Funding reform

by Jini Stolk

Toronto’s arts community enjoys the unique privilege of having arms-length funding bodies at all three levels of government, specifically mandated to support our work. We have the possibility of ongoing operating support; places to go with project proposals; and a built-in connection through peer juries to community feedback and oversight. The Arts Councils’ boards monitor artistic developments and changing needs to ensure that the range of supported work is relevant and reflective of community priorities.

With all this, there are also funding programs we can apply to at federal, provincial and municipal government ministries and departments. These are much more directly tied to government political priorities – and the resulting complexities of process and decision-making are behind the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Funding Reform initiative.

The ONN’s vision of a relationship and process that allows both government and nonprofit organizations to spend less time on administration and more time on program delivery and improving results is worth our attention. Those of us whose core or special project funding comes from the Province of Ontario should be able to get behind goals including: administrative processes that have been streamlined and standardized across ministries and programs; nonprofits that function more efficiently because there is predictable, stable long-term funding; reporting processes that are easier to navigate and focus on outcomes; and savings generated by streamlining processes that are reinvested in communities.

Vu Le has written often and passionately about the many absurdities of restricted line-item oriented funding, and has identified excellent funding practices as clearly as I’ve ever seen. More and more people are making the case for funding that includes full overhead expenses, and funders like the Metcalf Foundation are exploring which funding practices yield the best social impacts.

There are changes in the air in Ontario: a Joint Funding Reform Forum has been working on “Transfer Payment Administrative Modernization”, which could help cut through the tangles in the system.

A funding approach that’s flexible within reasonable limits, that allows for long-range planning, and that takes into account real costs – such as organizational administration, professional development, program evaluation, reporting, quality assurance, and fiscal management – characterizes “good funding,” no matter where it’s coming from. The arts have a great deal to contribute to this discussion – and potentially a great deal to learn.

If you need help this summer – whether for filling out fundraising applications or for some better more mission-oriented purpose – the Canada Summer Jobs program has been expanded in 2016 and is now taking applications (through February 26, 2016, so get going!). It offers eligible non-profit employers subsidy of up to 100% of provincial adult minimum hourly wage.

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