Image credit: Shillington Education, Collaborative by Nature Exhibition – Shillington Design Blog

In following the theme of having monthly guest contributors, this issue is superb.

I met Christina Maes Nino, who is the Executive Director of the Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association (MNPHA), through some work I’ve been doing with the Flin Flon Aboriginal Friendship Centre. The Centre is exploring solutions to their homelessness challenges and the possibilities around creating sustainable, low income housing and an emergency shelter. (Actually, there is quite a bit more to this project so if you’re interested, please let me know and I can give you an update).

The Manitoba Non-Profit Housing Association represents over 100 non-profit housing providers who collectively own and manage more than 24,000 affordable homes across 25 communities in Manitoba. It supports its members to build a thriving, sustainable non-profit housing sector in the province of Manitoba. The four pillars of this support are:

  1. the provision of membership services
  2. advocacy with government, funders, and other stakeholders
  3. sector development through professional development opportunities and education, and
  4. building partnerships within and outside the sector

Here is what Christina has for us:

“Charities and non-profit organizations are established around a cause or mission; they therefore have an obligation to promote that cause. While board members can be hesitant to engage in policy advocacy for a variety of reasons, this is an essential mandate of our sector. Dr. Roger Gibbins wrote The moral imperative for policy advocacy (2016), outlining a number of reasons for this, centered on the moral responsibility that comes from receiving public funding to improve civil society.

Many small non-profit organizations see joining associations, coalitions, and networks as their means of advocacy (for this purpose of this article, I’ll combine these under the umbrella of ‘association,’ recognizing there are significant differences in the way each operates). Membership in an association builds strength in numbers. Working collectively with a common voice is powerful, and an efficient use of the limited resources we have in our sector. Building policy expertise and the capacity to be effective in government relations is resource-intensive and challenging even for large organizations.

Associations and coalition organizers appreciate that our members see joining us as a means of fulfilling your advocacy and policy change objectives. As one of those association leaders, who feels a small thrill of contentment when a member says “I joined because I care about housing and want to be part of something bigger,” here are some things we want you to know about how we can better change policy together:

  1. Numbers and representation amplify our collective voice. Join networks, coalitions, associations, and organizations that support your mission. Pick 1-2 and participate in them in a meaningful way. Associations’ legitimacy comes from our members – we need you!
  2. Associations benefit from your on-the-ground experience when we are advocating with you. When you’re having challenges, enacting solutions, or have ideas, call us! Tell us what is going on with policy and funding changes or gaps so we know what the issues are.
  3. You might think about the association you are part of a few times a year. Know that they are thinking about you all the time. Getting their members engaged and active is their job, so don’t hesitate to provide suggestions on how they can best serve you.
  4. Collective advocacy can be more effective than centralized advocacy. That means that while joining and paying membership fees is nice, it’s rarely enough to effectively change policy. Having members available to speak to media about your direct experiences, to meet with government decision-makers, communicating our common concerns while sharing your own specific concerns, and being active in campaigns and events, are all essential and more valuable than your membership fees.

Most of the missions of the non-profit sector can only be achieved through social and policy change, and most social and policy change requires persistent, collective action and advocacy. So find the associations that are also working on your cause and join them, and recognize that doing so effectively will take time but will also fulfill your moral obligations as a charity or mission-driven non-profit.”

There you have it! Please feel free to reach out to Christina with any questions, and, if you haven’t already done so, consider joining and supporting your local associations, coalitions, and networks!

Christina can be reached at:

Talk soon,

Frank (he/him)


Join our Newsletter