Communiqué from Oxfam Canada Board

Meeting of February 22 - 24, 2013

At the last full face-to-face meeting of its three-year term, the Board dealt with a jam-packed agenda, focused primarily on the financial situation facing Oxfam Canada and strategies to increase income and align spending to increase sustainability and resilience. As well, the Board approved the operational plan and operating budget for the coming fiscal year, approved new policies and governance reforms, and endorsed the strategic plan that will frame the work of the Oxfam confederation over the next six years.

Oxfam’s financial health and future

Oxfam Canada is currently facing serious financial challenges, as is the case with many non-profit and charitable organizations. These challenges are the result of the global economic downturn, changes in the way CIDA works with Canadian NGOs, and the rising cost of operating a top-quality program.

As a result we have stepped up efforts to diversify funding sources, increase fundraising and cut operating costs. This, sadly, involves office closures in Canada and reductions in our staff complement here and abroad.

For the current year, income from major gifts, Trailwalker, SharePlan and Unwrapped is down. Bequests, while above target, are also down from last year. To reduce the deficit, $920,000 in expenditures have been cut and an additional $240,000 has been saved through the generosity and sacrifice of staff, many of whom have forfeited vacation and given donations or taken wage cuts equal to two weeks salary.

These hard-found savings more or less balance the shortfall in fundraising but we continue to forecast a year-end deficit of more than $600,000. This arises from severance costs linked to positions that have been eliminated or relocated as part of a restructuring approved by the Board last year intended to reduce costs and generate savings over the long term.  

For the coming year starting April 1 and ending March 31, 2014, the Board approved a budget with a fundraising target of $6.5 million, which compares to $7.65 million this year. The $2 million fundraising budget allocates increased funding to acquire new donors, increase monthly donors and boost bequests and the average size of gifts.

The reduced fundraising target combined with less funding from CIDA and other sources (mainly linked to the end of the East Africa emergency response) results in total forecast revenues of $18.5 million – down from $31.5 million this year. To balance the budget, severe cuts have been made to operations and staffing and extraordinary support will be required from Oxfam staff and from Oxfam International.

If the situation were temporary, stopgap measures might be enough. But the financial situation is likely to grow more difficult over the next several years as CIDA funding for our women’s rights programming and public engagement work ends and the economic situation continues to dampen donations.

The Board examined a five-year budget forecast that showed Oxfam Canada is likely to continue to shrink if we cannot grow our donor base and secure new sources of funding from a diverse range of institutional funders. But our ability to increase investment in support of these goals is very limited.

So the Board devoted time to looking at the risks and benefits of different scenarios for Oxfam’s future. Options included a condensed version of the status quo; focusing resources in support of one or another part of our program; or melding with Oxfam Québec.

The Board affirmed key elements of our strategic focus over the next three years, calling for increased investment in targeted marketing, fundraising and campaigning; continued efforts to grow and diversify institutional funding; and giving priority to the international program, maintaining our gender justice focus and testing its viability in the changing funding environment.

The Board also gave a mandate to the Chair and Vice Chair to work with the Executive Director to move forward with Oxfam Québec a plan of action to maximize opportunities for strategic collaboration and increased efficiencies.

In approving the operational plan and operating budget for FY14, the Board acknowledged there were a number of assumptions that would need to be tested, agreements secured and unknowns confirmed. The Board agreed it would monitor financial performance against plan on a monthly basis. Management Team was asked to confirm a plan of action in the event revenue targets are not met and to continue its efforts to boost revenues, reduce expenses and rebuild reserves.
 

Food justice policy

A new food justice policy has been approved that sets out Oxfam Canada’s commitment that everyone in the world be able to feed themselves in dignity always and that nutritious, adequate food is available and accessible to all at all times. The policy provides a framework for all our work related to food justice, rural livelihoods and emergency response, replacing a policy on food security that dates back to 1998.

Providing guidelines for implementation, the policy recognizes the central role women play as producers, processors and consumers and reflects our commitment to women’s rights and women’s leadership. As well, it addresses the environmental and global dimensions of food justice, including growing inequality and corporate concentration, sustainable production and the impact of climate change.

Incorporating input from members, partners and staff, the policy helps inform our development practice and our GROW campaign, including the Behind the Brands campaign that launches this week.
 

Extractive industries and aid

The Board considered the recent emergence of extractive industries (mining, oil and gas) as a key sector of focus in Canada’s aid program, identifying a number of issues and concerns.

At the global level, Oxfam is a key player in pressing for free, prior and informed consent by communities affected by extractive industries. We have also provided important leadership in support of global efforts to force corporations to publish what they pay in taxes and royalties and to hold them to account for their actions.

While constrained by limited resources, the Board agreed the Oxfams in Canada should be open to work with partners to strengthen their capacity to defend their rights in relation to extractives development, with a special emphasis on women and women’s organizations. As well, we will continue to advocate that Canada’s aid program focus on reducing poverty and promoting rights.
 

Oxfam Strategic Plan

The Board endorsed the draft Oxfam Strategic Plan, slated to be approved at the Oxfam International Board meeting in March in Hanoi. The plan seeks to advance equality, build resilience and leverage our power as part of a global movement to end poverty. Integrating the development, humanitarian and advocacy work of the confederation and all 17 Oxfam affiliates, the plan covers the period 2013 to 2019.

The plan sets out six goals to challenge global injustice and change our world: people claiming their right to a better life; advancing gender justice; saving lives, now and in the future; sustainable food; fair sharing of natural resources; and financing development: universal essential services.

As well, the plan sets out six operational goals to challenge Oxfam to increase our impact and influence: creating a worldwide influencing network; program quality, monitoring, evaluation and learning; strengthening accountability; investing in people; cost effectiveness; income strategy.

The Board agreed that given the changing context and challenging financial situation, Oxfam Canada would slow down the process of confirming its own strategic plan. Rather than rush to approve a plan in the remaining months of the current Board’s term, more time will be taken to confirm priorities and make clear Oxfam Canada’s specific contribution to the confederation-wide plan. This will allow the new Board to be elected in September to build on the work of the current Board while allowing further consultation with members, partners and with Oxfam Quebec, before approving a new plan in 2014.
 

Governance update

Following approval of a new By-Law at the Special General Meeting in January, the Board adopted new Rules and Procedures that set out member rights and responsibilities, mandates for Board committees, and provisions for elections and Oxfam groups. The new Rules will come into effect upon approval by Corporations Canada of articles of continuance under the new Canada Non-Profit Corporations Act.

As well, the Board kicked off the process to elect a new Board of Directors to take office after the Annual General Meeting in September, approving a job description and code of conduct for Board members. Membership on the Nominating Committee which will include representation from each region will be confirmed in March. In April members will be invited to put forward possible candidates.

In identifying key attributes for Board candidates, the Board put the emphasis on strategic management, financial management, fundraising strategy, legal experience and knowledge of Canadian policy and politics. Previous Board experience was identified as a critical asset. Diversity was also emphasized.

As part of its practice of ever-greening policies, the Board also updated its policies on disclosure of public information, complaints, whistleblower protection and prohibition of bribery and corruption.
 

Membership drive starts March 1

Starting in March, Oxfam will be launching a new membership system and a new membership drive. All members will be asked to renew their membership annually, with most paying an annual membership fee of $25. The Board approved a new membership policy and code of conduct for members and supporters. The code is intended to support inclusive and respectful participation and clarify expectations and accountabilities between and among Oxfam and its members and supporters.
 

50th Anniversary

In September 1963 the first group of volunteers came together to launch Oxfam in Canada. As we approach our 50th anniversary, the Board was updated on plans to celebrate our history of solidarity and success looking to leverage this milestone to increase profile, donations and support for Oxfam’s mission.

Members from across the country are invited to join partners and allies in Ottawa on September 20 to 22, for a Gender Justice Summit that will include the Annual General Meeting.  Several special initiatives are underway to help capture, document and honour our history. Stay tuned for more details.

 

Margaret Hancock
Board Chair

 

Robert Fox
Executive Director

28 February 2013