Dear Mayor Morgan and Councillors,

We are writing to you today in response to Councillor Lewis and Lehman’s letter that was presented to the Strategic Opportunities Review Working Group (SORWG), that proposes a pause to the London Community Grants (Innovation & Capital Grants) and the Neighbourhood Decision Making (NDM) program for the remainder of the 2024-2027 Multi-Year Budget (MYB). On behalf of the London Environmental Network (LEN), I’ve highlighted our key points below and ask for your support to continue the programs for the remainder of the MYB, with a concurrent program evaluation

Like other organizations and community members, we requested delegation to speak to the June 26 SORWG meeting - but were unanimously denied. In addition to the time it took to prepare this letter below, our team spent several hours preparing for the delegation request meeting - taking time out of our day-day programming - and are extremely disappointed that the community was denied the opportunity to directly address the SORWG about this issue. 

While the LEN supports a strategic review of both programs to better serve the city, we are strongly opposed to the suggestion to pause the programs for the remainder of the MYB cycle. This is a drastic and unnecessary measure that will severely impact London’s nonprofit sector, and ultimately, the City of London’s ability to move forward with its strategic priorities. We urge you to remind your fellow Councillors of the benefits of the programs and the consequences of taking them away:

1. By reducing the grant programs to a single budget line (“an immediate reduction of 0.1% from our budget projections”), City Council is disregarding and undervaluing the benefits of the grant programs and the nonprofit sector at large. As part of the Community Grants program, all applicants and recipients are required to provide metrics to measure program impacts as a result of City funding. In addition to these metrics the nonprofit sector provides social, environmental, and economic benefits to London through its purpose-driven work. Nonprofit organizations have an in-depth understanding of local issues and their solutions and we are uniquely positioned to move forward on strategic priorities that City Council cannot move forward with on their own - either due to lack of expertise or time constraints. While some have labelled nonprofit investments as “nice-to-haves”, nonprofits and community leaders are time and time again leading the work that catalyzes community development, empowers individuals and promotes sustainable livelihoods. If City Council removes the grant programs and this key connection point to the nonprofit sector, how will you replace our front-line work? 

The LEN is a network organization that represents 45 environmental nonprofit and grassroot groups serving London, with the collective goal of making London a green and resilient city. According to our 2023 membership survey, our network is composed of 8,900 volunteers, members and employees - and this is a a conservative estimate. Many of our members are recipients of the Capital Grants, Innovation Grants, and NDM Grants, including ReForest London, Urban Roots London, Thames Region Ecological Association, and LEN itself. In fact, these programs can be directly attributed to a few members that either got started with a NDM idea, expanded their work through an Innovation grant, or simply made connections to like-minded people through these programs (ex. NDM voting day, volunteering for an NDM project). 

While some grant opportunities could be considered a “one-off” for a one-time, single project, many of them continue in the community in current or evolving forms. In 2018, the LEN received a $50,000 Innovation Grant that allowed us to start the Green Economy London (GEL) program that provides London businesses with resources to set and achieve sustainability targets. The impacts of this one-time investment continues to this day. Since its launch in 2019, GEL has been recognized as fastest growing Green Economy Hubs across Canada, with a current membership of 60 small-medium sized London businesses. Five years later, we have connected with over 5,000 business leaders about sustainability actions, provided meaningful work opportunities through 8 full-time and co-op positions, and leveraged $40,000 to implement projects within London’s corporate sector (such as solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations, and waste diversion programs) that have achieved emission reductions across the city. As demonstrated through GEL, an Innovation Grant can provide long-term benefits to the city, specifically London’s economic and environmental sectors.

Even still, do one-time projects through NDM not provide any value or impact to London? For example, a park bench installation is a one-time project that provides accessible outdoor seating for arguably thousands of Londoners per year, increasing community belonging and access to the environment. Is this “one-off” installation not a benefit to the city?

2. Eliminating a local funding source is a threat to operational capacity across the nonprofit sector. It will increase funding competition in an already dire environment, making local funding sources slim and often inaccessible. The nonprofit sector and its services - while in demand - have always been drastically underfunded. Nonprofits already struggle to maintain stable incomes to run our programs. Money is a frequent conversation amongst nonprofits, and many organizations rely heavily on government grants to stay afloat. Fewer localized funding sources mean that nonprofits will be forced to turn to non-local funding opportunities. While these do have a wider reach, they are not knowledgeable about London’s most pressing issues and often (1) favor or only accept applications received from their geographical location or (2) fail to recognize the necessity of non-local applications as they lack local context. Eliminating an annual 12-month funding opportunity is a major equity and accessibility issue for nonprofits. Is the city prepared to step in and do the work when nonprofit organizations - particularly those with less capacity, resources and time - are not able to deliver on their missions? 

3. Removing an annual funding source does not account for changes that occur within a MYB cycle, which eliminates opportunities for the City and nonprofit sector to respond quickly to changing local needs. Annual grants such as the Capital & Innovation grant program provide nonprofits with support for new project ideas that occur within 4-year budget cycles. This is beneficial for both nonprofits and the city because drastic changes can happen within 4-year budget cycle, COVID-19 and the housing crisis being major recent examples. The Community and NDM grants are an opportunity for the City to listen to community needs and adapt to better serve its residents throughout a Council term.

Another benefit of annual grants is that they serve as a mechanism for the City and nonprofit sector to jointly progress on the City’s strategic areas of focus each year. The Strategic Plan is a 4-year plan outlining 8 strategic areas of focus, each with their own outcomes and specific strategies. As with any large and long-term plan, progress is made by investing resources into each area over time, not with a single investment into a few select projects at the beginning. Through the Community and NDM Grants, the City can continue to make progress on its strategic areas of focus each year, which is especially helpful if Council is tied up with certain priorities and cannot dedicate sufficient time to others.

Further, not all nonprofits are aligned with the city’s budget cycle and fiscal year. Only offering a 4-year grant opportunity once every 4 years is not only inaccessible but lacks an understanding of how nonprofits function. 

4. Evaluating the value and effectiveness of these programs can occur without pausing the program. While wanting to evaluate the value and effectiveness of programs makes sense, the program does not need to be paused to do this. Pausing the program suggests a future attempt to permanently end the program. Further, pausing this program without offering a replacement to address the city's priorities is simply irresponsible. 

If City Council wishes to replace the grant program with an alternative, it is expected that a thorough analysis of the options (including community engagement) would occur before abruptly ending the program. The SORWG may have considered service orders as a viable option, for example. While service orders may be a solution in some cases, it is not a one-size-fits-all model when considering the nuances of nonprofit organization structures and the social purpose sectors we work in. How would this be done accessibly and equitably for nonprofits, particularly small nonprofits with 1-2 staff, or groups entirely volunteer run? Further, nonprofits are independent organizations with missions, boards, and strategic plans. We are nimble, we are resilient, but a carrot and stick proposition to deliver city services is not a sustainable or equitable alternative.

As part of the selection process, all grant applications are assessed based on their alignment with the City’s Strategic Plan - which includes climate action and sustainable growth, reconciliation, equity, accessibility, and others. If recipients must align with the City’s Strategic Plan - wouldn’t successful applications have to be considered both valuable and effective by the evaluation committee? In 2023, the program provided funding for 11 Innovation and 2 Capital applications - does City Council actually believe that these recipients are not bringing value to London as a whole despite their alignment with the City’s mission, values, and goals? 

The LEN is supportive of an evaluation only of the application process in order to make the process more accessible for organizations with less resources, capacity and time than others - not an assessment of the merits of the program as program recipients have proven how in-demand and necessary this funding is to push forward the declared priorities of the City of London. 

On behalf of LEN and London’s greater environmental nonprofit sector, we ask that you support the continuation of the Innovation, Capital, and NDM programs over the next 3 years. 




London Environmental Network

Prepared by:

Leah Derikx, Interim Executive Director

Nicole Karsch, Director of Programs