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Reframing Leadership for Ontario’s Nonprofit Sector

Why a Plan for the Sector?

The community nonprofit sector employs over 600,000 employees and represents 2.6% of Ontario’s GDP. Like other work forces, it needs to recruit and retain skilled workers and leaders.

Despite its significant socio-economic impact, the sector’s identity as an employer has only started to take shape. Since ONN’s earliest outreach with the nonprofit sector, a comprehensive approach to labour force planning has been on the sector’s wish list. A lot of work has been done by dozens of sector leaders to shape the agenda over the last five years. But the sector had little province-wide data to help us understand human resource opportunities and challenges.

ONN focused on leadership in the first phase because we were seeing from literature reviews and trend analysis that we were facing a series of leadership challenges. Over 800 executive directors and senior leaders shared their insights, struggles, and potential solutions.

Shaping the Future: Leadership in Ontario’s Nonprofit Labour Force presents the first Ontario-specific data on key labour market issues for the 46,000 nonprofit organizations across the province. Findings will inform the first sector-wide strategy.

ONN teamed up with nonprofit and academic leaders of our Partners’ Advisory Council to frame and guide the work, with Mowat NFP as our research partner for Phase One.


What we learned- Five Key Themes

1. Competition

Nonprofits are facing stiff competition from other sectors to find and keep the right people and skills, at a time when there’s an increasing demand for services, and anticipated growth. Non-competitive wages and lack of career mobility/paths were identified as major challenges.

2. Changing the model

Nonprofit leaders are working under a strained model that is disconnecting them from the visions of their organizations, and constraining their capacity to lead change. With 50% of the sector made up of small organizations, a large portion of executive directors face a laundry list of responsibilities on top of governance and leadership. What can new models of leadership look like?

3. New skills

Connected to the theme above are new skills that are emerging as key priorities for successful leadership in the sector. Monitoring and evaluation, social entrepreneurship and leveraging technology are competencies leaders want to gain- and are looking for training opportunities to do so.

4. Leadership Gaps

The sector has a leadership gap coming up in the next five years, with no succession plans in place and a lack of opportunities for upcoming leaders to build experience. The sector needs an intentional pipeline, not only looking inside the sector but externally, to create these stepping stones.

5. Diversity

The sector must embrace the diversity of our communities and reflect this in leadership roles. While many people in the sector know we need to get better at leveraging immigrant talent from diverse cultures and communities, leaders struggle with how to apply it using creative tools to support inclusive hiring.


Next steps- the Sector’s Role

While these may be weighty challenges, the good news is that there are strategic opportunities for the sector to take action! ONN’s Labour Force working group is poised to move into the next stage, looking for best practices and initiating demonstration projects to address these areas. It’s a collective effort and leaders from across the sector need to get involved to make it work. We’re eager to hear from nonprofits about their best practices, ideas and tools for addressing these opportunities. We’ll then highlight existing measures and undertake pilot projects in Phase Three.

There’s a lot to tackle, but we see it as an exciting opportunity to shape the future of the sector and tap into the incredible insight and leadership within it to respond to these challenges. But we can’t do it alone- this needs to be a collective effort to have real impact, so we’re calling on Ontario’s nonprofit leaders to roll up their sleeves and join their colleagues in getting this work done.


Resources to dig in further on labour force:

Final Report: “Shaping the Future: Leadership in Ontario’s Nonprofit Labour Force”

Get connected- ONN Labour Force Work


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