About two and half years ago, a small group of Ottawa-based professionals launched an initiative designed to give charities and not-for-profits access to pro-bono public affairs and strategic communications. Members of the group – known as the Canadian Advocacy Network (CAN) – had each been undertaking their own volunteer work with deserving organizations, and with that “market research” under their belts, the group consensus was that there was indeed a market for this kind of offering. Given limited (sometimes non-existent) budget for public affairs and communications efforts, but also considering the important bottom-line results those efforts can generate, CAN quietly started to roll out its activities and eventually started to generate some buzz.
The model itself is simple – CAN serves primarily as a “connector”, ensuring that charitable and not-for-profit organizations looking to access pro-bono services are able to be matched with interested professionals who want to volunteer their time and expertise. Support can be offered across a range of areas such as government relations, issues management, coalition-building, parliamentary and legislative affairs, presentation and media training. All things which are important and, particularly for a charity or not-for-profit engaged on a certain set of issues, can be leveraged to significantly increase the organization’s profile both within its sector but also with key policymakers and other thought leaders.
Fast forward to 2016 and it is evident that demand is there! Since its inception, CAN volunteers have worked with approximately 20-25 charities and not-for-profits on a range of public affairs issues and campaigns. Organizations which have worked with CAN volunteers up to now span the spectrum of focus areas – from SOS Children’s Villages to the Adoption Council of Canada and many others in between working on issues related to indigenous and First Nations communities, arts and culture, and homelessness.
The model for CAN is not revolutionary, but while some professional communities (lawyers and doctors, as examples) have offered pro-bono services to organizations and groups that would otherwise be without for financial reasons, the public affairs community is new to the table on this, in terms of a formalized, structured approach. For the group and its advisory board, which is made up of individuals from leading public affairs consulting firms as well as in-house experts at companies like CIBC and Shaw Communications, it is exciting to see a successful track record develop. Equally exciting is the prospect of seeing CAN services be offered to organizations in different parts of Canada, not just in Ottawa, where its first roll-out originated.
CAN is still actively looking for both volunteers, as well as organizations in need of and looking for pro-bono public affairs and strategic communications services. The process to get up and running with CAN is simple – brief online applications are available on CAN’s website at http://can-rcp.ca/ and can be submitted online.