Commentary: Yukon’s non-profit sector is the mammoth in the room

The sector offers economic benefits, but it’s about more than that

Wendy Morrison

Yukon’s non-profit sector encompasses some 730 registered societies. According to the Yukon government, employees working for non-profit organizations account for 4.8 per cent of Yukon’s workforce. Statistics Canada says the non-profit sector accounts for 6.5 per cent of Canada’s GDP in 2017. Those are a few of the numbers.

What you hear around town are murmurs that there are too many non-profits — often in crisis — soaking up a massive amount of government funding and competing with local business. Is that really the case?

Indeed non-profits have been in the news frequently over the past year. Stories highlighting organizations at their crisis point started and ended the year in 2019. Some of what we read was heart-breaking, like the sudden drop of mental health services through last winter’s dark months and holidays when Many River’s challenges led to an employee strike followed by a collapse of the organization. Last month, we read the heartening news of Yukoners stepping up in giant leaps to support the Yukon Humane Society in the final months of 2019.

There are many other stories that don’t make the news. Some organizations with significant successes, other organizations struggling in silence. The combination of non-profits, non-government organizations and charities with social purpose is referred to as the social sector. I believe that the sector and its true contribution is not well understood, is under-supported and may be larger and more valuable than we think. It’s essentially the mammoth in the room.

So let’s dive deeper into the numbers.

The number of non-profits in Yukon is a bit illusive – always in flux based on the number of registered societies in good standing with the territorial government’s corporate affairs branch. Yukon officials seem reasonably comfortable using the range of 700 and 800. In 2017 the Auditor General of Canada put the number at approximately 730 registered societies.

According to Statistics Canada, there are 170,000 non-profit and charitable organizations in Canada, contributing $169 billion to Canada’s GDP. In 2017, the sector employed 2.4 million Canadians; a number higher than all of the jobs that year in mining, oil and gas extraction, construction, finance, insurance and real estate combined.

“Yeah, but it’s all government funds,” some might say. In fact, less than one-third of the sector’s revenue comes from government funds according to Statistics Canada. Nearly as much revenue is earned through the sales of goods and services as from government funding. A combination of individual donations and membership fees also surpass government contributions.

But when we talk about the sector’s impact, we shouldn’t focus on just the economy.

To the Yukoners who say that there are just too many non-profits, I ask, “What if there is just enough?” The non-profit sector is doing amazing work across the territory. Its full of passionate committed individuals.

What do they do exactly? We might think of health and social services and education, but it’s also recreation, sport, cultural industries, tourism, energy, agriculture as well as supports to businesses and professional organizations. One in three Canadians volunteers for a non-profit organization. There is no Yukoner that is not impacted by the sector and the programs and community supports that they provide.

So its in the interest of all Yukoners to support a healthy and vibrant social sector and ensure that the supports are in place to help organizations be effective, innovative and integrated across all sectors.

There might be a glimmer of hope that more support is coming. This past summer, a special Senate committee released its report “Catalyst for Change” which outlined 42 recommendations to better support the charitable sector, some of which are already in progress.

This past year, the federal government committed $755 million toward a social finance fund. According to the government, it will give organizations access to new financing to implement their innovative ideas. The Social Finance Fund is expected to generate up to $2 billion in economic activity, and help create as many as 100,000 jobs over the next decade. Imagine, an opportunity to see the sector thrive with growth and innovation.

Yukon’s Social Sector Summit (S3) is happening April 9. To my knowledge, it’s the first conference of its kind in the territory. For one full day, opportunities and possibilities for the sector will be explored. And what possibilities there are.

Wendy Morrison is a Marsh Lake resident who has spent over 20 years working in non-profit management. She recently launched a social purpose business to support and enhance the effectiveness of Yukon’s non-profits.

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