It’s Time for a Social Finance Census

A great debate on the Census is raging from coast to coast. We rarely experience such storied excitement, intrigue, and interest in public policy matters, from abrupt but principled resignations, to heroic acts to save swimmers from drowning, to headline news in the venerable New York Times. [It does seem oddly Canadian that we would shift our focus from "lakes and beer" to the Census.]

We have decided to ride this wave of popularity to launch the first ever Social Finance Census. At the risk of stoking further controversy, I will say that this Census is not mandatory. However, although this Census is voluntary, you cannot exercise the Hogan’s Heroes defense for non-completion of the survey. And don’t worry, this census will not ask you intrusive questions such as whether you have a Team Jacob poster in any of your bedrooms, inquire whether you had waffles for breakfast before heading to work, or query whether you actually floss on a daily basis. These are important details, but altogether irrelevant to our work.

So what exactly is the Social Finance Census?

The Social Finance Census 2010 (#sfcensus) is an initiative to gather vital data on non-profits, charities, social enterprises, and social purpose businesses in order to build a strong profile of the sector. The Census involves a set of surveys with basic and in-depth questions tailored specifically to issues of financing and regulation. The Social Finance Census aims to:

  • Build a profile of innovative non-profits, social enterprises, and social purpose businesses in Ontario;
  • Determine the sector’s current sources of capital, its future capital needs, and the challenges it faces in accessing capital;
  • Determine the potential that exists to provide the sector with new and alternative forms of capital to foster the sector’s growth;
  • Analyze regulatory and resource barriers for development; and
  • Conduct a preliminary assessment of the sector’s measurement of its social and/or environmental impact.

As with the national census, the data collected will be confidential. Unless you explicitly state that are willing to have your basic data mapped (name, address, social mission, etc.), it will be anonymously aggregated into the pool with all of the survey respondents.

So why is the Social Finance Census important?

This Census will provide hard facts and numbers to complement the powerful narrative of our collective work. We cannot effectively plan for the future, advance progressive positions to government, or accurately portray the depth and breadth of our work without data. The Census addresses this underlying gap: there is a fundamental lack of comprehensive, universal data on social finance in Ontario, and indeed, across the country.

Accordingly, the Social Finance Census will:

  • Provide the sector with data to support planning and coordination; demonstrate the size and operations of the sector to the public, government, and potential supporters; and
  • Ultimately, help to attract investment and talent to the sector.

Who is involved in the Social Finance Census?

A strong group of organizations have pulled together for this effort. The Census is a project of the Social Venture Exchange (SVX), a joint initiative of Social Innovation Generation (SiG) at MaRS, the TMX Group Inc., Causeway Social Finance, and the Government of Ontario. A key collaborator on the project has been the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) with grant support from The Law Foundation of Ontario. In addition, we will also be working with SocialFinance.ca on the promotion of the survey and dissemination of results. Many eminent individuals and organizations also have contributed their time and expertise to ensure the project is a success.

How can you help with the Social Finance Census?

The success of this effort will rely on you. There are three easy ways that you can help with the Social Finance Census:

You do good work. Stand up and be counted.

Note: This blog entry originally appeared on the Social Venture Exchange blog.

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