The non-profit sector plays an important role in our communities, from social services to environmental protection, to arts, culture, and recreation. Virtually every area of our lives is impacted and improved through the work of the non-profit sector. With a substantial presence in our region, this sector creates meaningful employment for residents and greatly contributes to our individual and collective well-being. However, operating and sustaining non-profit organizations has become increasingly challenging. Funding has declined, while expectations continue to grow. Volunteer capacity is limited, and typical funding models are built on short-term contracts and processes that place organizations in competition with one another.
While faced with significant stress, the non-profit sector has become a force for innovation. The traditional boundaries of non-profit scope are blurring and organizations are finding novel ways of thinking and working together. The literature is rich with information about the benefits of social innovation and collaboration, and the non-profit sector is uniquely well positioned to be a driver of change, as many of its strengths are indeed the very characteristics that are essential to the innovation process. With a transformation in beliefs and patterns of behaviour, new ideas become common practice, leading to higher levels of environmental, economic, social, and cultural well-being. This knowledge brief explains key concepts related to improving community development outcomes – for the non-profit sector, as well other areas of society. Social innovation, social networks, collaboration, and collective impact are important concepts to understand and contemplate when seeking to create positive change in our communities and region.