Scaling Impact: Canadian Experiences Part 2

Social Finance - Wed, 06/26/2013 - 06:24

By Sara Bartolomeo

My first post summarized the recent Pathways to Growth report by Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, which identifies the key activities undertaken by non-profits that are successfully scaling impact, and also the key grantmaker practices that support non-profits’ efforts to achieve this impact. While the report referenced two Canadian organizations (Roots of Empathy and JUMP Math) as part of its case studies, little is otherwise mentioned about the status of Canadian high-performing non-profits and the grantmakers that support them. As such, I decided to investigate further into how Canadian non-profits are faring in terms of scaling their impact and the challenges that they face.

In recent years, various resources and strategies have been created to foster growth and innovation in the non-profit sector. One key initiative has been the National Engagement Strategy (NES) launched by Imagine Canada in 2009 to enhance the sector's effectiveness and impact across Canada and around the world. The strategy outlined four priority areas in its Framework for Action: diversified and sustainable financing; better understanding of the sector and its impact; enhanced support for organizations to engage volunteers/external talent, and; improved conditions for the attraction and retention of paid staff.

Four years later, NES has made significant progress, especially with regards to supporting diversified and sustainable financing streams. Amongst the many initiatives undertaken, a few of the highlights include the transformation of Canada’s Directory to Foundations & Corporations into GrantConnect, a bilingual database and funding research tool. Available to non-profits through a subscription, the database provides access to information on thousands of funders and enables non-profits to more strategically pursue fundraising opportunities. 

Imagine Canada has also taken steps to better understand and communicate the impact of the non-profit sector, as demonstrated by the recent appointment of the organization’s first Chief Economist.

Outside of the National Engagement Strategy, other initiatives have launched to support Canadian non-profits in achieving revenue independence. For instance, the Community Forward Fund was created to provide loans and financial coaching to charities and to non-profits. The fund serves as a much needed financing option for small and medium-sized non-profit organizations that want to invest in infrastructure or projects outside of their normal operations. Launched in March 2012, its contribution to the sector has already been recognized, as noted by itsSocial Finance Award nomination last fall.  

Though many non-profits still are lacking the internal capacity to implement performance measurement activities, there are various resources that non-profits can use to benchmark their performance and that grantmakers can use for evaluation purposes.

One such resource is the Fraser Institute's annual Donner Non-Profit Performance Report, which analyzes Canadian non-profits in the social services sector. The 2012 edition evaluated over 554 organizations against ten performance measures, many of which are cited in the Pathways to Growth Report as indicators of high performing non-profits. The organizations are then evaluated relative to one another for ranking. Though the social services sector represents just under a quarter of all non-profit economic activity in Canada, the evaluation framework included in the report is nonetheless another useful tool for current or prospective donors and grantmakers to use.

In closing, as alternative financing and revenue streams for the non-profit sector continue to emerge and outcome measurement capabilities become more important to grantmakers, these organizations' will be able to scale their impact much more effectively.