Moving towards network engagement in policy development

When Pillar began, we were modelled after the Calgary Chamber of Voluntary Organizations and, like them, a key objective in our organizational strategy was public policy. We had many discussions about being a “voice for the nonprofit sector” and not the “voice of the nonprofit sector.” The subtlety of “for” not “of” was about using a network approach in our public policy efforts. Today, we are mindful of balancing the need to find a collective voice for the sector for issues that impact us a whole and providing capacity building for our members so they have the tools and knowledge to advocate on the issues relevant to their missions. 

In the past, our strategy for engaging the network in public policy has been to lean on existing partners. Moving forward, we are committed to engaging our members and network more intentionally in developing our own policy priorities and strategy. Here are the ways we have engaged our network around public policy and an overview of our plans for the future.

Communicating our public policy strategy

Over the years, we have hosted several community conversations bringing together our non-profit and charity members to discuss how they are responding to the current political and economic climates. These conversations help us to both empower our members in their our policy efforts and determine how we can best represent the sector in our own policy strategy and our programming.

In 2008, we hosted a conversation centered on creating solutions for how the sector would handle the world-wide economic downturn. In turbulent economic times, it is important to stay focused on our missions and strategic directions as services and needs in the nonprofit and charitable sector increase as we see job loss, more people hungry, mental health problems on the rise and other challenges. Together we were able to generate actions and ideas to help navigate the challenging economic situation.  

Then again in 2009, we partnered with the London Community Foundation, Ontario Trillium Foundation and United Way London & Middlesex to host “Community Conversation Continued”. At the event, we summarized research, surveys and other community conversation reports to provide background and context about the current situation and the impact on the sector. We talked about the possible responses from organizations, networks, funders and government. 

Both the 2008 and 2009 community conversations led to us hosting the Innovation & Resilience Forum and also inspired our focus on social enterprise and cross sector collaboration; in particular connecting nonprofits with business and government. 

Fast forward to 2019, we hosted a policy conversation about navigating the new economic realities given the provincial budget in partnership with London Community Foundation, Mischievous Cat Productions Inc., and United Way Elgin and Middlesex. From the discussions, themes including information and resources sharing, financial resilience and diversifying funding, and future planning emerged. Along with each theme, we provided our response including resources and training opportunities.

We are mindful of balancing the need to find a collective voice for the sector for issues that impact us a whole and providing capacity building for our members so they have the tools and knowledge to advocate on the issues relevant to their missions.

Two further conversations have been planned including “Beyond the Talk” and “Getting to Action” that will focus on giving the network tools and information to build their own policy strategy and advocacy. We will also host “Future Forward Thinking” about how we prepare our organizations to be resilient in the face of shifts in government and shifts in our local and global contexts. 

Digital community animation 

Finding the right way to communicate our policy efforts with our network and keep the conversation going has been a challenge. We communicate to our members and network using policy alerts that are distributed by email and when there is relevant information to share and we have been experimenting with blogs. We are using the hashtags #policytalk and #nonprofitsadvocate in our social media to identify any posts that are related to public policy and advocacy. We also heard from our network the need to share available tools, information, and knowledge. Pillar’s digital online community has a #policytalk section for members to ask questions and exchange expertise and resources with others. 

Member exclusive content

One of the many benefits of being a Pillar member is that we send out member-only emails, which include policy updates, funding opportunities and resources. Our policy alerts and updates section are timely and aggregate the information and updates from our network partners including Ontario Nonprofit Network and Imagine Canada. 

Learning and development 

Our network also shared that boards require training and support about their role in public policy and government relations. We will be offering a session as part of our “All About Boards” program about how a nonprofit can build relationships at municipal, provincial and federal levels of government, and the role of governance volunteers in developing organizational strategy related to advocacy and public policy.

Policy and government relations committee 

One of the concrete ways we are looking to engage our network more in building our policy priorities and strategies is by expanding the mandate of our existing Policy and Government Relations Committee beyond our internal governance policy to include government relations. We are engaging our membership with experience in this area to be part of this committee to have the voices of our members and network to influence our priorities, approach and strategy.