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Making Progress: A Dedicated Secretariat for the Charitable Sector

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Meeting of sector nonprofit leaders and Ya'ara Saks


Update: On April 25, AFP Canada convened a meeting with Parliamentary Secretary Ya’ara Saks and 13 representatives from the charitable sector to discuss creating a dedicated entity in government to champion our sector. We were thrilled to bring these leaders together and look forward to sharing next steps in this work.

Article published on March 9, 2023.

At the start of 2022, AFP Canada set out its overarching goal for government relations: to raise the profile of our sector, our policy priorities and AFP through meetings with federal government officials. Our request of Government: to create a dedicated secretariat for the charitable sector in Canada

Despite the fact that the charitable sector contributes 8.4% to Canada’s GDP, our sector does not have a dedicated secretariat in government, tasked with ensuring the well-being and viability of the more than 170,000 charities and nonprofits in the country.

Designating a secretariat for the sector is one of the most significant ways for government to ensure the ability of charities to meet the wide-ranging needs of Canadians now and in the future. 

The charitable sector provides countless services and supports making a huge difference in the lives of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. The sector often addresses needs that cannot be met by government or by the market. We are an important partner to government in the delivery of key services, including health care, education and social services, among others. 

The impact of Canada’s charitable sector is even greater considering that many of its services indirectly support the economy and industries across the country. The sector strengthens our country’s economy in many ways, including keeping the population healthy, fueling research and innovation, helping workers who are unemployed, and providing workplace training and education. 

AFP members in Canada personally reached out to over 70 Members of Parliament (MPs) about the benefits of creating a secretariat, as a follow-up to an AFP Canada mailing to all MPs. Meetings with 30 government officials took place in which members heard overwhelming support for this proposal and recognition for the enormous impact of our sector. 

“We are incredibly grateful to the AFP leaders who took the time to engage with government officials on behalf of our sector,” shared AFP Canada Government Relations Chair Aaron Sanderson, CFRE, ACFRE. “AFP members recognize the importance of a dedicated secretariat, especially in times of challenge or crisis. These leaders stepped forward to convey the significance to government officials even while leading their respective charitable organizations through pandemic recovery.” 

The request to create a single window into government for our sector is not new. It was recommended by the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector, supported by the government in their response to the Senate Committee’s report, recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector, and has been requested by number of like-minded organizations in our sector for years.

Our sector plays a key role in helping people across Canada deal with the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Early in 2020, we stepped up and responded quickly to the many pressing needs by providing food, emergency shelter and health care, among other things, to some of the most vulnerable in our communities.

The lack of a dedicated secretariat for the sector during the pandemic meant that the government was slow in identifying major gaps in the capacity of the sector to respond to community needs, and in developing targeted supports for organizations as they sought to adjust to better address those needs.

Recognizing the benefits of having a secretariat, many MPs with whom we met volunteered to raise this proposal in Parliament and with their colleagues. Several committed to speak to their caucus colleagues about the difference this could make in communities. We were thrilled to learn of the government’s plans to work on this priority in 2023.

The most exciting outcome from our 2022 outreach efforts is that we learned that the government plans to work on creating a “home” for our sector.  

The creation of a secretariat remains the number one priority for AFP’s government relations work in 2023. We are encouraged and hopeful by all the support for this issue, and are truly excited about the prospect of working with sector allies to support government in making it a reality.

AFP Canada and many others in our sector stand ready to support the government in their work to create a dedicated entity in government for our sector. We look forward to sharing our expertise, convening AFP members, providing feedback and other support as requested. 

“AFP members across the country can play an important role in advancing this priority,” explained Sanderson. “If you are introduced to, or meet with, an MP, ask for the opportunity to send them more information on the benefits of a secretariat for our sector. Don’t forget to take a photo and share it on social media. All efforts to raise the profile of our sector and the need for a secretariat strongly encouraged.”

There are many excellent reasons to have a “home” for our sector in government, as well as many examples of what is lost because we do not have one. Ultimately, the primary motivator is to ensure support and services are provided to those who need them. A dedicated secretariat would strengthen our sector enabling us to do so.


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