October 15, 2012

How Government Threats Can Spark Nonprofits to Act

Photo courtesy of Karim Rizkallah

Members of the Centre for Social Innovation in Toronto attend a monthly innovation salon. The Centre gives social-good groups a shared working space to exchange ideas and resources.

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When the provincial government in Ontario, Canada, proposed legislation that would have forced many charities in the province to lose their tax-exempt status, a group of nonprofit leaders decided they needed to work together.

The result was the Ontario Nonprofit Network, which represents 6,000 organizations and now exerts a strong influence over policy decisions involving nonprofits in the province, says Tonya Surman, founder of the Centre for Social Innovation, in Toronto.

The groups were responding to what Ms. Surman calls a "magnetic attractor."

"A magnetic attractor alters an ecosystem," she says. "It reignites action on the part of the people and organizations in that ecosystem."

Many U.S. nonprofits are facing their own magnetic attractors as budget shortfalls have prompted the federal government and states from coast to coast to slash billions from nonprofits.

In the face of those threats, she says, nonprofits need to band together to advocate on their own behalf, forge new alliances, and connect with supporters in new ways.

Ms. Surman, whose organization provides shared working spaces to more than 350 social-good groups in Toronto, discusses how nonprofits can fight harmful policies by working with other organizations, even though some of the allies may have different goals and political views.

Hildy Gottlieb is the co-founder of Creating the Future and author of "The Pollyanna Principles: Reinventing 'Nonprofit Organizations' to Create the Future of Our World." In this podcast, Making Change, she interviews leaders to discuss how those who are working for the greater good can effect more social change. New episodes of Making Change appear once a month.