Our Blog

Big Ideas That Inform Our Work

The following is an excerpt from Cathy Taylor’s opening remarks at the ONN’s 2015 annual conference.

Be bold, the Premier said.

Although I am quite sure most of us don’t need a push to be bold – it is a good reminder that we owe it to our organizations, our sector, our communities to strive to be bold – even when it seems like we’re pedaling uphill.  Some days I know I don’t feel bold – the systemic issues we are working to change can be overwhelming, the to do list endless. But if we’re not bold – as a sector that inspires, creates, engages, serves, mentors, feeds, entertains in our communities across this province – I ask you – who else will be?

Today is a chance for us to be bold together. Audacious, even. To ask the right questions and push boundaries. To drive change.

Our annual conference is an important milestone in our yearly work – it provides us with an opportunity to identify new issues and trends, get feedback on current strategies, and engage directly with nonprofits across the province – and have fun and make new friends!

Of course, we can’t put everything we work on all year long in a one-day agenda. We work on sector wide issues as diverse as police records checks and nonprofit access to surplus public lands, corporations act and pensions, payday loans and community benefit agreements. About 30 policy files on the go right now…I’m not going to overwhelm you with the full list, don’t worry!

But there are big ideas that inform our work at ONN on the multitude of specific policies and files – here are our thoughts on ten big ideas that can strengthen our sector and inform our work (in no particular order).

1. Treat our people as our strongest asset. Remember we are employers and job creators and have a responsibility to provide decent work.

2. Ensure we have effective foundational legislation (primarily the Ontario Not for Profit Corporations Act) and explore new ways of governing.

3. Remove the obstacles for nonprofits to earn revenue for public benefit.

4. Modernize our funding relationship with government.

5. Harness our assets  – like our data – and our purchasing power.

6. Rethink evaluation: challenge the paradigm of how and why we’re measured.

7. Embrace what we are (instead of being defined by what we’re not – we’re not just “not-for-profit”. What are we for? We are are providers of community benefit. Contributors to community and economic wealth

8. Own advocacy with a Capital A. When nonprofits step up, democracy is stronger.

9. Collaborate – for real. Find unusual allies. Break down our silos.

10. Build and strengthen our networks to get stuff done.

Seizing Opportunities – our conference theme – is not just what these two days were about; it’s what the next year is about, too. We’re paying attention to our vital network, as the way we work enables us to dream so big and step forward.

So your task this year – our task – as members, actors and activists in our network: Be Bold. Drive Change. Seize Opportunities. The sector is you. This network is you.

Join our network. Be a part of the work we’re doing with and for Ontario’s nonprofit sector! 



  1. Gerry De Lauro Says: October 30, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    Great piece, especially #5…thanks for allowing HUB to participate!

  2. Dawn Dowling Says: November 11, 2015 at 2:27 pm

    People are our greatest asset. Enhancing capacity of our members, clients, participants putting many of us out of work might be our primary consideration. This might include yes Social Enterprise, Community Economic Development, Advocacy and Outreach for Housing, Wages, and Equity and yet 30 years in the sector what is our strategy to facilitate “our members” actualizing their potential? How are we meeting people where they are? How are we facilitating empowerment? How are we making ourselves non essential?

    • Kate Browning Says: November 16, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      Thank you for your great comments, questions, and insights, Dawn. A Labour Force strategy for the sector has been on our radar for years – and we’re pleased to be moving into the next phase of work through the Decent work project we’re undertaking with Mowat NFP & Toronto Neighbourhood Centres, supported by the Atkinson Foundation. We’ll be releasing new work from this project in the upcoming weeks that will address some of these questions, and with hope, set the stage for a sector-wide discussion about what Decent work means for our sector. At the same time, we think there is also great potential for financial structures that strengthen the sector and help us work toward sustainability and longevity. The discussion is ongoing, thanks for weighing in!

  3. Any suggestions of who might be a good contact to discuss this question?

    Examples of: plans/logic models/literature on: Computer/WWW access & learning (how to use) – projects for people living with a severe mental illness (SMI)?

    Does anyone have “good” example (s) of everything from learning/training to access to -computers and the www?

    Clearly there are differing approaches that could be taken such as:

    -point of view of neighborhood/community based support for “disadvantaged populations”

    -directly focused on people living with SMI,

    -computer “literacy”

    The aim here is to gather resources that begin to contribute to a broad community based yet localized (to a city) strategic approach to support people living with a severe mental illness who have little or no access to what is a key “Social Determent of Health.” – web/computer access to information.

    Bill Dare, Ottawa, ON