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Budget 2015: Highlights for Nonprofits

Photo-Budget2015The Alberta budget was announced on March 26, 2015. The response at Volunteer Alberta was both relief and concern for the impact of the budget on the voluntary sector. With the lead up to the budget and the speculation of massive cuts due to the economic downturn, we were bracing for deeper program cuts. While we were relieved that many voluntary sector programs and services were maintained, we are concerned about the 5% cuts to grant funding mechanisms (Boards, Foundations and Commissions) for nonprofits and potential impact of the diminished charitable tax credit. The new economic situation in Alberta will have some lasting effects on the nonprofit sector.

The budget was, as Jim Prentice said, “fiscally responsible” balancing increased revenue and reduced spending. However, it was refreshing to hear that the government is committed to supporting families and communities, and protecting lower income and vulnerable Albertans.

Here is what we know:

Alberta anticipated a $7 billion shortfall in revenues for 2015. The Government of Alberta needed to look for ways to increase revenue streams while slowing down government spending. Minister Campbell delivered a budget for Alberta that included “responsible spending” and an increase in revenues streams by $1.5 billion.

We prepared a highlight of relevant budget items that may be important to Volunteer Alberta members and across the nonprofit sector.

Human Services

  • Front-line programs will be maintained
  • Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) funding has been maintained at $76M
  • Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) and Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) have a slight increase to their budgets to accommodate anticipated growth

Culture and Tourism

  • Maintained funding for Community Facility Enhancement Programs (CFEP)
  • Alberta Foundation for the Arts budget is decreased by $1.4M
  • Alberta Sport, Recreation, Parks and Wildlife Foundation budget is decreased by $2M
  • Community and Voluntary Support Services (which includes program support, community engagement and the Community Initiatives Program) decreased by $1.54M
    • This reduction includes $1.2M from Community Initiatives Program (CIP)

A few other points of interest for the nonprofit sector include:

Even though Vitalize funding was reduced by $90,000 this year, this valuable nonprofit sector conference is still in-place. We are thankful for this opportunity for the members of the sector to connect and learn together once again.

After talking to our partners in the Government of Alberta, we confirmed that the Serving Communities Internship Program (SCiP) funding was maintained and more than 800 internships will benefit the sector throughout the rest of this year and into 2016.

Communities will be affected by the Municipal Sustainability Initiative decrease, however, nearly $880M will still be invested in municipal infrastructure projects in 2015-16.

Changes to the charitable tax credit: the tax credit will be lowered from 21% to 12.75% (rates equal to 2007) for donations above $200. The reduction in the tax credit will save the province $90M per year We  do not yet have a clear understanding of the impact of this change on charitable contributions, but will continue to explore this and engage partners in dialogue and/or research

According to the 2013 General Social Survey from Stats Canada, Albertans have the highest amount donated every year across Canada with an average of $861/person.

We are still breaking down the numbers and understanding what this budget will mean for the nonprofit sector. It may take time and further conversations with our sector partners as well as those in government to fully understand the longer term impact on the nonprofit sector.

For more information about the budget please see CCVO news release and the Government of Alberta 2015 Budget website. Volunteer Alberta is committed to supporting your voice to government when budget and policy affect your ability to do your work, at the grassroots level, supporting civic engagement and social wellbeing.

Let us know your thoughts on the budget. We want to hear about your issues and concerns as well as any areas of relief you may wish to share.

Jennifer Esler
Volunteer Alberta


Time to Reflect


ed10vi / photo on flickr

With so much recent attention directed to oil prices and the upcoming provincial budget, I have had quite a lot of time to reflect on “strategies for managing with less”.  Volunteer Alberta has been in discussions internally and with our stakeholders about past and impending budget cuts and their impact on the nonprofit/voluntary sector and our collective clients. In discussions with government staff, politicians, corporations, and nonprofits about their concerns and considerations, I have arrived at an overarching question: WHY?

Why would Albertans diminish their ability to lead and govern organizations, address homelessness, support people living with barriers, champion creative endeavours, increase literacy skills, engage people in the things that matter to them, and build inclusive communities?

Why do we focus on scarcity?

Why would we limit ability to contribute to community building and social wellbeing for all?

Isn’t quality of life the very reason we are such a great province?

Being a capacity builder and network of organizations, Volunteer Alberta hears about the struggles to juggle all the roles within a nonprofit, attract great people in a competitive salary market and advance the great cause nonprofit organizations were formed to serve. We also hear how much people care: people who contribute, people who serve, people being served, and people who work in the organizations that fund nonprofits.

The 2015 Provincial Government Budget is set to be released March 26, 2015. The media is full of stories about economic challenges to be addressed in Alberta. Many in the Voluntary sector have expressed concern about the impact of the budget and worry about survival in an environment of decreased funding from not only government, but also from corporate and philanthropic means. Here are some of the things I worry about:

  • Can organizations navigate the volatile economic environment?
  • Will decreased funding undermine our ability to engage citizens in voluntary contribution?
  • Will some of the 187,000 nonprofit jobs in Alberta be lost?
  • Will we lose vital services delivered by the voluntary sector when we know economic downturn increases demand for human services?
  • How can we help organizations transition to a new realities in a healthy manner?
  • Can we use this crisis to learn how to work more collaboratively to achieve social outcomes?
  • Can the voluntary sector step into leadership and find pathways with all sectors to work better, together?

So why DO we have to continually worry about funding for organizations working toward social wellbeing, which is an outcome that crosses all sectors?  After all, we are all people, talking to people, regardless of jobs, roles or positions. We can all listen, learn and act to adapt to changing environments and ensure that Alberta continues to be a province where we care about each other.

Most importantly, we can all influence someone, or many, if we continue the dialogue about the value in maintaining a healthy and resilient voluntary sector. Resources come in many currencies: time, skills, money and goods. If all Albertans – citizens, nonprofits, government, and business – contribute in a strategic and collective manner, Alberta can continue to grow into a province where citizens are engaged and society as a whole works towards building vibrant communities.

Great communities are built on a continuum of inclusion, participation, and engagement for a better quality of life for all.  Strong nonprofit organizations are a platform for citizen engagement. As citizens we influence budgets and public policy by effectively using our voice.

My call to action for you today is:

Start talking more and more often about how you feel about vital stakeholder contributions to social wellbeing.
Share how you participate and contribute to community and why you think it is important.

It’s a great story that citizens, leaders, funders and decision makers must continue to hear. Let’s keep the conversation going!

Jann Beeston, Executive Director
Volunteer Alberta

The Nonprofit Narrative: Are We Sharing The Whole Story?

storyLately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the importance of the narrative in the nonprofit sector. More and more, we are being told to tell our stories, and with good reason. The story is the core of an organization; it is both an organization’s raison d’être and its most significant tool.

With the breadth of diversity in the nonprofit sector, our organizational narratives are varied and unique, depending on our cause and mission. But often, our narrative as a sector can be condensed to one word: heart. We care. We’re here to help, to give, and above all, to do good.

But are we saying everything we want to say as a sector? An increasing number of people suggest that there should be more to the story. The nonprofit sector in Canada employs 2 million people and accounts for 8.1% of Canada’s GDP, and many agree that it’s time to bring that to the table.

There is a wide range of opinions on the economic role of the nonprofit sector:

  • Some, like Robert Egger, a nonprofit activist and social entrepreneur in the U.S., envision a world where nonprofits are equal partners in the economy, arguing in a 2011 interview that the work of nonprofits “enables businesses to make profit”.
  • Dan Pallotta, American entrepreneur and activist, asserts in his book Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential that the nonprofit sector is at a severe disadvantage to the for-profit sector, and needs to advocate for its economic rights.

While there is a fair amount of disagreement, the idea that we should be portraying ourselves as major economic players has certainly gained traction.

Brian Emmett, Chief Economist for Canada’s Charitable and Nonprofit Sector at Imagine Canada, recently suggested that the nonprofit sector needs a new, stronger message as a mature, essential part of the economy. He writes that the nonprofit sector not only improves quality of life, but that it “provides people with a community in which to live and participate, to volunteer and donate, and to make a difference in the country and world around us. …charities provide the opportunity to be fully human, the opportunity to participate in imagining what Canada can be.”

Most of all, it is this last opinion that resonates with me. In the very human, heartfelt act of responding to the needs of others, the nonprofit sector has managed to accomplish so much more, establishing strong, vibrant and collaborative communities from which everyone – nonprofit, for-profit and individual – benefits. Socially and economically, the impact of the nonprofit sector’s work is immense. Now that’s a story worth sharing!

Read Jennifer’s recent post “Nonprofit storytelling tips” for some things to consider when sharing your organization’s stories.

Rachel Pereira, Program and Administrative Coordinator

Who will you be thinking of on Giving Tuesday?

Courtesy of Calgary Herald

Courtesy of Calgary Herald

Giving Tuesday is a spin-off event from American Thanksgiving that serves as a response to consumer-driven days Black Friday and Cyber Monday. It may have originated in the United States in 2012, but Canadians enthusiastically embraced the Giving Tuesday concept and brought it north of the border last year. December 2 will mark the 2nd annual Giving Tuesday Canada, and whether you participate or not, it serves as a reminder that the “giving season” is upon us.

When faced with the range of causes to choose from, people often determine certain causes meaningful to them that they focus their donations on. Over the years the cause I have focussed a majority of my donations on is homelessness.

To some Albertans, winter means great outdoor activities, and to others it means having to deal with frozen car batteries and slippery sidewalks. But for those Albertans without a home, it can be a very dangerous time. The fact is, on many winter nights, Alberta’s homeless face potentially fatal temperatures. Homelessness is a complex issue, and in our frozen climate it is an especially serious one. Fortunately, there are amazing Alberta nonprofits, in cooperation with municipal and provincial governments, working towards eliminating homelessness in this province, and there are other great organizations on the front lines bringing people in from the cold and giving them a good meal.

The results of the recently released 2014 Point-in-Time Homeless Count, conducted across Alberta by 7 Cities on Housing and Homelessness and the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, revealed that there are currently 6399 homeless Albertans. That number is down from 7657 in 2008, so progress is being made in the effort to end homelessness, but that is of no comfort to those left out in the cold.

I am inspired by the work of organizations fighting to end homelessness, like Homeward Trust, Medicine Hat Community Housing Society and the Calgary Homeless Foundation; and those organizations helping Alberta’s homeless on a day to day basis, such as the Bissell Centre, Hope Mission, The Mustard Seed (Edmonton & Calgary), The Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre, in addition to the many other organizations doing great work. On Giving Tuesday, and throughout the holiday season, I will be thinking of the thousands of individuals across Alberta without food or shelter.

That’s where my donations will be going. But, Alberta has about 25,000 registered nonprofits that are working tirelessly to make this is a better province to live for everyone. There are excellent organizations in every subsector, and they all deserve the support of our donations and volunteer hours.

What cause do you donate to? Who will you be giving to on Giving Tuesday?

Tim Henderson, Program and Communications Coordinator

Can nonprofits influence economic development?

Edmonton_Skyline06-MThe other day on my way into work I stopped at a new coffee shop here in Edmonton. Besides the good quality coffee and tasty breakfast sandwich, the unique location of Burrow Central Station is what sets this cafe apart. It is the first business of its kind in Edmonton to be located underground, connected to Edmonton’s Light Rail Transit system (LRT). I think it represents a great shift for the city and demonstrates the evolution occurring in this urban space to make it more liveable. As I walked away sipping on a fresh poured cup I began to think about what some of the contributing factors might be that allowed for this business to open?

Of course, there are the obvious contributing factors; economic, entrepreneurial, political, and social. It is within each of these factors that I see nonprofit sector activities contributing to the opening of Burrow. Nonprofit economic development organizations and downtown community leagues have continually advocated that city administration should be open to possibilities and support opportunities that lead to a more vibrant downtown. This conversation influenced the last municipal election and many candidates included in their platforms ideas for creating a more livable city. Additionally, the owner of Burrow has acknowledged that LRT ridership levels were previously not high enough to make a business like this viable. Many nonprofit organizations have been at the forefront of advocating that increased access to public transportation, and that increased use will result in reduced environmental impacts, better use of resources, and increases in economic opportunities. Edmontonians are now choosing to take the train more and this is, at least partially, a result of the efforts of these nonprofits. Ridership on the LRT is now around 20,000 people per day, which makes businesses in LRT stations a growing possibility.

Burrow is also connected to arts and culture through a creative idea to put poems and short stories on the coffee cup sleeves from the Edmonton Public Library, another nonprofit. Every patron at Burrow takes with them a connection to the arts and culture talent in the community and helps develop a sense among the patrons that they are living in a dynamic and vibrant community.

When we say that the nonprofit sector is at the centre of community we often site the frontline services provided and tend to forget that the nonprofit sector also exerts significant influence in shaping community. Through advocating for causes and working to meet missions, nonprofit organizations are continually working to improve our communities. The more tangible outcomes of their work may be the clients served and services provided, but the complex outcomes are often expressed through the changes in behaviours and development of new opportunities. Although it is appropriate to applaud new business and entrepreneurs for their ingenuity, we should spend time to look at how different sectors, including the nonprofit sector, operate together and generate new potential. The Burrow Central Station coffee shop represents these cross-sectoral relationships and helps bring to light the nonprofit sectors subtle, steady impact.

Annand Ollivierre, Program Manager

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