April 30, 2024

#4 - How to Achieve the Changes We Need for a Stronger Social Sector

During some conversations with a few former prime ministers regarding the Disbursement Quota increase, I asked them about how to bring about a significant change in Ottawa to support the charity sector. Their brief responses were unanimous: "You don't. That's not how it works." - Ouch.  So much for wishful transformation!

The guidance I received, which I now believe is very sound, had a few components:

➔   Break the vision into small policy steps that can be approached incrementally.  

➔   To ensure clarity and avoid ambiguity, it is recommended to advocate for one 'ask' at a time. Once you achieve it, move on to the next priority.

➔   Avoid providing a long list of multiple ideas from which the government can choose one or two and then claim they listened and acted. -- Interestingly, the Senate Committee report for improving the charity sector in 2019 contained over 40 recommendations, most of which have been ignored. Perhaps there were too many requests?

➔   Be prepared to compromise. Maintain some flexibility

➔   And then the real insight: I was advised to make the ‘ask’ politically attractive, aligning it with the party’s plat form and/or the Ministerial Mandate Letters. In other words, it has to make for “good politics”.  


In Ottawa, change requires pragmatism, focus, and political savvy. Idealism, while noble, yields little in a democracy (short of a revolution). Embracing the realities of 'good politics' and incremental progress is essential for achieving tangible results.

Among the many requests of the Federal government, it has made few efforts to bolster the charity sector, with one notable exception: The increase in the Disbursement Quota (DQ). Why was this one change chosen among the many different 'asks'? Likely because it was good politics for the Liberal party - It aligned with their values of redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor, while not costing the public purse any money. Additionally, research indicated that it would appeal to the majority of taxpayers and voters.

If you're wondering why I'm focused on policy changes in Ottawa instead of allowing organizations to make improvements independently (voluntarily), I propose that it's the hands-off approach that has allowed our current social problems to persist, enabled the mass accumulation of wealth in foundation accounts sitting on the sidelines, and left us without collaborative leadership.  While grassroots initiatives and voluntary enhancements have merit, they lack the scale and consistency to drive enduring change.

What is needed are systemic solutions which ‘require’ improvement. Policy changes can have a quick and significant impact. For example, the proposed increase in the DQ to 5% is estimated to release an additional $1 billion annually for charitable purposes. This is the kind of scope and speed that policy changes can have (that did not happen voluntarily).

-  To reiterate a prior blog:  We shouldn't be approaching Ottawa to SOLVE all of the problems in the sector, but we do need to PARTNER with Ottawa to empower our sector with some innovative policy changes.


This prompts the question: what are the two to three most important strategic issues that we need to solve in the short term? This is the topic for our upcoming blogs. In the interim, I would love to hear your suggestions. - Meanwhile, please stay tuned and feel free to share this among your network.


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