“Bringing visibility to the invisible weavers of our social fabric.”

By Raksha M. Bhayana, CEO and Michele Fisher, Communications Advisor, Bhayana Family Foundation

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have the second largest non-profit sector in the world. Two and a half million people work in our nation’s nonprofits and charities1, doing the miraculous work of caring for some of our most vulnerable citizens, engaging youth in arts and sports, knitting together proud communities, and much more.

At the Bhayana Family Foundation, we have had the privilege of honouring 1600 exceptionally committed frontline workers through our awards program with United Ways across Canada.
Ask yourself: in how many professions would you see a part-time seasonal worker personally hire a pink limo to take high school grads with disabilities to their prom? Or a survivor of partner violence who uses cooking as a medium to empower newcomers whose lives have been shattered by violence? Or a young woman who finds housing for recently incarcerated men, helping to prevent recidivism?

But here is the paradox: compared with almost every other profession, recognition for people in our sector is nearly non-existent. While we rightly lavish thanks on the more visible frontlines such as health care workers, nonprofit staff remain invisible champions, toiling tirelessly below society’s radar.

The case for recognizing our Invisible Champions
In the for-profit sector, formal employee recognition programs are de rigeur, and with good reason. Recognition is one of the most potent tools for motivating employees. In fact, lack of recognition is the main reason Canadian employees are unhappy at work – beating out bad bosses, low pay, and even toxic work cultures. Conversely, according to a survey of 12,000 North American workers, the most cited source of workplace satisfaction was the desire to feel appreciated and a sense of accomplishment. While most nonprofit organizations do their best to recognize performance internally, their resources are limited.

It is time to do something on a massively public scale. Three provinces have taken the giant step of initiating nonprofit recognition days/weeks within the last few years, beginning with Nova Scotia (2020), Ontario (2021) and most recently, British Columbia (2023).

In Ontario, the government legislated nonprofit recognition through its all-party, unanimous passage of Bill 9 – An Act to Proclaim a Week of Appreciation for the Nonprofit Sector in December 2021. Every third week of February the Government will lead the celebration of the nonprofit staff throughout the province. This year we celebrate the 3rd annual week from February 12-16, 2024.
MPP Daisy Wai has been the passionate champion of the legislation in Ontario. She worked tirelessly to ensure the passage of the bill because, in her words: “A Nonprofit Appreciation Week will provide Ontarians with a week-long opportunity to express their gratitude and encouragement to the nonprofit workers who play a vital role in building our communities.”

The Bhayana Family Foundation ‘hatched’ the concept of a Week of Recognition and found willing and trusted partners in United Way Greater Toronto and the Ontario Nonprofit Network.

The recognition gap
A few facts about the nonprofit sector that not many people know…

• The majority of nonprofit frontline workers are university and college educated. In fact, they are more highly educated than the rest of the labour force.

• In Canada, the sector constitutes 11% of our labour force and accounts for 8.3% of Canada’s GDP – more than auto, retail, or manufacturing.

• Nonprofits are some of the institutions most highly trusted by Canadians – 86% according to a recent Imagine Canada survey.

• Despite all of this, frontline nonprofit staff are still among the lowest paid and the most undervalued professionals compared with colleagues in other sectors.

Charities and nonprofits have helped to build and shape the Canada we know. For context, Ontario’s nonprofit sector is Canada’s largest – a $65 billion economic driver that collectively employs close to one million people and engages 5.2 million volunteers. Across Canada, mission-driven organizations and their staff provide a range of essential services and programs that touch all aspects of society: social justice, mental health, safety, human rights, environment, health, sports, faith, arts, culture and more.

Their social contribution is immeasurable; yet the external world is oblivious to the work being done. The sector and its dedicated professionals are overlooked, undervalued and in a word, invisible.

The ingenuity and morale-boosting power of recognition
The Bhayana Family Foundation is trying to close this recognition gap. Since 2007, in partnership with United Ways in major cities across the country, we have been recognizing extraordinary performance and staff excellence through awards. BFF Awards recognize achievement in categories such as Leadership, Innovation, Dedication, Team Achievement, Strategic Partnerships and Community Building. In the last 15 years, we are proud and humbled to have presented awards to more than 1600 individuals from 350 different organizations.

BFF awards ceremonies are affectionately referred to as the “Oscars” of the nonprofit sector. They continue to attract high-profile speakers, excellent media presence, support from politicians and local leaders, and unqualified praise.

Our research shows that the awards positively impact not just the people receiving the accolades, but their teams, the organization as a whole and its standing in the community. For award winners, public recognition by their peers and other social agencies is a benefit that is cherished.

Why is public recognition important?

• It uses the power of public visibility to celebrate success.
• It inspires others.
• It boosts creativity and innovative problem-solving.
• It gives top performers a forum to share best practices.

As one Executive Director put it: “This fantastic award is the only one we are aware of where an outside body celebrates frontline staff dedication and achievement. For our frontline winner it was the external recognition that we, no matter how much we appreciate her could not convey alone.”

Join our campaign for a national nonprofit day of recognition
A few years ago, we were asked to present to the Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector in Ottawa. The vision for a National Day of Recognition was first articulated there. The advice of the committee? Start at the provincial level.

In 2020, Nova Scotia made history by becoming the first province in Canada to proclaim a Day of Recognition for the Nonprofit Sector. In partnership with Bhayana Family Foundation, the former Lt. Governor of Nova Scotia, United Way Halifax and the Community Sector Council of Nova Scotia, the province organized a virtual flag raising and awards ceremony with remarks by the Premier.

As mentioned above Ontario was the second province to recognize the contributions of the Nonprofit Sector in December 2021. Ontario asked all Municipalities to declare the Week of Appreciation for the Nonprofit Sector and created a launch Video with greetings from the Government.

British Columbia proclaimed October 30, 2023, as BC Nonprofit Day. The celebration was led by Premier Eby in a remarkable ceremony wherein people impacted by the Sector spoke eloquently about the difference the sector staff made in their lives.

Building on this provincial momentum, we are currently advocating for a Nonprofit Day of Appreciation in Canada in concert with our partners and the active support of a team of Members of Parliament.
We have been most fortunate to have the support of many corporations including but not limited to: Margaret McCain, Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Ontario Chamber of Commerce, Senators Lankin and Omidvar, RBC, CIBC, TD, Uber, Ford Motor Co, Shopify, Telus Foundation, Corpay, Zurich Canada, Chapmans, Ideal Supply, and KCI amongst many others.

Let’s show nonprofit workers that they are valued… nationally
The front-line staff of our nonprofits are relentlessly mission-driven. They are people for whom a job description is only a starting point. They are always there for us: ready, willing, able, and forever stretching themselves to go an extra mile. Our lives would be unimaginable without their powerful yet silent support.
There are two major ways that you can support them in return. First, we invite you to join our advocacy to create a Nonprofit Day of Appreciation in Canada.

Please consider signing the petition. Visit www.bhayanafoundation.org.

Secondly, you can invest generously in charities and nonprofits whose work you care about the most. Resources are limited and sometimes scarce. There is perhaps no more meaningful recognition for nonprofit professionals than gifts that allow their work to continue and flourish – a virtuous circle for our communities.

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