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Nov 25, 2015

Change Work: Full Report

November 25, 2015

Valuing decent work in the not-for-profit sector

This report explores the concept of decent work and its potential for the not-for-profit (NFP) sector.

Decent work involves thinking about work “as a source of personal dignity, family stability, peace in the community democracies that deliver for people” and a mechanism for inclusive economic growth. The decent work movement presents an opportunity for the sector to act as a champion of working conditions and social policies that not only ensure dignified and supportive work environments for employees, but also support the overall health and effectiveness of NFP sector.

Executive Summary

Though many organizations in the NFP sector are focused on providing employment services, alleviating poverty and promoting community health and well-being, little attention is paid to the sector’s role as an employer in promoting these same goals.

However, the health of the NFP sector as an employer directly impacts the effectiveness of organizations and their ability to meet their goals, missions and mandates. The report argues that a sector that champions decent work — both at a community level and through investing in its employees — will have an increased ability to make community impacts due to better engagement and effectiveness from its workers.

The NFP sector can be a major catalyst for a conversation about decent work and what it could mean for Canada, Ontario, its communities and the NFP sector itself. However, this must be done with a full understanding of the challenges and constraints it faces.

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Findings show that in some ways, the sector is doing well: workers in the sector feel passionate about their work and the sector provides workers with meaningful employment that benefits society. However, there are also many symptoms of distress:

  • concerns of employment stability for both employers and employees
  • low levels of retirement and benefits coverage
  • high rates of part-time and contract employment
  • underinvestment in training and development by organizations
  • poor work/life balance for workers at all levels.

There are many factors that may be contributing to the sector’s relative instability. Unstable funding and a lack of resources available to NFPs create financial uncertainty in the sector and drive underinvestment in capacity and long-term strategies. However, organization and sector culture may also be a factor at play. Given the current reality, what can the sector do to overcome the current challenges and change these structures and cultures?

The report argues that implementing a decent work vision must happen within a broader movement. Decent work offers a lens that cuts across many issues facing the sector, however implementing it will be complex. It will require systems change and government, funders, and different sectors working together. The NFP sector can help by working together to build a movement around the cause.

All people can play a role in promoting decent work and NFPs can work to enable change at four levels, through:

  • policy changes that make work better for all
  • sub-sector and sector-level initiatives that strengthen the sector
  • community and network-level supports for small organizations
  • good practices for individual organizations

Ultimately, decent work highlights the choices that people can make about how they collectively structure their organizations, community networks and policy systems. There are choices that any organization or government can make to improve working conditions for employees. It is up to the NFP sector to decide how it can best champion these efforts.

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Prepared by

Jamie Van Ymeren
Lisa Lalande

Release Date

November 25, 2015



Mowat Research

No. 111

View summary report

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