Building Stronger Communities: Non-profit Sector Participation in Infrastructure Planning and Development

Vancity Community Foundation

Author +
Vera LeFranc, Joy Weismiller, Michele McBride

Year: 2013

Non-profits have played a vital role in building communities in Canada and continue to make important contributions to developing public infrastructure.

Canada has a large non-profit and voluntary sector, and it has been growing steadily. Non-profits have strong connections to the communities they serve and are able to mobilize the efforts of committed volunteers. These organizations have a deep understanding of their communities and are often well connected to other non-profits, governments, other public sector organizations and the private sector.

Governments are increasingly recognizing non-profits as desirable investment partners for infrastructure projects. Non-profits contribute to the nation’s economic and social well-being. They supplement services provided by the public sector, address community interests and meet needs to which markets do not respond or are not designed to serve. The non-profit sector is uniquely positioned to participate in the delivery of services and infrastructure planning and funding.

There are benefits to be gained from having non-profits participate in public infrastructure—for governments, the private sector and communities. For example non-profits have the ability to leverage resources to meet increasing demands to fund government infrastructure developments. The private sector can benefit from partnering with non-profits through returns on investment and by realizing social impact. Communities benefit by gaining access to new spaces and infrastructure that is tailored to user needs. Infrastructure projects that utilize socially responsible public procurement practices can help increase community capacity and boost local socio-economic development while achieving a blended value bottom line (financial and social return on investment).

Barriers to non – profits engaging in infrastructure planning and development include administrative issues, limited capacity to prepare applications and manage grants, relationship issues, challenges with accountability and performance measurement, and concerns related to financing and risk.
This report identifies a number of opportunities to increase non -profit participation in public infrastructure development
  • mobilizing the efforts of intermediaries, development trusts and community foundations
  • utilizing the capacity of Canada’s mature and increasingly strategic non-profit sector to guide public infrastructure investment decisions
  • making use of the sector’s demonstrated ability to build and maintain physical assets and community spaces
  • encouraging innovative financing — non-profits are well versed at seizing opportunities to leverage existing relationships
  • partnering with the business sector which, increasingly, wishes to realize social impacts as well as adequate returns on investments
  • facilitating access to sustained funding from investors to encourage participation
  • nurturing a tax and regulatory environment that supports social finance innovation, stimulates community-driven infrastructure ventures and promotes creativity.
A community’s dreams synchronize with its physical infrastructure through the ingenuity of the citizens who dedicate countless hours of volunteer and paid time to transform dreams into reality. There are an increasing number of success stories where non-profits who have members with novel ideas have transformed their visions into places where people gather, work, play, share, earn, serve and support others. These spaces are embraced by citizens who feel a sense of ownership, pride and promise, and this builds strong communities.