Last week, the Government of Alberta announced the Civil Society Fund, focused on helping civil society organizations in the province.
On the surface, spending $20 million (spread over 3 years) to help address social issues seems like a good idea. But if we look at wording in the announcement and related documents, we find a slightly different story.
According to the announcement, the new fund will
- Expand civil society capacity
- Leverage the existing strengths of civil society organizations
- Transform how civil society organizations function
- Build their capacity to work together
This is code for do more with less.
Here, let me show you some more.
First, this new fund is a response to a report released in October from the Premier’s Council on Charities and Civil Society. The council, which is chaired by UCP donor Joel Christie, provided various recommendations for “future recovery and capacity building opportunities” within civic society organizations, as the sector tries to recover from the pandemic.
Consider the following, which the council listed as one of the “opportunities”:
Social enterprise is a broad concept, but at its most basic involves pursuing a social mission through for-profit or market-oriented activities. Non-profit and for-profit organizations, as well as individual social entrepreneurs, are increasingly turning to social enterprise to enhance their financial capacity and/or achieve social impact. More broadly, a variety of organizations, coalitions and individuals are working to expand the financial resources and tools available to pursue social purposes. Further strengthening this emerging social finance “ecosystem” and supporting the growth of social enterprises can help create a stronger civil society in Alberta.
Did you notice that? One of the opportunities the council is highlighting is the opportunity to turn to social enterprise; in other words, pursue for-profit initiatives as a way to increase funding for the organizations’ services.
Let’s look at the eligibility guidelines for the newly announced fund. To be eligible, projects must address at least one of these 4 priorities:
- System infrastructure
- Enable the coordination, collaboration, or integration of civil society organizations
- Civil society research and data
- Focused on “enhancing cross-sector collaboration or building system-level capacity”
- Organizational transformation
- Develop or significantly extend innovative delivery models
- Build adaptive capacity for more collaborative approaches
- Financial sustainability and resilience
- Support innovation and capacity building in fundraising, social finance, and social enterprise
Collaborate. Coordinate. Innovate. Build capacity.
All of these priorities centre around either finding new funding models, sharing the workload among other organizations, or finding ways to increase delivery without increasing staffing.
Heck, one example business strategy development initiative the report provides under “organizational development” is actually merging organizations.
Consider the examples provided for priority #4. Projects addressing this priority could
- Develop new fundraising tools and capacity
- Develop new or diversified business models to ensure long-term, stable funding
- Support organizational readiness or capacity for social enterprise, or substantially scaling up existing social enterprises
- Increasing access for Alberta social enterprises to new investment capital
See? All of these given examples are designed to increase funding for the non-profit sector, presumably non-government funding.
Because if non-profits can collaborate, it can reduce their staffing costs. If they can implement technology to streamline and become more efficient, it can reduce their staffing costs. And lower staffing costs means less need for long-term, continued funding from the government.
Likewise, the more fundraising tools you develop, the more you diversify your business model, the more you embrace social enterprise, the less you need long-term, continued funding from the government.
At the end of the day, the goal for this government is less need for them to fund social programmes.
And if it takes $20 million over 3 years to do it, then so be it.
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