Non-prof­its are a re­source wait­ing in the wings


While the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem in New­found­land and Labrador is pri­mar­ily a two-party sys­tem, the par­ties sel­dom share power. When vot­ers go to the polls, of­ten their pri­mary pur­pose is not to vote for the rep­re­sen­ta­tive of their choice, but to get whichever party is in power out. Con­se­quently, ev­ery six to eight years, a land­slide vote oc­curs and a new ad­min­is­tra­tion moves into the Con­fed­er­a­tion Build­ing, of­ten with very lit­tle ex­pe­ri­ence in gov­ern­ing. The new ad­min­is­tra­tion, keen to undo the mis­takes of the pre­vi­ous in­cum­bent, gen­er­ally sets out a bold new strat­egy — for­get­ting that pol­i­tics is the art of the pos­si­ble. De­spite the cau­tions of civil ser­vants who have seen it all be­fore, the new ad­min­is­tra­tion makes brave prom­ises and plans only to dis­cover they lack the re­sources to carry out their ideas even though help is avail­able.

Good lead­ers use ev­ery re­source at their dis­posal. In New­found­land and Labrador, there are thou­sands of ca­pa­ble, ex­pe­ri­enced, knowl­edge­able, and hard-work­ing peo­ple who yearn to make their prov­ince a bet­ter place. Th­ese peo­ple are called vol­un­teers and they op­er­ate more than 3,000 non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions across the prov­ince. Al­most half of all New­found­lan­ders and Labrado­ri­ans over 15 years old vol­un­teer. On av­er­age, each vol­un­teer do­nates 151 hours a year to so­cial causes, a to­tal of more than 30 mil­lion hours. Th­ese ef­forts have huge eco­nomic ef­fects. In 2015, The Com­mu­nity Sec­tor Coun­cil New­found­land and Labrador, in con­junc­tion with Me­mo­rial Uni­ver­sity, an­a­lyzed the eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tions of 45 non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions around St. John’s. They found that th­ese or­ga­ni­za­tions spent al­most $61 mil­lion an­nu­ally, creat­ing 1,200 full-time jobs, and that this re­sulted in more than $169 mil­lion be­ing spent on sales, goods, and ser­vices. This is not chump change. Non-prof­its have knowl­edge and ex­per­tise of which gov­ern­ments could make use.

Vol­un­teers work­ing through non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions work in schools, hos­pi­tals, li­braries, com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions, tourism, youth recre­ational groups, en­vi­ron­men­tal groups, so­cial clubs, and more. Vol­un­tary or­ga­ni­za­tions are cen­tral to pros­per­ous and suc­cess­ful democ­ra­cies. They build net­works of trust and rec­i­proc­ity, they re­flect com­mon as­pi­ra­tions, and they are skilled at rais­ing money and us­ing it to good ef­fect. While gov­ern­ments im­pose taxes and de­cide how to spend them, non-prof­its ap­peal to donors’ bet­ter selves to raise funds and then demo­crat­i­cally de­cide how to use them. Yet, there is some­times a so­cial stigma at­tached to the term “vol­un­teer,” as though vol­un­teers are wellmean­ing am­a­teurs but not up to the skill lev­els of pro­fes­sion­als. This dis­par­ity is most com­mon when gov­ern­ments are deal­ing with vol­un­teer or­ga­ni­za­tions; their at­ti­tude is of­ten tainted with ideas like: “We are the gov­ern­ment and we know what is best for you. We wel­come your help but we are in charge.”

The lead or­ga­ni­za­tion for non-prof­its in New­found­land and Labrador is the Com­mu­nity Sec­tor Coun­cil (CSC), whose mis­sion is to in­te­grate so­cial and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and pro­vide lead­er­ship in shap­ing pub­lic poli­cies. For 40 years the CSC has worked to in­crease its mem­bers’ knowl­edge and abil­i­ties through train­ing ses­sions and sem­i­nars with lead­ers in the field of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment. Now non-prof­its have reached a tip­ping point in their de­vel­op­ment. CSC Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer Pene­lope Rowe says: “Non-profit groups col­lec­tively are com­ing-of-age. For years work­ing in the trenches ad­dress­ing client needs, ex­ist­ing on a shoe­string-and-a-half, apol­o­giz­ing for seek­ing ad­e­quate re­sources while be­ing ex­pected to do ex­tra­or­di­nary ser­vices with­out a steady flow of in­come, non-prof­its are now as­sertively ar­tic­u­lat­ing pol­icy di­rec­tions and es­pous­ing fresh ideas to ad­dress com­plex prob­lems. If ever there was a time when the in­ge­nu­ity of non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions should be para­mount, it is now.”

The prob­lem is that the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors are too of­ten con­sid­ered the es­sen­tial play­ers and non-prof­its a pe­riph­eral sec­tor. Rowe says it’s a view that is out of date. The com­mu­nity sec­tor has thou­sands of peo­ple who are knowl­edge­able, savvy, nim­ble, adapt­able, ef­fi­cient, and ef­fec­tive — qual­i­ties one sel­dom hears in de­scrib­ing gov­ern­ment.

Non-prof­its are an army of vol­un­teers who want to see their prov­ince grow. But they want to do more than throw ideas and sug­ges­tions over the gar­den wall in the hope that gov­ern­ment might act on them. Non-prof­its want to be part of the eco­nomic process. They want a for­mal frame­work, a part­ner­ship with gov­ern­ment through which they can bring their ideas to the ta­ble and be in­te­grated into gov­ern­ment pol­icy. This should not be dif­fi­cult. Com­mu­nity vol­un­teers could be ap­pointed to a spe­cial democ­racy ad­vi­sory board or play a role in re­vi­tal­iz­ing leg­isla­tive com­mit­tees. Bring­ing vol­un­teers and civil ser­vants to­gether to ex­plore com­mon aims could ben­e­fit both groups and re­sult in huge ex­changes of use­ful knowl­edge.

What is needed is the po­lit­i­cal will to in­te­grate vol­un­teers. For­tu­nately, politi­cians are well aware of the value of vol­un­teers. If it were not for vol­un­teers, how would politi­cians seek­ing elec­tion or­ga­nize their ef­forts? How would they find peo­ple to put up signs, do fundrais­ing, phone can­vass, knock on doors, li­aise with the me­dia, or drive the house-bound to polling sta­tions? Vol­un­teers have their own ma­ture or­ga­ni­za­tions and want to use their knowl­edge in the gov­er­nance of their prov­ince. Who bet­ter to cham­pion their de­sire than politi­cians? Non-profit vol­un­teers are a group whose time has come. They are wait­ing in the wings.

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