Health Nexus Reflects on Fiscal Trends for Non-Profits and Health Promotion

By Barb Willet and Alison Stirling

For the annual Ontario Health Promotion E-Bulletin (OHPE) year end feature  “Looking forward and looking back” December 19, 2014,  we wanted to highlight developments from recent government statements, reports, and conferences we’ve attended  that need closer attention.

Here’s a sampling of fiscal trends we feel are not just noteworthy but critical to our sector:

1. Austerity is not gone; there is a continued and increasing emphasis on cost-effectiveness and accountability. The recent Ontario Government finance statement indicates a review of “program transformation opportunities” to assess outcome effectiveness and to identify costs savings. More than ever, we need to be sure we can demonstrate that our programs are relevant, make a difference and are sustainable.

2. Return on investment, demonstrating value, measuring social impacts are approaches and terms that we need to not only understand but integrate into our language and thinking.  Funders, potential sponsors and partners want to know that we are indeed making a difference in the large scheme of things in addition to simply ensuring effectiveness. The challenge for our sector is to embrace business thinking while not losing the fundamental social service values that attracted us to this work in the first place.

3. Finance models are also changing rapidly as funding is increasingly scarce and we are expected to do more with less. As the Mowat Centre on public policy pointed out, interest in social impact bonds, outcomes-based funding, and value-based measures is growing.  Such models may not be initially welcomed in our sector but they are here and we should be involved in shaping when and how they are used.

4. Inter-sectoral learning is vital. Increasingly, there are amazing opportunities to learn beyond the usual roster of sector related events. This fall, the Collective Impact summit challenged us to co-develop robust practices efforts in shared impact measurements across diverse collaborations. The SIAA Talking Data event immersed us in social impacts analysis, demonstrating value and social financing issues. As partners and participants, the Community Knowledge Exchange (CKX) summit  allowed us many opportunities to engage in sharing research, stories and data, and to take ‘wise crowd’ counsel about social innovation. (Read more of our reflections on CKX)

At Health Nexus, we’ve been aware of these developments but until recently we’ve been content to leave those reports and briefs sitting on the edge of the desk.  Like many of you, we were cautious observers. However, we realize that we need to be more active and carefully reflect on their implications, and the potential opportunities for our organization, and for the sector.  Let’s remain cautious but not be passive about these trends that will, whether we like it or not, have a significant impact, on our work.