Much of my paid and volunteer work over the years has focused on community development and community leadership in various voluntary and nonprofit organizations. Yet, regardless of where I worked and the creativity, innovation, and impact of our teams, we continually struggled to justify our work and advocate for the benefits and outcomes we delivered.
For reasons beyond me, quality of life never quite seems to measure up to the economic development on the other side of the ledger.
While this may be a legally valid decision by the residing government, in my opinion its not only short-sighted, its also an ethical violation of the intent and mandate of the Trillium Foundation when it was established in 2004. The intent was to establish a Foundation funded by government lotteries that would be directed and managed by volunteers with a mandate "to build healthy and vibrant communities in Ontario by strengthening the capacity of the voluntary sector, through investments in community-based initiatives".
What is very clear within this mandate is that there was never an intent for any lottery funding to be used to offset core government responsibilities. Instead it is about the voluntary or nonprofit sector (NOT the government sector) and "community-based" initiatives.
Why do I believe it is so critical to maximize the revenue flowing to the Ontario Trillium Foundation? It is rather simple. If we fail to prioritize an investment in quality of life, our personal, social, and environmental health and wellbeing will be jeopardized - in the end costing taxpayers even more money.
When there is an imbalance and the economy is deemed more important than happiness and quality of life, our health care costs escalate, social capacity is reduced, civic engagement lessens, the environment is not prioritized, levels of income disparity increase, community resiliency wanes, investment in learning, growth and development decreases, crime increases, and innovation declines.
The community organizations who have benefited from the Trillium Foundation (and others like them) reflect resourcefulness, resilience, and determination in communities across Ontario to serve, train, advocate, mentor, protect, care, strengthen, develop, support, build, create, and entertain. They’re doing it within many areas of activity - social services, health, education and research, environment, development and housing, arts and culture, sport and recreation, advocacy and policy, philanthropy and volunteerism.
They support us in our time of need, lobby for our rights, learn and teach new skills, build and maintain community halls and parks, plant gardens and trees, provide music, dance and put on shows, offer advice and assistance, provide prenatal and palliative care and everything in between, enrich our lives with leisure activities, teach us about health issues, run recycling and nature appreciation programs and organize community events and festivals.
Those within the non-profit sector are responsible for work that improves our quality of life through shared interactions, events, and celebrations, enables people from diverse backgrounds to join up and join in, provides opportunities for people to share responsibility, and ensure responsive and relevant services.
Today the sector responsible for this work is struggling as the result of ongoing, declining funding, staff turnover that is the result of falling wages, as well as a growing gap in working conditions between the non-profit sector and the private and government sectors. These challenges are compounded by the unstable employment that is the result of less long term secure funding from government and foundations and more one-off project and contract funding.
We’re already seeing a serious, negative impact on the capacity of these organizations to serve our communities. The stories of these challenges don’t typically make headlines so it’s not a story many fully understand but we need to pay attention because we’re heading toward conditions that will have grave consequences for our communities. For sure we need the economic impact that the business sector provides. On the other hand, without the jobs, volunteers and services provided by the non-profit sector, we may not have the kind of communities where we want to live.
Ultimately, like many things in life, it’s all about balance.