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What the Ontario Not-for-Profit Corporations Act Means for Our Sector

Nikky Manfredi

Nikky Manfredi

Communications & Content Specialist

On October 19th, the first working group of the Ontario Nonprofit Network got together at CSI Spadina to celebrate the passing of the Ontario Nonprofit Corporations Act. What’s the significance of ONCA to our sector? What does this act mean for your organization? Why celebrate? Stay tuned as we break down a piece of legislation (and moment of systems change) fourteen years in the making. 

What is ONCA? Why does it matter? 

ONCA has a long storied history in our sector. It became the founding issue of the Ontario Nonprofit Network. At the time, the government’s proposal act didn’t represent the nonprofit sector’s needs. 

“This particular legislation was radically different before we got our hands on it.” Tonya Surman, CSI’s CEO, explains, “The reason I got involved was because there was a recommendation in the proposal of ONCA that any nonprofit that revenue-generated over 30 percent of its revenue would be forced to become a for-profit…At the time, 40% of revenue from the non-profit sector came from earned revenue.” 

ONCA became a rallying cry to bring the sector together. Before then, Lynn Eakin, the cofounder of ONN, was having little luck approaching organizations to discuss cross-sector issues. “Everyone said to me, ‘Oh, Lynn, that’s terribly important but I’m in the arts and I have arts issues.’ Then I’d go to sports and they’d say “oh, Lynn, that’s terribly important but I’m in sports and we’ve got so many issues of our own. We don’t have time.’” Lynn explains, laughing. “That’s when Tonya said, ‘you know, Lynn, we need a network.’ The light bulbs went off.” 

To organize a network, they needed an issue everyone could get behind. The ONCA incentivized organizations across interests to really see themselves as a sector. From there, a working group formed. Working off the sides of their desks, a group of nonprofit leaders and advocates began meeting at CSI to build what is now the Ontario Nonprofit Network. 

As Cathy Taylor, Executive Director of the Ontario Nonprofit Network, explained, celebrating the bill’s passing at CSI holds special relevance for ONN: “the first working group around the Ontario Nonprofit Corporation Act came out of the Centre for Social Innovation. For a number of years, almost seven years, ONN was incubated by CSI. So our staff were CSI staff members. The CSI board was responsible for ONN. We worked out of Spadina and then out of the Bathurst location. Really, for the first seven years. CSI was the organization that supported the development of a provincial network.”

What does ONCA mean for our sector? 

“At the end of the day, ONCA is an issue; it’s one issue of many and a piece of legislation. What it really represents is the resilience and perseverance of the sector to all come together.” Cathy explained. “Before ONCA, organizations – sports, arts, social services, health, education –  didn’t think they had anything in common. ONCA was the thing that brought them all together. They all had to register and incorporate under this legislation. It became the glue. Now, as ONN has developed, we have a network of 40,000 organizations that advocate on issues collectively.” 

What does the Ontario Nonprofit Corporations Act mean for your organization now? 

We asked Cathy Taylor to let us know what the Ontario Nonprofit Corporation Act means for your organization: 

“In many ways, ONCA is an administrative piece of legislation. So every nonprofit has to incorporate and they have to incorporate under a piece of legislation. This is now the legislation they have to incorporate and report under the previous legislation we worked with was almost 70 years old. You couldn’t hold a virtual meeting. Your board meetings couldn’t work virtually. You couldn’t hold a virtual AGM. And there were a whole bunch of other issues with it. This really brings the infrastructure and housekeeping rules of the sector up to par and up to a current standard. There’s new rules around audits and conflict of interest and what a member is that’s more conducive to the operating environment that we’re in right now. So it will really help organizations be able to organize their back office, if you will, their infrastructure. So they can focus on doing the important work, which is their mission, whether they are arts or sports or culture organizations.”

To find out more about the particulars of the Act and what this means for your organization, join us on November 25 for a webinar breaking down the Ontario Not-For-Profit Corporations Act.

What does this moment mean? 

“It might have taken fourteen years to get a piece of legislation passed but during those fourteen years, we’ve built networks and relationships. Collective advocacy is about perseverance… A small group of activists and advocates can actually shift how a government creates legislation. That’s the real value of ONCA and the work that we’ve done. “

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