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Expanding Our Impact to Advocacy

December 12, 2017

by Daniel Burnette

dan burnetteThe role of the nonprofit sector is to help people and communities across our country and beyond. The agencies that we work for provide programs and services in support of many worthy causes. As fundraisers, we play a crucial role in helping to generate the support that is required to provide those programs and services.

But that shouldn’t be where our work ends.

After all, we’re on the front lines of philanthropy.

We have knowledge and experience that could help bring about important changes in how the sector is perceived and how government (and others) interact with our agencies and our causes.

The sector HAS to be more involved in public policy. If not, we will be doing a disservice to our constituents. If we’re not talking to government about how laws, regulations and policies can be improved, critical expertise and voices will be omitted from the development of the very policies that impact the sector.

As the chair of the Canadian Government Relations Committee for the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), I’ve seen (up close!) the impact we can have if we engage with the public policy process. Through the work of AFP and other organizations, we’ve persuaded Parliament to approve new giving incentives, such as the elimination of the capital gains tax on gifts of securities to charity, and create a nationally recognized day, National Philanthropy Day, to celebrate the great work of our sector.

We are pleased that the Canada Revenue Agency focused on political activity rules earlier this year and called for recommendations from the sector to date. It should be said that many elected officials, especially those who served as volunteers and staff in the sector prior to their election, usually welcome an open dialogue with charities. However, it is clear that many Members of Parliament and other public policy makers don’t know that much about our sector. Legislators may like to talk about philanthropy or their favorite charity, but sadly many don’t understand how we operate or they have outdated notions of what we do and how many people we affect.

To this end, AFP held its inaugural "Day in the Ridings" event in November to meet with MPs in their ridings offices. Local AFP leaders (and constituents) introduced AFP and tried to demystify the sector to these crucial policy makers. It was an opportunity to offer up AFP as a point of contact and sounding board for MPs—basically to be a resource when issues or opportunities come up related to philanthropy and fundraising. And now, because we have strengthened our relationships with MPs and their staff, we’ll have a solid foundation to begin conversations if ill-conceived ideas are proposed that would have a negative effect on the sector—or on the positive side, when MPs are pondering a bill and are seeking informed feedback.

Next year, we’ll be working to expand our "Day in the Ridings" event and would love to have your involvement. Or, if your organization is inspired to start its own event, even better—AFP would be happy to assist if appropriate.

Getting involved with public policy isn’t just critical to the success of our individual organizations—it’s an important part of any civil society. We serve as the voice of the people, and often these are people who are the most vulnerable and not able to speak for themselves effectively. So thanks for engaging, and if you have questions about how/where to start, don’t hesitate to contact me or the AFP Public Affairs Department at

Daniel Brunette has been employed in the sector for 17 years and has worked and volunteered in a number of different capacities. Currently he is serving as director, development and donor services, for The Community Foundation of Ottawa. You can reach him through LinkedIn at

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