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AFP Canada Government Relations: Taking leadership

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So much of AFP’s work happens at the committee level. As part of our Committee Chair Conversation Series, in this article we are focusing on AFP Canada’s government relations portfolio, which saw a lot of activity in 2023. The work involved ongoing outreach to Members of Parliament (MPs) and government officials, progress on the work to create a permanent secretariat for the charitable sector, progress on the request for an exemption for donations under the proposed changes to Alternative Minimum Tax, and working to successfully ensure new reporting rules do not apply to charitable trusts.

Aaron SandersonAaron Sanderson, MA, FAHP, CFRE, ACFRE, is chair of the government relations committee (GR) which focuses on issues that impact the fundraising profession at the federal government level. He first joined the AFP Canada board in 2021 and a year later he assumed the role of GR chair. He is an international award-winning fundraiser with over 15 years of experience at leading nonprofit organizations including War Child, SickKids Foundation, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, Plan International. He is currently senior vice president, advancement & chief development officer at Kids Help Phone. Gail Picco recently interviewed him about AFP’s government relations work.

Thanks for taking time to talk, Aaron. I’d like to start with a basic question: When AFP talks about government relations or advocacy what does that entail?
There are a few strategies that happen continually in our government relations work. Firstly, AFP members meet with elected officials across the country to talk about the issues facing their constituencies. In those conversations, they will often mention the work AFP is doing, so there’s members speaking directly with MPs. There’s also regular channels open to the public to tell the government what they might consider as they are developing programs and policy. The pre-budget consultation is one of those channels, and we participate in this process. In addition, throughout the year AFP connects with senior policy advisors that have influence on our advocacy priorities. The policy people are the lynchpins in our relationship with elected officials. These are essential relationships for us to maintain.

As a leader in that effort, what is your priority?
Most important in my role as chair is to ensure communication with our members. The more our members are informed and engaged in our GR work, the more influence AFP has. This is due to the fact there are over 3,000 members active in the sector from coast to coast to coast. That’s leverage. It is also a priority for me to ensure we connect with other membership-based organizations that have the same strategic goals as we do. In addition, truly understanding which government structures come into play and when, is critically important for our advocacy. There is a significant network of individuals we need to connect with both in government and in our sector. As chair of the committee, I’m the figurehead charged with maintaining or creating new relationships when cabinet shuffles and government staffing changes take place.  

AFP made some significant gains in 2023. Is there any reason for that? Do you find government receptive? 
We have made some gains. It takes time to do this work and the operating environment has changed. Government partners currently see AFP as leading the sector around important issues like creating a secretariat. Our sector was successful in our efforts to roll back legislation effecting trust reporting, and AFP used its influence in government to advocate for this change. And when we saw the pause on the implementation of  the proposed changes to the Alternative Minimum Tax—the changes included some that would significantly disincentivize donations—we saw that as a partial victory as a result of our work on the issue. While there remains uncertainty about how donations will be treated in the AMT, we are hopeful that the government is considering our concerns seriously.

I do see AFP’s sphere of influence growing with government. They will come to us if they have a sector-related question. Our strength is in our large membership base that can scale consultation across the country and reach a diverse swath of people. In addition, AFP leaders Vivian Smith and Tanya Rumble, MPNL, CFRE, CMP, MFA-P, who serve as members of the CRA Technical Issues Working Group and the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector respectively, make important contributions on behalf of the fundraising profession at both of these federal government tables.

What does it take to make and maintain a relationship with government? 
There are a few things that are important. Consistency is key. You must maintain your relationships and your contacts. Also, as I mentioned before, the membership must be engaged. When any of our members have a meeting with a MP about their cause, it really helps when they make it known they are part of a broader organization called AFP. Government has told us that it is very powerful when members drop in AFP’s advocacy ask at the end of their meetings. Finally, you also must be nimble and ready. Just as you want to be able to react to a cabinet shuffle, you must be ready to take advantage of an opportunity and build a group of fans and supporters within and across government.

What would you like the membership to know about AFP’s government relations work right now? 
We are feeling a sense of momentum right now. We can picture a more coordinated and closer relationship with government, and we need to believe there is a productive relationship to be had. Our 2024 priorities are a dedicated secretariat, changes on the Alternative Minimum Tax, and to share the great news about the victory on the trust issue. Election readiness is also important. We don’t know when it will be, but we need to know what we want. I’m grateful to have the role of chairing this committee and to have the point of view it allows—the work across the sector and society. And with regards to government, I want the membership to know that the people we meet value the work of fundraisers and the charities they represent.

To learn more about AFP Canada’s government relations work, go to our website.

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