Bruce Macdonald, President and CEO, Imagine Canada
1) How did you achieve what seems like a Herculean feat-of amazingly effective advocacy in the past 18 months? What can we in the Sector learn from you regarding this success?
First, it is important to stress that the advances we have seen in advocacy efforts at the federal level have been the result of a collective effort. Many organizations have participated in making sure that Members of Parliament and civil servants have heard about the importance of investing in charities and non-profits. We are continuing to learn about how to ensure that our sector is on the ‘front burner’ when key decisions are being made, but persistence, sector cohesion and relevance to Canadians and their communities continue to be core aspects of our advocacy work.
2) Much has been said about the challenges and opportunities the Sector faced during the pandemic. In an ideal world what macro level changes do we need to make as a society to address the seemingly insurmountable problems we face as a society?
I believe it is important that charities and non-profits are viewed as equal partners, alongside business and government, in creating and maintaining the kinds of communities we want to have. As such, ensuring that sector leaders are part of the conversation when solutions are being created is absolutely essential. In many cases, it will be charities, non-profits and social entrepreneurs that are called upon to deliver programs and services in communities right across the country. With decades of expertise and insights to share, being part of the development of solutions will allow those decisions to be informed by the very organizations that will be asked to implement them. Being part of ongoing roundtables on particular issues, creating a permanent home in the federal government for the sector and investing in core funding for sector organizations will be aspects that support our sector’s ability to contribute to these long-term solutions.
3) Can you comment on the issue of the value of digitization of the Sector-the advantages/drawbacks and your vision of how it needs to proceed going forward?
It has been interesting to hear from organizations about the rapid advancement of digital practices during the pandemic. I do not think that any part of our sector’s operations has been unaffected. From new ways of delivering programs to connecting with donors to working with volunteers, all aspects of our work are being examined through a digital lens. As it relates to becoming digital organizations, the pandemic has shone a spotlight on outdated ways of thinking about organizational health and resilience. So many organizations were caught unprepared to rapidly adapt and change to operating almost exclusively in a digital fashion. For decades, investment in computers, technology, staff with digital expertise etc. have been viewed as aspects of overhead or administration rather than being central to the health and resilience of organizations – enabling innovation, advancing evidence-based learning, and creating meaningful data about impact. I am hopeful that a legacy of the pandemic will be a shift in funding practices – a move away from restricted funding programs to ones that encourage meaningful investment in digital capacity to strengthen the overall organization.
4) How is your organization adapting its structures and processes to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion are top of mind? What changes/adaptations do you foresee for the Sector moving forward?
Imagine Canada is mindful that any comment or actions it supports related to anti-racism and anti-oppression must be ‘backed up’ with real progress internally. Our Board and staff are examining all aspects of our work and trying to understand how they can be improved. Guided by a comprehensive anti-racism roadmap, we have begun the process of ensuring that anti-racism practices are part of the organization’s DNA. From redesigning our hiring procedures, creating an anti-racism book club for staff, working alongside our Board on an overarching narrative to guide our work, the team is committed to long term change. At a sector level, we believe that organizations must truly reflect the communities they serve and as those communities’ change, so too must the organizations. It will be essential to look at how Board Directors are being recruited, internal hiring practices, advancement, and development policies etc. This is going to be a truly transformative time for our sector.
5) The Sector appears to be facing a major problem with staff shortages and recruitment challenges at present. We need talented young people to keep the momentum of change going forward. Do you have any thoughts on this that you would like to share?
In the near term, this may be one of the biggest challenges facing the sector. Private sector companies were talking about labour market shortages before the pandemic and are now facing the Great Resignation. We are starting to see companies create incentives to attract and retain staff. It is unlikely that charities and non-profits will be able to match companies in offering things like signing bonuses to attract staff. Leaders in our sector are going to need to ensure that time and energy is spent on creating the best possible work environments, working to have transparent and competitive compensation systems, investing in talent development etc. Thinking about how we can bring in and keep our best people will be of critical importance. Recognizing that most organizations do not have paid staff dedicated to human resources, Imagine Canada, along with an array of partners, has just launched HR Intervals. This website offers a suite of free resources to assist busy leaders improve their work on many aspects of their people and culture work.