something to think about when they vote. It is not mission-drift, but mission-critical to the work of the sector to make sure that everyone who is eligible is brought alongside the electoral process. A robust democratic culture is what makes impactful nonprofit work possible.

The federal election is less than 3 months away. Where to start?

There is still plenty of time to have an impact. Here’s how you can get engaged:

  • Visit Imagine Canada’s Election Hub for resources to help you get policy advocacy-active during election season 2019! Share your own election activities and policy toolkits on the Hub by filling out this form.
  • Join The Exchange at one of their free training sessions around the country to learn how to run Vote PopUps, a voting simulation based on best practices in community development and voter mobilization. To find out more click here.
  • Participate in Democracy Week, September 8th-15th, and the Day of Action on the 15th.
  • Share your stories, activities and resources with us via social media using #cdnVOTE2019, #weadvocate, and tag us so we can see your work! @ImagineCanada and @RUEngageX.

Charities, nonprofits, and other social purpose organizations have a lot to add during the election period. We have a moral responsibility to make sure the people and communities we serve are heard. In this 2019 federal election, many of us will do advocacy and voter engagement for the first time, laying the foundation for vibrant nonprofit civic participation for years to come. So let’s mobilize, by advocating for supportive public policy, and by bringing our masses to the ballot box.

John Beebe is Senior Advisor with Ryerson University’s Democratic Engagement Exchange. Kallee Lins in Manager, Membership & Community at Imagine Canada.

ONN is proud to be a member of the Canadian Vote Coalition.


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