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Sep 2018 | The Future of Public Service Delivery


There is an interdependence between nonprofit, social enterprises, business, and government in addressing the social, environmental, and economic issues cities face today. To build an engaged, inclusive, and vibrant community, municipalities should consider nonprofits and social enterprises as key collaborators in the creation and delivery of services. Nonprofits and social enterprises can be valuable partners to municipalities for the delivery of public services. In collaboration, communities can become more engaged, inclusive, and vibrant. Nonprofits and social enterprises have a natural connection to the individuals they serve, and citizens should be at the heart of all development, decision making, and delivery. This offers a human-centered design that is at the heart of creating transformational change. A network mindset where citizens, nonprofits, social enterprise, business and government lean on one another and learn from one another will foster inclusion and collaboration, resulting in a greater community impact.

When municipal governments consider new programs and delivery, there are four key principles that lead to impact and positive results:

  1. Collaboration Starts with Trust & Empathy
  2. Leveraging Assets & Shared Services
  3. Inclusive Innovation
  4. Investing in Community Impact


I. Collaboration Starts with Trust & Empathy


The foundation of real collaboration is trust and empathy, and it takes intentionality and time to build this foundation among nonprofits, municipal staff, social enterprises, and those with lived experience. The power of listening and asking good questions – rather than showing up to the table with answers – has been an effective tool regardless of the collaborative partners. However, the power that government often holds over nonprofit and social enterprise needs to be named and recognized.

Fortunately, listening and asking questions can provide an opportunity to equalize the power structure. Open communication with real dialogue about vision, financial realities, and community needs will contribute to building trust – and the best possible foundation for the collaboration to thrive. Starting with co-creating the principles that will guide the collaboration will provide a roadmap to look back to when things go off course.

Using a community development approach that puts those with lived experience at the centre of the design, decisions are made in an authentic way with individuals sharing only what they are comfortable with, leading to services and solutions that meet human needs. This process requires suspending assumptions based on our own experiences, practicing active listening, and deconstructing our current understanding of structures and programs. Listening to the lived experience of those impacted can uncover some of the systemic issues, rather than looking at the issue from a narrow lens of the service delivery.

When we seek the perspectives of those we are co-creating with, it fosters empathy and understanding. Letting go of preconceived notions about individuals, how things have been done before, how processes work, and limiting entrenched beliefs will lead to new solutions rooted in possibility thinking. Nonprofits and social enterprises have a direct line of communication and relationship with those with lived experience that municipalities can learn and benefit from. Empathy comes from understanding people’s experiences, and when you put people at the centre of design, it leads to innovative solutions. It takes great care to engage people with lived experiences in a way that honours their journey, time, trauma, and consent. Accordingly, we have put many tools in our toolbox at Pillar Nonprofit Network, including Empathy Walks, design thinking sessions, and collaborative partnership building. They require stepping out of our comfort zone, and having an openness to those in various municipalities, nonprofits, and social enterprises to show up as human beings, not only in their professional role.


“The power of listening and asking good questions… has been an effective tool regardless of the collaborative partners.”


II. Leveraging Assets & Shared Services


When municipalities and nonprofits/social enterprises explore new programs and services, a review of the resources that each can bring to the collaboration will leverage their collective assets. Sharing resources leads to building a broader understanding of each other’s sector and creates efficiencies. This exploration should come after trust and empathy are established, and after a shared vision and shared outcomes are co-created, so that processes and resources follow and meet the needs of those served. An asset-based review can include strategic focus, values/approach, human resources, knowledge/competencies, financial resources, and technology/space infrastructure. The shared services and resources that have been integrated in our community include technology, space, training, and equipment.


III. Inclusive Innovation


Nonprofits and social enterprises are key social and economic drivers in community, and they serve a diverse population, including age, background, culture, abilities, and disabilities, sexual orientation, lived experience, gender, and more. Every citizen interacts with the nonprofit sector in some way, whether it’s with respect to health, education, arts, culture, environment, social services, heritage, sports, and/or economic development. Therefore, as a municipality develops its strategic focus and programs, there are multiple intersections with the nonprofit sector to be leveraged.

Diversity and equity lenses  are critical to city building and require addressing the structures and systems that contribute to oppression and creating a city for all. Municipalities must lead by example in having diversity and equity reflected across the whole organization from strategy, policy, human resources, programming, infrastructure, funding, political structure, and so on. When we commit to diversity and equity, it often means exploring our own power and privilege and giving up something to redistribute power. For municipalities with large bureaucracies, this requires leadership from both the staff and political leadership. When decisions are made, input from citizens may exclude those who are oppressed or have lived experience. This oversight needs to be addressed, and nonprofits and social enterprises have an important role to bring those voices forward.

Both municipalities and nonprofits can have a bias towards being risk averse because of the expectation from community of needing to be efficient with financial resources. If we could infuse a culture of innovation that embraces more of a testing and prototyping phase – and accepted failure and learning as a necessary phase as well – it could be a game-changer for communities. If municipalities and nonprofits stepped into the discomfort of failure and exercised this as a leadership muscle that both needs attention and needs to be developed, it could enhance creativity, work culture, collaboration, and social impact.



Iv. Investing in Community Impact


As municipalities and nonprofits build partnerships, funding should support transformational change, not just transactional service delivery. There has been a shift to short-term project funding that undercuts the sustainability and long-term impact that nonprofits and social enterprises can create in communities. Core funding and multi-year funding by municipalities are significant game changers for nonprofits and social enterprises. Measuring the impact of services and programs for decision making, long term planning and program improvements must be embedded in the expectations as well as the funding provided by the municipality. Further, seed funding for new innovative approaches that may result in failure, learning and/or success as well as capital funding must be available to meet the complex funding needs to innovate, maintain, and transform nonprofits, social enterprises, and communities. Nonprofits and social enterprises are key economic drivers in communities and therefore economic development strategies and supports from municipalities should include these approaches as high-potential means to achieving inclusive economic growth.

Municipalities are significant purchasers of goods and services, and in a society that is increasingly moving towards valuing social and environmental responsibility, municipal governments can lead by example in adding community benefit criteria to their procurement processes. Policies that enable nonprofits, social enterprises, and local small businesses to offer services such as catering, construction, cleaning, training, printing etc. should be in place in municipalities. “Sales of goods and services account for 45.1 percent of total income for the core nonprofit sector,” demonstrating that earned revenue is a key source of funding and revenue approach.[i] Job creation, new job markets, social, and environmental impacts are just some of the potential outcomes of implementing policies and practices that value nonprofits and social enterprises as providers of goods and services.

Unlocking new capital in local communities through social finance is another innovative approach to investing in community impact. Social finance intermediary services create opportunities for cross-sector innovation and partnerships. Not only are these services mobilizing and pooling philanthropic/grant capital and non-local traditional investments held by institutional and individual investors, but skills and resources of different sectors, complementing, and clustering interconnected businesses and functions. Particularly relevant is the role that place-based impact investment is playing in creating cross-sector innovation and partnerships. Place-based investments channel private and philanthropic capital into under-invested communities to generate both social impact (including employment creation and strengthening local economies) and financial returns for investors.

Municipalities can collaborate in the emergence of place-based social enterprise and social finance as a champion, funder, investor, capacity builder, and champion. Some examples are providing grants for start-up social enterprises, being a guarantor on a mortgage for a social enterprise with a capital asset, investing in a community bond, developing a social impact bond strategy, as well as promoting and recognizing social enterprise as a viable business model and social finance as a viable community investment strategy.



MICHELLE BALDWIN is Executive Director of Pillar Nonprofit Network and helped to co-create Innovation Works and VERGE Capital in London, Ontario. Michelle has extensive experience in nonprofit management, social enterprise, social innovation, social finance, communications and fundraising. She currently serves on the Board of the Ontario Nonprofit Network and sits on the Premier’s Advisory Committee on Community Hubs, Community Economic Advisory Panel with City of London and Entrepreneur Support Network. Michelle holds a Master of Educational Psychology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, as well as a Communications & Public Relations Professional Certificate from Western and a Volunteer Management Certificate from Fanshawe College.