Imagine Canada has put out a call for reforms to the way the federal government provides grants and contributions: “Making government grants work for communities”. The final line in the article states, “It’s time for a new era of trust and collaboration between non-profits and the government, and it can start with reimagining funding agreements.”
This issue has been out there for a terribly long time. Many years before I became involved in literacy, I was actively engaged in the issue of how the federal government treats charities and voluntary organizations. I first became aware when working with a national organization in 1978, when I read People in Action, the 1977 Report of the National Advisory Council on Voluntary Action. That report called for, among other things, minimum three-year funding agreements, sustaining (core) funding, and project funds that cover the design, administration and evaluation of projects.
I participated in the National Voluntary Organizations (NVO) Consultation ‘81, which called for simplifying and reducing conditions imposed on voluntary sector funding, the use of grants rather than contributions, and inter-governmental coordination.
Again at the NVO’s Consultation ‘84, delegates challenged the way in which the federal government treats the voluntary sector, not as a partner but as subservient to it. By this time, after a few years working for the NVO, I was recruited to join the Department of Secretary of State to work on the voluntary sector file which I did in various capacities until I got involved in literacy in 1989.
Of course, these issues directly affect literacy organizations and so I’ve continued to have a keen interest in them, not least of all because of the 1999 so-called “Grants and Contributions Crises” and the impact it had on how we did business at the National Literacy Secretariat (you can read my opinions on that situation here: literacies – From community development and partnerships to accountability).
These efforts continued with the 1999 Panel on Accountability and Governance in the Voluntary Sector, chaired by Ed Broadbent, that called for core funding and the development of joint funding principles. On the heels of this report came the 2001 Accord between the Government of Canada and the Voluntary Sector and A Code of Good Practice on Funding facilitated through the joint Voluntary Sector Initiative which lasted from 2000 to 2006. In the good practice code, the federal government committed to use multi-year funding agreements, allow for infrastructure type costs, recognize the various capacities of organizations to access funding, transparency, and appropriate levels of monitoring. The Imagine Canada article cites several more recent efforts to make the case for an improved relationship between the voluntary sector and the federal government.
All this to say, the inability of the federal government to reconcile its desire to forge a partnership with its apparent belief that grants and contributions need to be micro-managed has been going on for some time. You can sense my frustration – over 40 years later, the issues remain the same. What is different today is the lack of federal government attention to the voluntary sector’s issues since 2006 (although the Senate report dealt with the issues as they relate to registered charities).
The voluntary sector plays a pivotal role in the delivery of services, innovation, coordination, and research. Underfunding is an obvious concern but so too is the lack of trust, the “nickel and dime-ing” of groups, project funding with no provision for the true costs of administration, the absence of core funding, and the lack of evaluation and sharing of outcomes.
Imagine Canada is well positioned to lead this effort. I’d encourage literacy organizations and anyone working in the voluntary sector to check out their site: https://imaginecanada.ca/en