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Ontario Nonprofit Network: Constellations for the Public Good

Lori Halley 27 February 2009 0 comments

These days, when we’re accustomed to hearing talk of nonprofits in competition for a piece of an ever-shrinking pie — public attention, as well as funding and volunteer resources — it’s refreshing to come across a different, cooperative model.

The Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) is a “network of networks” whose purpose is to coordinate and facilitate communication among nonprofit organizations working for the public good in Ontario, Canada.

ONN brings together people and groups that want to work together to strengthen the nonprofit sector. Our work is action focused, creating opportunities for the emergence of new ideas, flexibly responding to opportunities and needs as they arise.

Networks of networks (or associations of associations) are far from rare —  Arts groups, for example, often band together to defend government grants programs or arts education in public schools. Cooperation borne of mutual self-interest can help small groups to complete projects and wield influence that they could never achieve by working in isolation, there's no doubt about it — but what I found most interesting about ONN is its approach to enabling cross-sector alliances in the nonprofit community.

It’s all based on the constellation governance model, “a way of organizing a group of interested parties to meet a need without having to create a new organization.”

Constellations are “self-organizing action teams composed of people that share a desire to get something done,” to tackle a particular issue that affects the nonprofit community.

Perhaps a group will form around such things as raising the profile of the nonprofit sector in Ontario, or perhaps we will start aligning with each other to figure out a more effective relationship with government around funding and accountability. Or we could explore cross-sectoral discussions on, for example, the ways that the environment sector could start pushing for subsidized day care spaces, or how the health sector could start using their strength to mobilize around climate change, or how green jobs can be part of a poverty reduction strategy — you get the idea.

Leadership falls to whichever person is motivated to take on the role;  others can participate in any constellation that aligns with their own cause’s needs and interests, regardless of the specific sector in which they work. And the Ontario Nonprofit Network facilitates the communication between constellations and out to the broader nonprofit community.

There are more than 45,000 charities and nonprofits in Ontario, with 7.8 million volunteers, and more than 15% of the province’s paid workforce is in the nonprofit sector. And if the “constellation governance” approach to cooperative action can help each of those organizations to pursue its mission more effectively — without having to divert time and resources into forming yet another organization — it’s got some mighty powerful potential.

To learn more about the constellation governance model, see "Constellation Model of Collaborative Social Change" by Tonya Surman, executive director of the Centre for Social Innovation out of which the Ontario Nonprofit Network operates.

Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Friday, 27 February 2009 at 9:00 PM
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