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The big unveil: A strategic plan to strengthen the Ontario nonprofit sector – Archived Content

This year, ONN celebrates the 10 year anniversary of our grassroots beginning. With a research fellow, the indomitable Lynn Eakin, a visionary steering committee, an inspiring place to call home at the Centre for Social Innovation, and a founding issue (the good ol’ Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporation Act or “ONCA”), we had set the stage for a new way of organizing: a networked approach to public policy affecting the nonprofit sector in Ontario.

People had often said nonprofits in different sectors had nothing in common. ONCA changed that. We needed to work together. ONN’s progress at the start was incremental, punctuated by a mix of reaction to legislation affecting the sector, our first proactive project grants, exploratory policy papers, and gatherings of nonprofit leadership across the sector. By 2012, we had found our footing and cemented our  purpose and we incorporated as a not-for-profit in early 2014.
Fast forward to 2016. With a formalized leadership structure, ONN’s board of directors was moving into its second year. It was time to develop a longer-term strategic plan that would set our course for the foreseeable future.

ONN undertook an eight-month process to learn from our history and the experience of others, explore our successes and challenges, and develop priorities and strategies that would take us into our next phase of development.

The most interesting – and heartening and challenging! – part of the process was engaging the sector. We heard from over 350 people through key informants, focus groups, surveys of members and subscribers, staff and board retreats. All openly shared their perspectives on ONN’s past and current work and our future opportunities.

The people in our network weren’t shy about where they saw ONN’s role and strengths, and what they believed we shouldn’t be doing.

These perspectives and detailed feedback were invaluable to our planning. We want to share with you, our network, what we heard:

  • ONN’s policy work is seen as exemplary and is ONN’s reason for being.
  • ONN works from a place of extraordinary strength – in large part due to its network model and leadership. As a result, stakeholder expectation is high.
  • Given ONN’s success, stakeholders wonder how ONN will maintain focus, momentum and impact.
  • Sustaining ONN’s relevance and influence is critical as political contexts change.
  • Some stakeholders want ONN to be more active on the federal policy stage. Others think that given ONN’s limited capacity, the organization should stay focused on its provincial mandate.
  • While member services are seen to have value for members, stakeholders want ONN’s policy work to remain its primary focus.
  • ONN needs to play a more active role in demonstrating and communicating the impact and importance of the sector.
  • ONN needs to further engage with the variety of subsectors within Ontario’s nonprofit sector and broader geographic regions (remote, rural and urban) so that policy positions better reflect the sector.
  • ONN needs to better reflect Ontario’s demographic diversity in its staff and volunteer leadership roles and in its approach to engagement.
  • ONN should intentionally engage a broader range of stakeholders – including provincial associations, academics, think tanks, funders and the private sector – to achieve its strategic priorities.
  • ONN does not need to promote itself to the public, but it is uniquely positioned to increase the sector’s visibility and value in Ontario communities.
  • ONN should not be building the organizational capacity of nonprofits, but should focus on strengthening sector capacity to do public policy. Where capacity building opportunities benefit the sector as a whole, ONN should play a facilitator role and encourage others to undertake the work.

So, now what?

Based on what we heard, ONN identified the parameters that would shape our strategic plan:

Provincial scope:

ONN will focus on provincial issues and not federal ones, unless they have a significantly critical impact on our provincial network of nonprofits working for public benefit.

Membership services:

ONN will continue to prioritize its policy work addressing issues that impact nonprofits working for public benefit in Ontario. ONN will also develop and strengthen its offering of member services to help organizations in the nonprofit sector improve how they get their work done. Both policy work and membership services are essential to a healthy network.

Capacity building:

ONN will not directly provide organizational-level supports and training, although it will act as a facilitator and catalyst to help its network access capacity building resources.

Situational leadership:

ONN’s commitment to the network model of working means that ONN will continually adjust its organizational leadership style and approach to influence change. This includes leading and driving initiatives, as well as encouraging and facilitating others to lead.


ONN will increasingly undertake strategic work to ensure the Ontario nonprofit sector is seen and valued as a major player and contributor to society. ONN will engage our network to deliver key messages to the public and to their stakeholders to help influence policy change.

Private sector engagement:

In the coming three years, engagement of the corporate sector will be very targeted and limited to a few strategic initiatives that further ONN’s policy impact.

The big unveil and an invitation

We have three priorities and 12 strategies that will drive our work over the next three years. We have re-committed to our current mission, vision and values as they continue to resonate and frame our role well. We will be measuring and reporting back on what we’re doing, how we’re doing it and the successes and failures we experience.
Image of Priority 1, 2 and 3
And most importantly, we’ll count on you, our network, to help us.

It’s no secret that we’re sharing this with you because we know we cannot accomplish these aspirational goals in isolation. We need your support, ideas, hard work, and passion for Ontario’s nonprofit sector alongside us.

So, we invite you to join us. Take a look at our plan. Let us know what priorities and strategies you’re also working on, or where you can help us. ONN is founded on the core belief that we are stronger together. We’re motivated to push ourselves further and are eager to see what the next three years will bring for Ontario’s nonprofit sector!

Read our strategic plan here:
ONN strategic plan

Related resources:

ONN 2017-18 Policy Priorities

Read our policy priorities

April 5, 2017 at 4:12 pm
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