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How I spent my summer vacation

By Benjamin Miller

The Ontario Nonprofit Network has been studying the way the government funds nonprofits through transfer payments for many years. I was brought on this summer as a research fellow to take a fresh look at these relationships.

I started by reading through Ontario’s core policy statements like the Transfer Payment Accountability Directive and the Transfer Payment Operational Policy Agreement, and the government’s template agreement. If you want to understand the system, these policies are great places to start.

With a high level grasp of Ontario’s system, I began looking around at how other provinces and countries fund their nonprofits. I was immediately struck by how, despite the many differences, governments and nonprofits everywhere seemed to want the same things: accountability and partnership.

Once I understood the key concerns and some of the different ways of handling them, I returned my focus to Ontario for a deeper dive. I interviewed sector leaders, public servants, and lawyers to understand how these policies are put into practice. They shared their rich and diverse experiences with me. I began to see how, while there might be a common framework across Ontario, each relationship is unique.

Still, common themes emerged from listening to people’s stories and reading dozens of academic and professional articles. A risk-averse culture in government drives increasing regulatory demands and discourages open communication with nonprofits. At the same time, a nonprofit can do simple things like meeting your funding supervisor in person to build the kind of trusting relationships in which open communication and innovation are possible.

Overall, I was humbled by the complexity of the system and by the tireless efforts of nonprofit and government professionals who work to meet the needs of their programs’ clients and participants. Going forward, I am optimistic that there are many simple things each nonprofit can start doing immediately, if they don’t already, to build better relationships with government funders. Nonprofits need to be bold and intentional in seeking and shaping the kind of relationships they want with their funders.

If you’re interested in my research findings, you can find more detail in a briefing I wrote. The briefing offers greater detail on the difficulties that streamlined cross-governmental frameworks face in this area, as well as some of the sources of the risk-averse culture described above.

Briefing

Benjamin Miller is a summer fellow from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and School of Public Policy and Governance.


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