Where is Ontario's core and ongoing program funding for non-profitable environmental projects?

Now that the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) will only fund new projects and provides no support for “Maintaining existing programs as they are” (reference, Page 7 of the Tips for Great Grow Grants.pdf), our community is seeing a number of new environmental projects appear yet none seem to last more than 2 or 3 years!

Where can Ontario organizations access core and ongoing funding to maintain the Green People projects that OTF is seeding and growing?

While I have seen OTF’s seed & grow strategy work very successfully for non-profits in the economic (jobs/training) sector and social sector, those two sectors have core & ongoing program supports already set up. For example,

  • $262k is the average amount of critical core funding received by 90 social service non-profit organizations through the City of Ottawa’s Renewable Community Funding program.

  • There is about $2.6 billion dollars annually shared among 240 social & health organizations through the province’s Local Health Integration Networks (LHINs)

  • Our region also has large local foundations (eg. United Way Ottawa) which have funding streams to support important ongoing programs in the social sector.

When you add up all the public & private funding available it’s a good amount of funding to sustain any sort of successful social program which OTF has had a hand in nurturing through seed or grow grants.

However, when the project flips from a non-profitable mental health program to a non-profitable environmental health program, OTF funding will still assist in seeding or growing the project yet they seem to crumble with no municipal, provincial or private envelopes willing to keep the projects running year over year.

Looking through some of the environmental projects OTF has funded in the past, it seems the only ones which still have their doors open and continue to offer the same program have aligned themselves with either the social or economic sectors in order to tap into their annual core funding or multi-year ongoing program grants.

What are some of the other things groups across the province are doing to secure $50,000 to $250,000 of guaranteed annual core & ongoing funding to keep their environmental projects afloat?

Hello @JGarlough - Thanks for your thoughtful post on a challenging subject. As someone who spent 20 years working in the non-profit environmental sector (including as ED of a small association), I can certainly relate to the issue - which has been a subject for discussion as long as I can remember. And it’s not one that is unique to the environmental sector. I think it’s a challenge that exists across the not-for-profit sector, including with folks in the social sector space, even with the types of examples you cite.

The reality is, from my experience, that the idea of “guaranteed annual core & ongoing funding” just doesn’t exist, so we need to stop spending time looking for it. Even where the programs are warranted and sound, organizations that continue to do the same thing without enhancing, improving or otherwise evolving what they do, how they do it, and the impact they have, often struggle.

That said, there are certainly examples of organizations - big and small; within and outside the environmental sector - that have found innovative ways to support their work and diversify their funding in order to continue core operations and to grow. I think there’s an opportunity to continue learning from one another, and particularly seek to learn from those who may be working in a totally different area. Can some of the models that exist in other sectors be piloted in the ‘environmental’ sector? Should we continue to position our work as solely environmental or should a different lens be used (while not drifting from core purpose)? The more we can seek perspectives and ideas across sectors, the better off we’ll be. Maybe this space can help catalyze some of those discussions!

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Thank you, @TSilver, you pose some good questions!

And yes, “guaranteed” funding just doesn’t exits… I should have said “multi-year”. However, I feel strongly that – at the very least – multi-year funding for core & ongoing costs to sustain environmental non-profitable projects is something organizations should never stop looking for and if they can’t find it in their communities they need to build it. Especially where the programs are warranted and sound.

There are many great programs & projects I’ve seen non-profits like Invest Ottawa, the Ottawa Mission, the Ottawa Food Bank, Ecology Ottawa, Sustainable Eastern Ontario, continue to run year over year. However, only those which align with the economic sector or social sector are able to benefit from the various envelopes of core & ongoing funding.

I also agree with you that core funding and funding for ongoing projects continues to be a challenge for folks in the social sector space, even with the types of examples cited in the first post. It is for that very reason that I am very concerned about applying a “different lens” when the core purpose is clearly environmental. We would simply be putting even greater demand on the funding vehicles on which our important social sector depends.

Heck, I’m even part of the problem! Last year I put in a huge number of volunteer hours & effort to help advocate for an increase to the City of Ottawa’s renewable funding for social services and part of my ask was to open the funds to allow applications from environmental non-profits too in support of the social aspects of their work – a bit more on that here: CBC Link.

What we quickly realized is that there are at least a hundred or more environmental community groups, non-profits, and charities in Ottawa and many of them could make a pretty solid case for some renewable core funding if given the opportunity. That particular funding stream could even be used to sustain successful Seed & Grow grants (and I strongly suspect that some of Ottawa’s 90 social sector organizations who get that funding have allotted some of it to do just that). I’m sure you and your colleagues at OTF could pick out at least 8 or 9 organizations from this list or from previous green OTF grants that could really leverage an average of $262k/yr of critical core funding. However, that adds up to more than $2 Million/year which is 10% of the whole fund so while yes, access to renewable core funding could help a few of the environmental orgs, we would be doing so at the expense of another struggling sector.

Personally I feel that environmental benefits & services – especially those which do not directly create jobs, homes or food for humans – are what many of our communities need the most right now.

Ok. So it doesn’t exist. If enough environmental non-profits feel strongly that it should, then how do we build it? I like your idea of looking to pilot models in other sectors and wonder where to start… based on the examples in the original post:

  • Should we follow the footsteps of the economic development nonprofits or social nonprofits who have both created funding vehicles for themselves at the City of Ottawa in recent history (6-16 years ago)?

  • Should we ask the province to get the ball rolling on a Local Environmental Health Integration Network (LEHIN) fund? Given the recent political climate change here in Ontario, it might work best if the initial ask was slightly less than the $2.6 billion our region’s Champlain LHIN invests in human health. :wink:

  • Should we dust off the history books and learn how some of these larger private social-sector foundations came to be like the Ottawa branch of the United Way?

  • Other Suggestions?

@JGarlough So much to think about! I like the idea of “how do we build it” and maybe the time is right to try to gather unusual suspects - whether virtually through this space - or potentially in person should opportunity arise - to explore that question. Innovative minds from across different sectors can come up with some great ideas. Some have had success establishing stable core support from individual donors. Maybe its worth exploring environmental finance mechanisms such as bond issues, which have had tremendous impact in other jurisdictions. What ideas do people have? How can we try to bring them together?