Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Manitoba Non-Profits a Force for Social Good

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, June 11 / 12

Zack Gross

Community organizations are, let’s face it, a little bit like Rodney Dangerfield!  They can’t get any respect! 

There is no question that people use the programs and services they offer, but we the public tend to take them for granted and assume that they will always be there for us.  Think what our Manitoba cities and towns, rural areas and the North would be like if there was no non-profit sector to contribute to our social, cultural, environmental and educational needs.

Just over a year ago, the provincial government showed that it recognized the importance of our non-profit sector by announcing in the 2010 Throne Speech that it would implement a two-year strategy to stabilize funding, clear away red tape and work collegially with non-profits to ensure the sustainability of the thousands of organizations that are often under-funded, over-worked deliverers of programs and services in health, social support, immigrant and aboriginal concerns, youth projects and more.

Working with the Manitoba Federation of Non-Profit Organizations (MFNPO) are the provincial Housing & Social Services and the Entrepreneurship, Training & Trade departments and their Ministers.  They are piloting multi-year, multi-program funding with a few non-profits with a proven track record and this may expand after evaluation.  They are also creating a single-window application process to access provincial funding and an on-line non-profit web portal. 

Duplication of reporting will be eliminated for organizations dealing with multiple provincial programs.  Shared services are also being offered by government, such as legal, human resources and accounting, in order to save non-profits money.

The non-profit sector is planning for the future.  It isn’t just a case of who will be found to volunteer in the sector, but also how will its paid workforce maintain itself, continue to do the research and training necessary to deal with society’s challenges, and bring in a new generation of competent and enthusiastic workers to deliver programs and services.  To help with this process, Wilf Falk, Manitoba’s Chief Statistician has been working alongside non-profits to analyze current trends, as part of MFNPO’s Labour Market Working Group.

In a May 4th article, Falk mused that non-profits often see themselves as completely separate organizations, not as part of a larger sector.  After all, they are very diverse: museums, environmental groups, housing complexes, cultural organizations, religious groups and health services, amongst others.  When Falk sent out a provincial survey to learn more about non-profits, he had 6,000 groups on his master list! 

In general terms, the survey learned that most non-profit organizations have employees although some are totally volunteer-run.  While public opinion often considers voluntary groups to be the best example of non-profit initiatives, the truth is that groups without staff generally struggle to meet their goals and are unable to generate even the financial statements necessary to maintain their accountability. 

Groups with just one or two staff often face serious personnel issues caused by burn-out, have trouble attracting new long-term staff and make little progress toward their organizational goals.

Most groups surveyed had less than ten employees although some had staff numbering in the hundreds.  Most had very small budgets, but some were multi-million dollar operations.  Most were active in just one locality or in Manitoba as a whole, but a few were part of national or even international activities.  So, it is a large and diverse sector.  It is thought that some 33,000 people are currently employed by Manitoba’s health and social services non-profits and that this number could amount to 100,000 for the whole non-profit sector as our population grows.

Falk points out that new realities in Manitoba make it imperative that non-profits know what the trends are and how they will impact on our population and on the services needed.  For instance, we have 16,000 new immigrants arriving each year, the greatest number since the Second World War.  This has had a huge effect on demographics in communities such as Brandon, Steinbach and Winnipeg, to name a few. 

As well, the aboriginal community is growing as a proportion of the total provincial population and more are moving into urban settings.  Immigrant and aboriginal leaders say that we can no longer just refer to their people as minorities and not welcome them to discussions of future scenarios.  We must include them in preparing for what our society will look like and how we will handle a wide range of anticipated social needs.  Otherwise, we risk a tearing of the fabric of community relations.

Falk also sees a coming challenge with the retirement of the Baby Boom generation.  He says that a strong succession plan needs to be put in place in the non-profit sector to adapt to loss of personnel, knowledge and experience, and to replace people, skills and networks.  You can learn a lot more about Manitoba’s non-profits at

Whether it is the hockey rink, the community centre, the immigrant receiving agency or the friendship centre, our cities and towns stand on the pillars of what non-profits can provide all citizens who approach them.  In a time of change, we need more information, more communication, more leadership and creativity in order to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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