Today’s guest blog is written by Keenan Wellar, the co-founder and CEO of LiveWorkPlay, an Ottawa-based charity supporting people with intellectual disabilities and families. He’s truly an all-around good guy, and he’s contributed a really thoughtful piece about the evolution of Ottawa’s charitable sector.
The difficult economic times of recent years have also heavily impacted the non-profit sector. Ottawa is home base to a remarkable number of charities, including those that serve the local community as well as head offices for provincial and national organizations.
Government cutbacks have slashed many budgets, and many have also experienced a loss of donors. But due in part to these challenges, I believe it is Ottawa’s non-profit sector that is now in the early stages of an exciting renaissance that may well inspire some newfound hometown pride.
Like governments and for-profit businesses, charities can get comfortable with their sources of income and lose sight of their missions. The poor economy in recent years has served as an important wakeup call. Some charities have responded by doing what they have always done, only doing less of it. Others are responding by re-invigorating their core constituencies, revisiting their missions, and reaching out with a message of social change: support us with your time, energy, and resources, and let’s work together to create a stronger Ottawa community.
Innovation and leadership lead to a new approach
The United Way of Ottawa is one such charitable organization that I view as undergoing this type of a renaissance. If you think I might be kissing butt because I am the leader of a charity myself, you can check out the Ottawa Citizen from 2002, when I was on the front page of the City section expressing discontent with United Way processes. At that time I pointed out what I believed to be critical shortcomings. Now that I am seeing innovation and leadership, it’s time to point that out too!
To describe what I am seeing in a nutshell (my words, not theirs) they are not raising funds to support the budgets of agencies. They are raising funds and working with partners in government, private sector, and charitable sector to target key challenges in the Ottawa community and realize measurable differences.
They aren’t going to stop contributing funds that will support the work of local charities. But they are targeting the changes that the agencies will create, not funding them to do what they have always done without evidence of outcomes that result in meaningful social change.
The United Way has always been about more than funding, but with the amount of publicity and resources attached to the annual campaign, it is understandable that public perceptions lean towards the money that is raised, not the partnership development, training, education, and other ongoing but lesser-known activities of the agency.
Connect, create, collaborate
That may soon change with the pending formal launch of the C3 Centre (connect, create, collaborate). Nestled in behind United Way Ottawa headquarters at 1155 Lola Street, the C3 Centre is bringing together local charities who share in the pursuit of capacity-building. This includes Volunteer Ottawa, Leadership Ottawa, Ottawa Chamber of Voluntary Organizations, Social Planning Council of Ottawa, and LiveWorkPlay.
Social change, not social services
The last name on the list, LiveWorkPlay, is the charitable organization my wife and I founded back in 1995 to support a better life for people with intellectual disabilities in the Ottawa community. It took some time, but working together with hundreds of amazing Ottawa citizens over the past 15 years, we’ve figured out that we are not a social services agency, we are a social change agency.
We are about building capacity and generating social capital so the people we support can have homes, jobs, and friends. We are not the first charity to figure this out, but we are excited to join with others to demonstrate the positive outcomes that this approach can realize.
Tune in and get involved
These are exciting times in the Ottawa charitable sector. I hope you will choose to be a part of it. Watch your local newspapers, radio, television, and social media sources for information about a C3 Centre open house on September 15, and don’t forget the United Way Ottawa campaign launch on September 23.
If you’ve been tuning out, I encourage you to tune back in. There’s a new wave of innovation in the Ottawa charitable sector, but it can’t be sustained without citizen engagement. Give it a chance, you might yourself embracing a new spirit of hometown pride!
If you’re interested in learning more, Keenan offers social media marketing workshops oriented to social change outcomes for non-profit organizations. You can contact him via LiveWorkPlay.
Related: Ottawa Community Guide