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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston
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News

National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector 2011


National Summit for the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector 2011

Ottawa, Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Good morning.

Let me begin by acknowledging the hard work of everyone here who has helped to create one of the strongest—and one of the best—non-profit sectors in the world today. You are, in a word, inspiring or, in my grandchildren’s words, something awesome.

I would especially like to thank Marcel Lauzière, President and CEO of Imagine Canada, for inviting me to speak at the National Summit for the Charitable and Non-profit Sector, an important next step in our dialogue on the state of this third sector of society.

Under his leadership, Imagine has become a leading organization not only in research, but also in innovative ideas for non-profits.

As you know, I have made it a mission during my time as governor general to speak about the importance of volunteerism and philanthropy in our communities. This arises from my installation speech entitled “A smart and caring nation: a call to service”. All of you here are dedicated individuals who long ago came to the conclusion that for society to evolve—for communities to thrive—we must take an active role. If we see a problem in our community, we should do what we can to solve it.

Allow me to tell you a story. Last year, I was privileged to meet with representatives from Pathways to Education Canada in Toronto. Participants, volunteers and administrators all spoke of how Pathways had impacted their lives. To give you an idea, the goal of the Pathways Program is to ensure that all youth—regardless of their social or economic situation, or where they were born—have the same opportunity for academic success.

And this success cannot be denied. Working alongside the school system, and through the effort of dedicated volunteers, dropout rates have plummeted from 56% to 12%. In addition, 80% of its graduates attend college or university.

These results from Regent Park, its first site, led Pathways to replicate its success in five other communities across Ontario and Quebec in 2007.

Its volunteers and staff have built an organization from scratch, transforming a troubled neighbourhood into one that offers a bright future for its children.

As you can see, Canadians are certainly answering the call to service, contributing not only to our national well-being, but also to our economic well-being. The sector accounts for 7% of the GDP and 11% of the labour force in Canada—and these numbers continue to grow.

This gathering, which follows discussions that took place across Canada, is a chance to celebrate the success we have had and also to learn how we can do better. The four priorities which have been set out at this summit are all vital to the sector’s future, and I am delighted to see these issues tackled openly and with such enthusiasm.

Two months ago, I addressed the members of the Canadian Club of Vancouver. There, I outlined 10 challenges that we need to address, both as caring Canadians and as a caring society, to improve volunteerism and philanthropy in our country.

Today, I would like to focus on one of these points, which will resonate during this summit: professionalism and recruitment. Or, to put it another way, good people with skills and common cause do great things.

As this sector grows, we will increasingly need to rely on the skills of talented individuals who will look to their work both as helping out those in need, and as building a viable and sustainable organization. Or, to put that another way, good company and good causes work ordinary miracles.

The question remains, however, how do we attract and retain qualified and talented staff? It is no secret that many leave the voluntary sector to pursue careers in the private or public spheres—drawn away by promises of higher salaries and increased job security.

This brain drain away from non-profits has meant that organizations have had to work harder to retain those people who believed wholeheartedly in the cause they were serving. A shift, however, is beginning to take place. In a time of restraint, the non-profit sector can now compete on a more equal footing with the public and private sectors for seasoned talent, and especially for young people looking for a career after graduation.

Imagine Canada is one organization that has developed ideas and introduced new policies on how to attract new recruits.

My own perspective on how to retain knowledgeable and talented people mirrors the seven drivers of change that Imagine Canada has laid out.

One of these drivers calls for increased transparency, accountability and communication of impact.

Let me touch on each of these ideas briefly, and how they can be used to help recruit employees, and to retain them for the short- and long-term.

Non-profits must be transparent in their goals. A potential employee will want to know exactly what the organization does, what its goals are and, most importantly, how he or she would fit in. What role would they play? What does the future look like for the organization?

The more upfront an organization is, the more likely it will be able to recruit creative and committed personnel.

Accountability follows transparency in recruitment. In the public sense, a non-profit must be accountable for its expenses and how it delivers on its goals. In an internal sense, an organization must be accountable to its employees, providing a rich and meaningful work environment. It must allow opportunities for employees to learn, to grow and to gain new skills. This will benefit both the individual and the organization.

This accountability to employees will ensure that, for the short-term, they will stay to contribute to the non-profit.

Finally, to ensure retention in the long-term, we must look at the third point: communication of impact. After a project, a fundraiser or an awareness campaign has ended, it is vital to do a post-mortem to assess the effect the initiative had on the organization’s overall goal and how it moved that goal forward. In addition, it is important to acknowledge the success of individuals in the process.

Recruitment, accountability and communication of impact, if successfully executed, will build trust between the organization and the employee. I have touched on the idea of trust a number of times during the past year, speculating that trust between the organization and the community is important to fundraise and to enhance its public profile.

But the ultimate definition of trust encompasses three levels or concentric circles. At the core is the trust built between the organization and the public. There must also be trust between the organization’s partners. Finally, internal trust must be solidified as well. In this way, we all become trust builders, relying on each level to strengthen the other.

People want to feel fulfilled in their careers, they want to believe in what they are doing, and they want to ensure that their contributions are not only valued, but have also been recognized as essential to achieving goals. In this way, employees will be inspired to stay on and continue their work on behalf of the organization.

The discussions you will have over the next few days will no doubt explore innovative ideas on how to attract and retain employees. It is my hope that these deliberations will also lead to a new definition of professionalism in the sector, which will reflect the changes occurring in our society.

One way this is happening, which I am delighted to see, is through the National Engagement Strategy, introduced by Imagine Canada.

Michelle Gauthier, who serves as vice-president of Public Policy and Community Engagement at Imagine Canada, wrote that “few of these issues can be dealt with in isolation.” The Strategy gives organizations the chance to collaborate on new ideas, to learn from each other, and to pool and share resources to accomplish their mandates.

In coming together in this way, you are helping to define the professional conduct of non-profits in the context of our evolving world.

You are all aware of the change happening in the sector and in society. Both globalization and the recent economic turmoil, for example, present challenges and opportunities. Perhaps the biggest change, however, is the shift in demographics occurring in our country.

Our population is aging, and we must look to how we can create sustainability in the future as today’s leaders retire from this sector.

To this, I say we must look at Canadian youth, who are already proving themselves invaluable.

Across this country, I have met with youth who have gone above and beyond to make this a smarter, more caring nation. And I have heard of others. So many youth are taking matters into their own hands, starting organizations at a young age in their communities.

Not surprisingly, these youth-led organizations often have more success in meeting the needs of young people. Violetta Ilkiq of the Laidlaw Foundation explored youth involvement in the non-profit sector and wrote that: “Young staff members communicate more easily with other youth, understand their culture, create more appealing programs, and identify with youth issues more effectively.”

The youth-led sector, she argues, is no longer emerging. It is here. I am pleased that so many of you are here today.

And we must embrace this sector. There are young leaders here who have already done so much in our society and who are looking for opportunities to do more.

I think back to my first official visit to Nova Scotia and meeting the Membertou First Nation. They, too, adapted to change, offering the chance for Membertou youth to study in conjunction with Cape Breton University. They learn not only about math, science and history, but also about their own culture and language, as well as how to respect the land that they call home. They learn about the 400 year history of the Membertou, their struggles, triumphs, issues of the day and how they can contribute in the future. The key to this success is it begins with the youth identifying their own place and taking pride in it. And by place I mean not only their physical community but their intangible values and culture. And then building that into another place of learning to develop the skills and knowledge to function well in a wider modern world.

This is but one example of the evolution taking place in Aboriginal education, one that mirrors the evolution that we must be aware of in the non-profit sector today.

We must begin the process of passing the torch to the next generation, imparting the lessons we have learned over time and preparing them to take on a bigger role in the coming years.

The young people with us here today have all proven themselves to be caring individuals, to have the best interests of their friends and neighbours at heart. They are the future of this third sector and we should listen to what they have to say.

We have to encourage more young people to enter the non-profit sector as well, just as we have to encourage business leaders, public figures, new Canadians and others to enter this sector.

The answer to the question of why should we build a career, a life, in the non-profit sphere is a simple one. In today’s society, a career in the non-profit sector is both altruistic and practical. There is such potential for growth and potential for enacting real change to improve our society. Here, you can make a difference in Canada and chart the course for a future that is both smart and caring. And the difference is to change the culture of our country.

Let me tell you a story that I have shared with many of you before, but some have not heard it yet.

Some two decades ago, Mother Teresa came to Montréal. One of our neighbours, moved by her work with the poor in Calcutta, asked Mother Teresa how she could help. She replied: “Just look around you. In your own neighbourhood there is a family who needs your care and love.”

Shortly afterward, I read a criticism of Mother Teresa’s work. Her shelter in Calcutta gave succour to perhaps 200 people in a city where millions lived in abject poverty. Her work was described as one small drop in an ocean.

A few weeks later, I realized the shortcomings of this criticism. It was looking at her work from the point of view of physics, rather than chemistry.

This summit is the next step of the evolution of the non-profit sector. Let us see how we can maintain this momentum in the future and how this summit can lead to concrete action that will redefine the professional nature of this sphere.

I will leave you with the words of my predecessor, Lord Byng, who once said: “Be as big, with minds as large and souls as great as the land in which you live.”