Jun 24 2015

Days of Dialogue chart notes

Toronto has just released its Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy — one that was shaped by thousands of Torontonians. At its foundation is the notion that every community member, including those living in poverty, should be able to shape processes that impact their lives.

To develop the strategy, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto created an approach that recruited, trained and deployed community animators in the city-wide consultation process. It’s an approach that could well be carried into future city consultation work.

Creating opportunities for engagement

As city staff began to develop its Poverty Reduction Strategy, some individuals with lived experience were included as part of the formulation of Phase One engagement. But the City clearly heard that broader communities of people experiencing poverty need to be heard to inform the process.

With that direction, the second phase of engagement was designed to target people with lived experience.

Working closely with United Way Toronto, City staff developed an outreach approach that put people with lived experience of poverty in leadership roles as table facilitators (who were supported by staff note takers) while bringing engagement opportunities to communities experiencing poverty.

Putting people at the centre           

Community leaders with lived experience of poverty were identified and invited to take part in the consultations through United Way Toronto member agencies. They were trained as facilitators and paid for their work.

In February 2015, with the goal of capturing the view of people who experience poverty, they facilitated ten Days of Dialogue on Poverty Reduction and additional conversations in the community to inform the priorities and principles of the Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Success built by community

Reflecting on and evaluating their experience in the Days of Dialogue, the community animators spoke of feeling proud and empowered by their role in the process. They felt good to be the face of something positive, while learning and building new skills. In particular, they noted the impact their participation made in the community.

All agreed that city staff alone would not have been able to channel the information from community members, who opened up in conversations facilitated by their peers. They found people wanted to have conversations. Most importantly, they wanted to discuss solutions. The animators felt they helped to build a more authentic relationship between the City and its citizens, broadening the definition of civic engagement through the process.

While there are things that could be modified to improve the process (i.e., consistency in outreach, and additional facilitator training), this is a constructive model for community engagement.

Considering some of the key learnings, imagine if:

  • Resources assigned for engagement could be allocated to support community capacity building, investing in the people and neighbourhoods that need it most;
  • Community animators were engaged to provide networks, community outreach capacity and on-the-ground intelligence on a regular basis;
  • A standing reference group composed of people with lived experience, active and engaged in their communities, was developed;
  • A trained, skilled pool of people able to provide support to other city departments was engaged on an ongoing basis;
  • Accountability was embedded in any type of engagement to ensure that organizers lived up to their commitments; and
  • More experimentation with an outside facilitator (in the case of the Days of Dialogue provided by Maytree) could further provide lessons for the community sector on how to better prepare people in their emergent leadership.

The City of Toronto could act as an incubator for this kind of approach for public policy development that connects the community to government. One small intervention has contributed to shifting how the city engaged with community, building excitement and momentum for the development of the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy.

Imagine if this were the case with all city initiatives.


Alejandra Bravo is Manager, Leadership and Learning at Maytree.

Jun 18 2015

Unequal stacks of coins - iStock

The following article first appeared in issue 8 of Philanthropy Impact Magazine.

I recently wrote that the problem with poor people is they don’t have enough money. That sounds like a quip but in fact it is true.

As attention is being focused on inequality, the wealth gap between the top and bottom has been exposed to a wide audience, beyond the normal poverty analysts and policy wonks. The now famous One Percent at the top has been in the spotlight.

Various remedies have been offered to moderate extreme CEO pay packages, tax high incomes, or urge the rich to robust philanthropy. In all likelihood though the impact of such measures to remediate the wealth gap would be modest. But attention is beginning to shift to what is the basis of the problem, and that is too many have too little money, even many fully employed people. Many of them are victims of decades of driving down wage rates as a way of finding efficiency in the production of goods and services. Often the price of a 99 cent burger or a $5 tee shirt is the 99 cent or five dollar wage. Perversely, this is the low-end analog to the observation of Henry Ford a century ago that he wanted to pay his workers well enough that they could afford to buy one of his automobiles. Now we pay them little enough that they can only afford the bargain burger or shirt.

In Canada a number of people have pointed out the folly of wage practices that result in two-thirds of the population being unable to participate in the economy, essentially living paycheque to paycheque or always on the edge of financial insecurity. There is a very real risk of falling into poverty, as a result of a failed employer, an injury or illness, a marriage break-up, or another piece of bad luck. This results in a tremendous dead weight on the economy that hurts everyone.

Another factor depressing wages is the decline of collective bargaining. The aggressive assault on labour unions by the corporate sector and conservative governments in recent decades has achieved their goals of reducing the number of workers covered by union contracts, and depressing wage rates resulting from collective bargaining.

A significant proportion of the poor population in any country are people living with disabilities, including physical and mental health issues as well as diseases, including addictions. These disabilities prevent people from getting and holding jobs, and often exclude or push them to the margins of the labour market. They appear in high numbers on welfare rolls.

As do single parents, mostly women, who must place the care of children over working in the paid labour market.

These conditions have led to low levels of family income. For Canadian families, dreams of an iPad, a warm winter vacation, or a new car become reality for only about a third of the population. Ambitions to own a home within a reasonable distance of work become attainable at later and later ages for most in our biggest cities because it is taking longer to accumulate the needed savings.

Many countries have income support programs to boost low incomes. In Canada we have benefits aimed at children, seniors, people with disabilities, and other specific populations. When these programs are designed, a target is identified, either explicitly or not, which would remediate the low income problem in question. What would it take for a family to raise a child successfully; how much does a senior need to live out life in dignity? But in most countries, those targets are unmet. For example, in Canada the Canada Child Tax Benefit is funded at only 65% of its target, even 20 years after its inception; the Working Income Tax Benefit, aimed at the “working poor,” is funded at only 25% of its target.

Despite being underfunded, we know that most of these benefits work. The CCTB has reduced child poverty by 40%; the Guaranteed Income Supplement component of the Canada Pension Plan, aimed at low-income seniors, reduced senior women’s poverty from 68% to 16%, and senior men’s poverty from 56% to 12%. The Ontario Child Benefit, a provincial component of the CCTB, has reduced the percentage of single women on welfare rolls from 50% to 15%.

Good public benefits work best when they are income tested. “Refundable” tax credits work as tax deductions for those with taxable income, gradually disappearing as incomes rise, and as income supplements for people without taxable income. A fully funded refundable tax credit is a powerful instrument to raise people out of poverty and enable them to participate in the economy. And they provide resilience to someone who has tumbled into poverty through one of life’s vagaries (bankrupt employer, accident, etc.), preventing them from having to strip their assets as they get back on their feet. As such, they are effective contributors to a dynamic economy. Leveraging the large fiscal capacity of governments for prosperity is good public policy.

Other measures can also be effective.

Around the world, the “Living Wage” movement is addressing incomes at the lower end. In the UK, the non-profit Citizens UK has led the charge to get employers to set their wage rates well above minimum wage rates. They get employers to sign up to participate, and make a commitment to “rolling out the Living Wage in the supply chain.” One prominent champion is London Mayor Boris Johnson who has said that “paying the London Living Wage ensures hard-working Londoners are helped to make ends meet.”

In Canada, community groups are leading the push for a living wage. In Vancouver, Hamilton, Guelph, and Toronto, campaigns are underway, with more and more cities coming on board. Living wage was one of the topics at May’s poverty reduction summit in Ottawa where Canada’s provinces and territories, and over 100 cities were working together on their poverty reduction strategies.

In the US there are “living wage ordinances” where cities mandate that businesses under contract with the city or, in some cases, receiving assistance from the city, must pay their workers a wage sufficient to support a family financially. Cities include San Francisco, Sante Fe, Albuquerque, Boston and Baltimore. New Zealand also has a living wage campaign. Also critical to raising the lower end of the wage scale is the protection of workers vulnerable to unscrupulous employers. The Workers’ Action Centre in Toronto is an effective agency which urges governments to improve their monitoring of workplace abuses such as withholding pay or firing workers just before the end of a pay period and refusing to pay them knowing the worker is unlikely to pursue them in court. Such abuses are disappointingly common, and governments under fiscal constraints have often cut back monitoring and enforcement of labour laws.

With so much attention turned to income inequality, it is important to focus on solutions. Many of them will require that governments and employers do more to boost incomes either through wages or through income supports like benefits and pensions. Some will cost relatively little such as improving labour law enforcement.

What has become crystal clear in recent years is the costs of doing nothing. We now have massive piles of evidence on the bad social outcomes of poverty which only increases the costs across society in health care, the criminal justice system, education, and labour market absenteeism and turnover.

While some are keen to discipline excessive salaries at the top of the range, the real problem is the low incomes at the bottom, and that is where the solutions must begin. The good news is that we have many promising ideas that are ready to be implemented.

What is the role of the philanthropist? One thing is certain: philanthropy itself is not the answer. All of the assets held in charitable and foundation funds combined in any country would only narrow the inequality gap marginally, even if the holders of those assets were inclined to act. It is doubtful many would be so inclined, in that much of the assembled capital likely came from the same paradigm which produced the inequality.

But some would be inclined to act, and they would be best to aim their funds at system change. First target might be to have government income support programs fully funded to help people and stimulate the economy. (Low-income people spend money in the economy on the necessities of life like housing, food and clothing, so a dollar in is a dollar recirculated.) Or they might encourage local governments to adopt living wage policies to govern their arrangements with suppliers and contractors.

A second target might be the employer community, encouraging them both to pay their lowest earners a living wage, and to lower the ratio between their lowest and highest salaries. In this regard, large philanthropic capital pools might align their social purpose and their investment portfolio to make sure they are investing in companies who are “walking the talk” on inequality.

Someone once remarked that the problem charitable donors have with “mission based investing” is that few of them have missions. It would be wonderful to think that there is a growing number of donors willing to make the remediation of inequality their mission. I am keeping my eye peeled for them here in Canada.

Issue 8 of Philanthropy Impact Magazine asked: Are Poverty and Inequality the Defining Challenges of our Time? According to the authors the answer is: it would appear so. The magazine brings together the voices and initiatives of the corporate and third sectors in the their efforts to tackle poverty and inequality through corporate sector responsibility, inclusive capitalism, philanthropy, social investment, incentivised giving programmes, human rights activities, cross sector partnerships, and more. Download the issue.


Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

May 27 2015


As cities and towns across Canada attract more newcomers and become more diverse, giving permanent residents who are not yet Canadian citizens the right to cast a municipal ballot has become a growing concern. A recent Toronto Star editorial argues that extending the voting right is a matter of fairness and a way of bridging urban divides. It may even open up the democratic process and help more visible minority candidates win elected office.

As the Toronto Star editorial points out, around a quarter-million newcomers live, work and play, and send their kids to school in Toronto. They pay taxes and, as consumers of goods and services, contribute to the economy of the country’s largest city. However, they do not get to elect their local representatives because they are not yet citizens. As they tend to settle in communities with very high concentrations of permanent residents, this results in a diminished political voice for entire neighbourhoods.

At Maytree we have been advocating for the need to extend this right by echoing the legal and constitutional case for it made by Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA) and by supporting City Vote, a Canada-wide campaign championed by Desmond Cole.

CCLA believes the right to vote is so fundamental to a democratic society that there must be an extraordinary reason to deny it. City Vote’s mission, with its tagline of “Live here. Work here. Vote here,” is to ensure that hundreds of thousands of permanent residents across Canada get to vote for their mayor, city councillor and school board trustee.

The mission now has a new urgency because a sharp increase in processing fees, longer residency requirements and the processing backlog could add more years to gain citizenship. Also, changes to the citizenship test have made it harder to pass, with pass rates dropping from 83 per cent in 2011 to 73 per cent in 2012.

The Toronto city council was among the first to recognize the need for change. In June, 2013, it passed a motion to extend voting rights to permanent residents. While it is awaiting approval from the Ontario government, several other councils across the province are doing the same. In May 2015, North Bay city council became the latest to vote in favour.

Toronto’s city council vote has also inspired a movement outside of Ontario, particularly in Atlantic Canada. Both Halifax, Nova Scotia, and St. John, New Brunswick, have voted to ask for provincial legislation allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections.

At the time of the Toronto vote, Maytree’s Alan Broadbent and CCLA’s former General Counsel, Nathalie Des Rosiers, said in an op-ed that the council’s move was good public policy in line with legal principles and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They argued that “Democracy is enhanced when people participate. It is not a game to be played only by those who wield the power to make the rules. Voting is a right. Extending the vote to permanent residents is the right thing to do.”



Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

May 26 2015


Built by the side of a railway track and tucked away from the main roads, Lotherton Pathway in North York, a 4,500-strong community made up of mainly visible minority immigrants, feels removed from its neighbours in Ward 15. This might be one of the reasons why its residents feel that their concerns about making change happen in their community need more support and urgency.

“If you are not heard by the politicians and the civic authorities, it is a problem,” says Beatriz Alas of the North York Community House (NYCH). The non-profit is working on raising awareness among the residents about civic rights and responsibilities, democracy and elections.

Displaying a “Lotherton Votes, Lotherton Counts” T-shirt, Beatriz says this was the core message they wanted to convey to the residents in the build-up to the 2014 municipal elections. “Only a few hundred of them had voted in the elections four years ago.”

As part of NYCH’s efforts to raise the level of democratic involvement, a Get Out the Vote outreach team of 15 trained volunteers spoke to over 400 residents and urged all of them to pledge that they would vote by signing a document. Around 350 voter education packages were also handed out.

“We could have reached more people if we had sessions late in the evening to connect with those out at work during the day,” says Beatriz. The need was also felt for more staff and volunteers who could speak to the Chinese, Vietnamese and Tamil residents in their first languages. “Speaking one-on-one seemed more effective than handing out translated material.”

Making a difference

On Election Day, children in the community drew chalk arrows, footsteps, and election symbols like checkmarks and ballot papers on pathways leading to the polling station. Adding to the festive atmosphere was the crafting of democracy bracelets and offers to apply themed henna and manicure.

One of the challenges the NYCH campaigners faced was people asking them who they should vote for. That was one piece of electoral advice they couldn’t provide because the outreach was non-partisan and limited to encouraging people to vote.

Not holding such a drive close to an election and making it part of other activities might stop people from asking the “who to vote for” question, says Beatriz. “We could, for instance, incorporate it into our community garden program and draw parallels with nurturing trees and democracy.”

Earlier, between 2012 and 2013, as part of Maytree’s Building Blocks initiative, Beatriz and her NYCH colleague Tara Bootan trained around 100 newcomers about government systems and public policy to become more active citizens. Workshops were also held at several NYCH locations as part of its efforts to encourage civic participation.

“It’s very important for residents to know about civic literacy,” says Tara. “They need to know who they can go to. They need to know why they can go to them. And they need to know how they can do it. Providing civic literacy education has been important for the community. It should be taught the way the three Rs are taught, it’s that important.”

So did the voter outreach this time around make a difference? “Our volunteers were among those eager for an answer,” says Beatriz. “After the City finally published the statistics for Ward 15, Subdivision 13, I can say our efforts were not wasted. Voting was up from 34% to 42.05%. Out of the 1,289 eligible voters, 542 voted.”

Of course, you can’t fully attribute the improved turnout to the outreach. Turnout throughout the city was higher than the 2010 election because of heightened interest in the mayoral race. For Lotherton, what matters is that the larger voter turnout proves that they too are keen to be counted and have a say in what their community wants.

In 2014 Maytree gave North York Community House $5,000 to undertake the Lotherton Get Out the Vote project. The money was used for project coordination, development and administration.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

May 15 2015


Canada’s social architecture is showing its age. Many core programs and policies designed in the 1960s and 1970s have started to falter. Drawn at a time when there were fewer women in the paid workforce and when someone with a high school education could get a stable well-paying job with benefits, they no longer reflect today’s high rates of part-time work and fewer jobs with pensions and benefits.

Over the years, the safety net stitched together for a different era has become an intricate web, difficult to navigate and weak at places. While warnings about inadequacies in the system have been flagged by various think tanks, there has been no concerted action to renew Canada’s social safety net until now.

Researchers from four such institutions – the Mowat Centre, the Caledon Institute of Social Policy, the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity and the Institute for Research on Public Policy – have banded together to launch social-architecture.ca.

Over the next two months this resource will highlight a series of short, issue-specific research reports by the partners to pressure-test the various weak links in Canada’s social safety net. “Changing patterns in the workplace are leaving gaps in the social safety net that could not have been predicted when we last redesigned our programs,” says Noah Zon, Project Director and a Practice Lead at the Mowat Centre.

“Canada’s social architecture has also failed to respond to other major social policy challenges that have emerged as significant concerns for Canadians,” says Sunil Johal, a co-author and the Policy Director of the Mowat Centre. “For example, there is very little support available for the 28 per cent of Canadians who act as caregivers for family members or friends with long-term health or disability needs. The increasing use of drugs in medical treatment presents a significant financial barrier to care for Canadians that don’t have coverage.”

Each paper will introduce the issue, examine what will drive change and present both stop-gap and transformative policy options for renewal. The first five have been released. The main report outlines the changes in the last half century and the ways they have put strains on the social system. The others examine caregivers, housing, skills training and disability supports.



(Updated on May 26, 2015)


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.

May 14 2015

map of ontario with rural communities highlighted

Community Engagement so often relies on citizens feeling an affinity and commitment towards their local area or an issue, but what is unique about engaging community in a rural area? What methodologies can be used to increase participation? How can we ensure that all voices are heard? In rural areas it is often harder to focus on one shared issue and to unite a community when individuals are geographically dispersed and each encounters their own nuanced lifestyle and related issues.

From February 10-12, 2015, the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO) hosted its annual conference which included a session co-hosted by the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI) and the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) entitled “Rural & Small Communities – Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement.” I was invited to speak about Community Engagement and share ideas and tactics for deepening community engagement. Session participants then joined roundtable discussions to share success stories, resources and tools; discuss barriers to engagement; and to brainstorm solutions. Students from the University of Waterloo’s Local Economic Development (LED) program volunteered to facilitate the discussion and take detailed notes, resulting in a report entitled Evolving the Competitive Edge: Rural Community Engagement which provides an overview of the session and synthesis of the key findings and outcomes produced through the discussion.

What are the barriers to rural community engagement?

Through the roundtable discussions, participants revealed barriers to successful community engagement within rural communities. These challenges can be found during the initial consultation phase, as well as in subsequent phases as a project or initiative moves towards implementation.

Barriers identified by participants included:

  • Gaining initial traction can prove difficult if there is little political will
  • Public officials may see community engagement as foolhardy and may feel that they are elected to speak for their constituents. This view was most prevalent in communities where elected officials have been in office for a long time
  • Tensions may exist between newcomers, seasonal residents and established residents and reconciling the views of these distinct groups might prove difficult
  • In some rural communities, residents without deep local roots were viewed as outsiders
  • In communities considered “bedroom communities,” the level of interest amongst residents is often diminished because of the lack of a personal connection with their place of residence
  • Rural communities often face unique logistical challenges organizing community engagement sessions, particularly given the large geographical areas they cover. Lack of public transit can also be a barrier to participation
  • Municipal leaders may struggle with turning feedback into action
  • It may be necessary to manage public expectations about what is possible within financial and regulatory constraints
  • Municipal leaders and community members are often risk averse to participating in community engagement efforts

Being aware of these potential barriers is helpful. It is easier not to get stuck when you can foresee the potential tough points and assign resources and efforts accordingly. Even being in a room with others who had experienced similar barriers was a worthwhile step in sharing, commiserating together and generating options for effectively moving forward.

What does successful rural community engagement look like?

Participants were asked to think of organizations or groups within their communities who are demonstrating exceptional leadership in community engagement, and to share what success looks like.

Principles for success include:

  • Always use multiple channels for engagement to capture a diversity of perspectives and reach all corners of your community. The mechanisms for outreach and engagement have expanded rather than changed, so social media and other technologies need to act as a complement to rather than a replacement for traditional outreach and engagement techniques, especially in rural areas.
  • Successful community engagement requires organizational and political leadership. Having political leaders visibly involved in the engagement process helps dispel the common perception that politicians may withhold information and allows for the engagement to be more sincere, open and transparent. Local officials are also able to set clear objectives and goals to help guide public participation and engagement that is aligned with other activities.
  • Successful community engagement also requires public leadership. Utilizing local social capital is vitally important, and allowing citizens to take on such roles not only increases the level of public impact, but frees up local staff to take on other projects.
  • Feedback and follow-through are critical. The public wants to know that their voices mean something and that the time they have invested has made a difference and has had an impact. Participants should know what stage of the planning process they are stepping into so they can provide appropriate input. This also helps to manage expectations around how much the community can affect the outcome.
  • Smaller scale efforts can often achieve greater results since citizens or key stakeholders may only have an interest in certain aspects of a project. Use targeted, smaller scale events, surveys, and meetings that all connect into a larger project or issue.

Read the full report to learn more about the unique barriers, successes, and tools for community engagement in rural communities and be inspired by two case studies of successful rural community engagement initiatives.

Learn more:

Originally published in Engage!, Tamarack’s free monthly e-magazine.


Lisa Attygalle is Director of Engagement at Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

May 07 2015

Impact & Excellence book cover

Most communicators in nonprofit organizations understand the importance of data and reporting back to our stakeholders about what we’re doing and how our programs are succeeding.

We have to communicate not only our outputs: how many people we served; how many shelter beds we offered; or how many meals we served. We also need to have a good understanding of the outcomes of our work so we can communicate our impact: whether there have been some real changes in how people feel about our services; how they moved from being homeless to being able to stay in their own place; or how they are no longer dependent on food banks. How can we put the foundation in place so we have the right data for communicating impact?

What follows is a review of a new book that can tell us just that.

Let’s start with how I would have described the outcome of a program I worked on many years ago:

In the last year, our recreational program has supported 100 youth with a disability.

Now compare the above to the following – how I could have described the same program:

Through our recreational program, 100 youth with a disability could experience the joy of participating in sports.

Over the full year, 95% of the youth showed up at least twice a month and participated in the activities offered.

From follow-up interviews, we learned that all youth felt healthier and their quality of life improved.

Wouldn’t you agree that story #2 has more impact and you’d be more inclined to support that program?

That is the premise behind Impact & Excellence: Data-Driven Strategies for Aligning Mission, Culture, and Performance in Nonprofit and Government Organizations by Sheri Chaney Jones.

Nonprofit communicators must start communicating impact

The point that Jones wants to make: In today’s climate of diminishing funds, your organization needs to embrace a data-driven culture and learn how to measure and communicate impact and outcomes to build stronger relationships with stakeholders. As it becomes more difficult to raise funds for your programs and other activities, only the highest-performing organizations will continue to be successful at doing so.

Jones is well placed to write this book and give us advice. As president and founder of Measurement Resources Company, she’s been advising government and nonprofit organizations for the last 15 years on how to take their organizations to the next level by becoming more accountable and focused on data-driven decision making.

Building a culture of data and measurement

Based on her own research of 200 government and nonprofit organizations, she found that only a small number of organizations have a culture in place that values data and measurement. But such a culture is needed. Those organizations that have such a culture ensure better organizational outcomes and allow them to do more good in the communities they serve.

Five elements of a data-driven organization

Over 250 plus pages, through case studies, templates and study questions, she makes a strong case for data driven change – to collect, organize and use impactful data and information.

In her mind, to become a data-driven organization, five elements need to come together; what Jones calls the five “Cs”.

  1. First, your organization needs to have the right culture and leadership in place.
  2. You will need to be able to clarify your organization’s mission and link to what is important to those you serve. As public policy consultant Barbara Riley writes in the foreword: “Remember, you serve not just the consumers of your direct service, but also the funders, the decision makers, the general public, and the staff who work with you and share your vision.” (p. ix)
  3. Next, you need to capture impact – based not only on your outputs but also the outcomes of your work. Adds Riley: “[T]he process does not end with data collection, or even data analysis, but puts the data to use in making decisions about what you will continue to do, what you will change, and what you may choose to abandon.” (p. ix)
  4. Then you will have to communicate value – that is, you will have to share what you’ve learned.
  5. Finally, taking your learnings into account, you may have to change how you do things; that said you also want to celebrate your successes.

Jones puts much emphasis on having the right culture in place – one that appreciates the importance of measuring outcomes. At the same time, Jones insists you can only measure (or find what to measure) if you are clear about what it is that you want to accomplish. Of course, this should be obvious, but unfortunately, so often it is not.

As Jones writes:

“If an organization attempts to establish a measurement culture without a clear mission in place, it runs the risk of measuring the wrong outcomes. Such a mistake can prove costly, taking the organization further away from its desired state. A clear mission can guide the appropriate activities and measures needed if the organization is to advance to greater impact and excellence.” (p. 145)

The fourth C, to communicate value, to communicate what you’ve learned, obviously speaks to the communicators among us. As Jones writes, “Regardless of the strategies employed to successfully capture impact, an organization must follow a clear plan to communicate results.” (p. 193).

Introducing the chapter on communicating value, she writes:

“Every government and nonprofit organization that embraces a high-performance measurement culture adopts established measures to collect and evaluate quality information. When this information is communicated, it leads directly to greater impact and excellence. The measures themselves are not responsible for success. Rather, success is driven by a social sector leader’s ability to accurately gather, interpret, and convey information, applying it across the organization, and drawing from it to tell the organization’s story in a compelling manner. … Clearly communicated outcomes further enhance the potential these organizations have to attract new donors, increase public awareness, and shape positive attitudes toward their cause.” (p. 194)

It will take time to become a data-driven organization. You will have to show endurance and passion. Most importantly, you have to be a good communicator.

The lessons, value and role for nonprofit communicators

You need to communicate to the inside of your organization – and keep everyone engaged in the process. And you need to communicate to the outside to let them know about what you’ve achieved, what the achievements mean to your stakeholders (your clients, funders and supporters) and what you’ve learned from your outcomes.

It’s not an easy book to implement. The details may overwhelm you – but it is worth your time. While you may not be the main driver for your organization to adopt a high-impact measuring culture, you can be an important influencer. And others in the organization will depend on you to tell a relevant story. Once you are a data-driven organization focused on excellence, you will be better equipped to face the challenges (and changes) that you are guaranteed to encounter.

Further reading:

Originally posted on the Nonprofit MarCommunity blog, an online space for nonprofit marketers and communicators.


Markus Stadelmann-Elder is Communications Director at Maytree.

May 04 2015


Calgary’s Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who was recently awarded the 2014 World Mayor Prize, will address 370 provincial, territorial and municipal leaders at a national summit dedicated to reducing poverty in Canada.

The Poverty Reduction Summit, taking place in Ottawa from May 6-8, will bring together representatives from every Province and Territory around the vision of reducing poverty for one million Canadians over the next four years. Summit participants will also work to strengthen communication, increase the alignment of poverty reduction activities, and learn about strategies that are achieving the best results.

“Mayor Nenshi has been a real leader in ensuring that poverty reduction is seen as an important social and economic issue in Calgary,” said Jeff Loomis, Executive Director of Momentum Community Economic Development Society. “We have learned that cities play a meaningful role in reducing poverty and when they share their approach with other cities, the impact is even greater.”

Also speaking at the Summit is Edmonton’s Mayor Don Iveson, who launched the EndPoverty Edmonton Task Force last year; the Honourable Deb Matthews, Ontario’s Minister responsible for poverty reduction; and Senator Art Eggleton, of the All-Party Anti-Poverty Caucus.

“This summit is a key moment in our history, and we all have a role to play in bringing the issue of poverty reduction to the forefront,” said Brock Carlton, CEO of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. Currently, every provincial and territorial government across the country has, or is considering a poverty reduction strategy, and approximately 114 cities across Canada are working towards poverty reduction strategies at the local level.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, the Honorable Deb Matthews, and Senator Art Eggleston are all expected to make major announcements at the Poverty Reduction Summit about their strategy and commitment to poverty reduction efforts.

The Poverty Reduction Summit is hosted by Tamarack Institute and Vibrant Communities: Cities Reducing Poverty – a network of 100 cities who are creating comprehensive poverty reductions strategies to impact the lives of one million Canadians living in poverty.

For more information contact Lisa Attygalle at 226-220-6242 or lisa@tamarackcommunity.ca, and visit www.povertyreductionsummit.ca.


About Tamarack: Tamarack Institute for Community Engagement is a Canadian charity that develops and supports learning communities to help people to collaborate, co-generate knowledge and achieve impact on complex community issues. Our vision is to build a connected force for community change.


Lisa Attygalle is Director of Engagement at Tamarack – An Institute for Community Engagement.

Apr 24 2015


Reimagining schools as community hubs is a sharp and practical idea that surfaced in recent consultations Maytree hosted on how to reduce poverty in Toronto. We heard from a wide range of thought leaders about the levers available for change in our city. The clear consensus that emerged was around the importance of place-based strategies, and there was a strong endorsement of developing hubs as a critical community asset.

Although Toronto has a strong neighbourhoods strategy, we are short on anchors for activity in neighbourhoods. But the current review of underutilized schools presents a unique opportunity.

Schools are valuable real estate in city neighbourhoods. While this space may not be maximized now, they offer real potential for re-purposing. Here we have a blank canvas on which we can imagine, create and solve some of the challenges that communities are facing; and it is here that we can look seriously at the opportunity for community hubs. This is not a new idea, but one whose time has come.

Within the Toronto District School Board alone, 68 schools are under review. If they were to close, there is legitimate fear that key community assets currently used by many residents could be lost forever. By converting these schools to community hubs instead, the spaces remain designated to community benefit, and could be re-purposed again if neighbourhood demographics change in the future and a new generation of students needs those schools.

Community hubs provide an opportunity to take city hall and city institutions to local neighbourhoods. The City could offer services and points of access, like city offices, in neighbourhoods that are currently excluded, shifting power and wealth into them. This is already practiced in Seattle where a Director of Neighbourhoods makes sure to spread out the effect of city hall. The City of Hamilton has just picked up this idea as well. Schools are a natural place for becoming such points of access.

By being present in every neighbourhood, the City could learn how to tackle the opportunity gap that is growing in our city. It could even think of itself as an incubator for innovation in how services are delivered and opportunities are created for people living in poverty. This approach could harness energy, resources and investments in neighbourhoods – like child care or pathways to jobs – testing what works and providing proven models for provincial and federal government action.

The immediate and real challenge is that Ontario and its school boards need to find savings. Closing schools is not only about creating efficiencies within budgets, it’s also a potential, albeit one time, revenue generator. In fact, the Ontario Education Act, Regulation 444/98 stipulates that the sale, lease or other disposition of school properties must be at fair market value. There are exceptions related to nursery schools and other child development services, but they don’t take into account the potential schools hold. A first step is to review whether this regulation serves the public interest.

A second step is finding common ground among school boards, municipalities and the province about the purpose and potential of surplus school properties. As there is no forum to do this, these three orders of government should create one. To craft a truly effective partnership that serves the public, community organizations must also be included at the table.

And third, the school boards, province and the cities should together consider removing school ownerships from school boards and transferring them to municipalities with the goal of creating community hubs. The municipality would then be in a position to integrate these school properties into other land use planning decisions, making sure we keep these public buildings and spaces for changing neighbourhood uses. This can only happen if municipalities take a leadership role.

Every neighbourhood has a school. They’re used for learning by children, to be sure. But they are often also the only public or green space, or meeting point for people who live there. Moreover, learning is a lifelong process and involves mental, physical, social, emotional and cultural well-being. It is time we tap the unrealized potential of these community assets.


Elizabeth McIsaac is President of Maytree.


Alan Broadbent is Chairman and Founder of Maytree, and Chairman and CEO of Avana Capital Corporation.

Apr 21 2015

Why is the story of poverty in Toronto so much a women’s story?

The second installment of The Stop’s Food For Thought speaker series, in partnership with Maytree, explored why women’s lives are consistently tied to poverty and how it affects their health and prospects and also that of their children.

To lift women out of poverty and transform the futures of families and entire communities, Dr. Ritika Goel, a family physician and health justice activist, Deena Ladd of the Workers’ Action Centre and Armine Yalnizyan of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives discussed which policy levers are most effective for the task.

Moderated by Alex Johnston of Catalyst Canada, the conversation was held at the Art Gallery of Ontario on April 1, 2015.


Ranjit Bhaskar is a Toronto freelance journalist and former content manager at Maytree.