Could a Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan open the door to multi-year core funding for environmental NGOs? (and more funding for OTF?)

An important discussion paper on reducing litter and waste in our communities is open for comment until April 20th 2019. It outlines a series of actions from the “Made-in-Ontario Environment Plan”.

Knowing that Minister Phillips was the former CEO of OLG and hearing worries that further cuts may be on their way, I wonder if reprioritizing some of the Green People Stream Funding to increase the percentage allowed to be spent on core staff and administration could be increased? Or perhaps a new environmental NGO core/ongoing program stream could be created which reverses some of the changes of the 2015 ReDesign which the Liberal Government applauded?

It was under the Mike Harris years, after all, when OTF’s mandate originally expanded to include the environment sector and with that came a “substantial increase in budget”.

Looking at the discussion paper, there are a number of commitments outlined which seem well suited for environmental NGOs in our province to champion & deliver. Including:

  • Increasing opportunities for the people of Ontario to participate in waste reduction efforts.
  • Reducing and diverting food and organic waste from households and businesses.
  • Reducing plastic waste going into landfills or waterways.
  • Reducing litter in our neighbourhoods and parks.

Providing small amounts of multi-year funding to organizations already doing this work across the province could be a quick win to ramp up action in the short term. Unlike OTF’s “Seed” and “Grow” streams, it would allow grantees to focus on improving delivery & impact and provide them a base to leverage existing fundraising galas, private foundation money and other grants.

Speaking to some of the people running environmental NGOs here in Ottawa, all said they would prefer a 4 year grant of $15,000 per year ($60k total) that could be directed towards their existing ongoing projects & staff over a one-year $75,000 grant for some new project they have never done before.

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Thanks for sharing this discussion paper and your thoughts around how these actions might align with OTF’s mandate, Jay. Feedback about our investment strategy is always valued and I have shared your suggestions with my colleagues who are responsible for this area of work at OTF.

While OTF’s role as a funder is not to provide a source of ongoing core operating funds, grants can include staff and administration costs associated with the projects we fund. OTF continues to provide significant support to environmental initiatives through the Green People action area. For example, since the new investment strategy started in 2015 OTF has invested 10.9% of its total granting in the Green People action area which is roughly the same as the 11% of total investments made to environmental organizations in the 4 years prior to the new investment strategy. Under the new strategy the average grant size increased by 55%. There is no limit or maximum percentage allocated to funding available for applications in the Green People action area so there is certainly room to see an increase, but that is mostly determined by the quantity and quality of applications submitted. It is interesting to note that in the last fiscal year, we saw the lowest number of applications in Green People but the highest approval rate of all the action areas.

With regards to funding opportunities for that alignment between the commitments identified in the report you shared and OTF’s Green People investment strategy, I would recommend speaking with one of my colleagues in the Community Investments department. Program Managers are available for coaching calls year-round. These appointments can be booked by calling the Support Centre (1-800-263-2887).

Thanks again for your post.

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Thank you, Liz.

While I respect that OTF’s role as a funder is not to provide a source of ongoing core operating funds, OTF’s multi-year Operating Grants for an organization’s ongoing program costs** in the 4 years prior to the new investment strategy made a significant impact to environmental organizations here in Ottawa & our surrounding communities.

I agree that under the new grant strategy the average grant size increased and that you are investing Millions into the Green People action area. However, a few different OTF Program Managers have made it clear to me that the “Seed” investment stream is for new programs, not ongoing programs. Likewise, the “Grow” investment stream is for new growth, not to sustain ongoing programs. The “Grow” example given by one program manager was if an NGO was planting 2000 trees and wanted to plant 4000 trees, grow grant would fund the incremental (new) overhead and administrative costs associated with planting an additional 2000 trees but not the costs associated with planting the first 2000 trees.

That puts non-profit environmental organizations here in Ottawa (and perhaps other areas) at an incredible disadvantage and likely speaks directly to why “in the last fiscal year, [you] saw the lowest number of applications in Green People”. What I see happening here in Ottawa is that since environmental NGOs lack any source of multi-year ongoing program funding (eg. to plant 2000 trees again next year) they can not leverage the “Grow” investment stream (eg. to plant an additional 2000 trees for a total of 4000 trees). So what has been happening is that they either scale down operations or pivot to new programs (eg. ZERO trees are planted by the organization/program). Often, OTF has been a funder to help create these environmental programs which come to an abrupt halt. Personally, I feel that planting 2000 trees (using the same staff, same knowledge, same partners which a seed grant proved successful) would be a better project result of Green Stream’s “People and resource users take deliberate action to benefit the environment”. Instead, our community now sees such programs come to an abrupt end. This happened much less frequently here in Ottawa when OTF’s mulit-year operating grants were available.

In fact, only 7 environmental NGOs over the past 5 years have had the capacity to manage and deliver an OTF Grow grant. Here is the list from your open data site:

I know most of these organizations, love the work that they do, and see the benefits & impacts of many OTF-funded programs they have delivered here in our region. I strongly urge your colleagues & OTF Board members to look at this list of organizations and ask them:

  1. Where their ongoing program funding for non-profitable environmental programming comes from, and
  2. Where they expect ongoing program funding to come from 3 years from now.

I invite any current or former staff/board/volunteers from any of these organizations who are reading this to join in this conversation with their lived experience.

Now, ask those same two questions to those involved with the 27 champlain-area organizations who received some of the $5,498,000 investment into Prosperous People seed & grow grants over the same time period. Almost all are social or economic sector NGOs. I have spoken informally with many of them and the majority of them have multiple streams of multi-year ongoing program funding. They cite $50,000 to $1,000,000+ renewable community funding from the City of Ottawa, ongoing programs funded by public foundations such as the United Way Ottawa, and some also mentioned ongoing funding through the province such as the Local Health Integration Networks.

These funding streams allow them to continue their successful non-profitable social & economic programs (eg. teaching new skills to 2000 precariously-employed workers) so they can leverage the “Grow” investment stream (eg. teaching new skills to an additional 2000 precariously-employed workers for a total of 4000).

As the Green Stream demonstrates, OTF understands that non-profitable environmental work such as conservation & restoration is completely different than non-profitable Community Health programming and non-profitable Economic Development programming. So too are the environmental NGOs delivering this work. What seems to be less understood, however, is that unlike lifting citizens out of poverty, empowering youth or improving employment the flora & fauna who are the direct beneficiaries of some of the most important conservation & restoration work our city/province/nation has ahead of us will never become monthly donors or increase an organization’s “planned giving” revenue when they die.

** References from OTF’s 2014 Program Guideline Manual:

P.S. Here is that list:

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Great points Jason!! Keep fighting the good fight.

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Dear @JGarlough,

Thank you for your comments. I’m a Regional Director in Community Investments at OTF and am assisting with a response.

This type of input is very helpful. We gather feedback and comments on an ongoing basis that can be used for our next review of the investment strategy.

We are pleased to see your engagement in the Knowledge Centre. We encourage participants to use it as a platform for sharing and learning for the sector.

Your comments are in reference to OTF’s Investment Strategy and how we invest in local community programs across our six action areas. I would be happy to speak with you directly to provide further background on our investment strategy. Otherwise please send any questions about our granting programs to

Tracey Beauregard

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I’m the Executive Director of reThink Green, an ENGO in Sudbury that was actually created by OTF. (Yes, that happened back in 2006.) Until a few years ago, we were always one failed Trillium application away from shutting the doors. The first grant I wrote in 2014 was to maintain funding for my job and I was the only staff. I am sad (and a little proud) to say that as of April 1st of 2019 we will have no funding coming from OTF. We will have 12 staff in the office this summer and we are doing exciting environmental projects – one of the few organizations doing so in Northern Ontario on this scale.

I am very concerned about our long term sustainability. Our projects are successful and they are getting great results, but because they aren’t new we have nowhere to turn for ongoing funding. My staff is hired and trained to deliver these projects. We do generate a significant amount of revenue from our programs, but it doesn’t match the cost of running them. There is huge pressure to innovate, because we can only get funding for new projects. This means we are pushed to grow faster than we really have capacity to do. The hardest position to fund is my own because I’m running the organization, managing staff, thinking strategically, and looking for the next opportunity, not delivering a project.

A basic level of core funding is lacking for most ENGOs. If OTF could fill this gap it would increase the impact of the entire sector.

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@RebeccaDanard, Thank you for making time to add to the conversation. It’s always great when I hear about new things springing up at reThink Green and I hope you’re able to keep all of the programs which are making a positive environmental impact.

Know that you’re not alone in worrying about how the best projects can be sustained. My experience has been that the non-profitable projects which generate the least amount of revenue are often the projects which generate the most direct benefits to our city’s air, wind, earth, flora & fauna.

I’ve learned a bit more about how our social & economic sector NGOs built a case for their basic costs & ongoing programs. Here in Ottawa, some of the utilities like hydro & water are owned by the City (as are some of the buildings they rent) so it was relatively easier for them to make the case for tax-supported annual funding so they could afford market-rate rent & utilities. Most of which was paid back to the City or its subsiduaries but hey, at least it was a start. I believe there is also a program around waiving some/all property taxes for those in buildings not owned by the City too.