Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: What the New Ontario Political Contribution Rules Mean for Your Organization

Sep 11, 2017


On January 1, 2017 there were sweeping changes made to Ontario’s election financing system. Among them, unions and professional organizations without certain party affiliations can no longer make political donations.

You’re probably wondering what all of this means for you.

If you want to donate to a political party on behalf of a union or association you can’t. Plain and simple. And personal contributions have been cut by nearly 90 per cent—from $33,250 to $3,600 over the course of an election year. As an individual, that means you’re seriously limited in terms of what you can contribute.

This is all to say that political engagement has changed in Ontario—dramatically. If you want to make a difference in politics, money’s not the way to do it anymore. But don’t let this discourage you. Unions and professional organizations have an even more important asset at their disposal than funds: people. Lots of people.

By mobilizing your members you can make a massive difference. Engagement is key and finding a way to activate your constituents is the name of the game. Thankfully, we live in a world where this has become a lot easier. Using some of the powerful digital tools at your disposal, you can actively involve your organization in the political process and influence change.

Let’s take a look at what your union or association can do to fight the good fight, investing money you’d otherwise use for political contributions into digital advocacy infrastructure. Believe it or not, there are plenty of opportunities to make an impact. Here’s how you do it.

Social Media

You can’t dispute the role social media plays in shaping political discourse and influencing elected officials and the voting public, so why not join the conversation?

Having a social media presence is paramount, especially if you’re an advocacy organization. Social newsfeeds are riddled with political content, whether its news items, commentary, or heated debate. If you can build an online presence around your members, it’s easier than ever to advance your agenda in the public sphere.

Finding an audience is key and once you do, mobilizing them can make all the difference. Turning the public eye towards issues that matter most to you and your members doesn’t just result in more free publicity, it can also change policy.

Since most politicians are active on social media, these tools can give you an avenue to directly communicate with candidates—whether it’s through a Twitter direct message or over Facebook messenger. This kind of access should play an essential role in every organization’s communication strategy, yet too few take advantage of it.

Beyond a devoted followership of members, look to expand and engage with people outside of your organization, like influencers who play an important role within your advocacy sphere, even other associations. Facebook’s new groups feature is an excellent place to start. In fact, we wrote a blog piece all about how associations can use the feature to build a more empowered membership.

Whatever channel you use, think about how it can help your organization further engage with the political process. Maybe you schedule a Facebook event getting members to show up for a rally? How about a Facebook group for members who’d like to volunteer for a campaign—say canvassing or phone banking for a candidate you support? The opportunities to make a difference are there, all it takes is finding the best possible way to execute.

Community Organizing Systems

Social media is free and easy to use. But it’s where your political communication strategy should start, not end.

There are tools out there that can totally change the way you run your organization. And engage politically. NationBuilder, the gold standard community organizing system, is an absolute must if you’re looking to embolden your digital presence.

Not only does it offer action pages, but it integrates a comprehensive people database—including members and non-members—with a powerful email blasting tool. It also matches your people with their social media information. One of its most profound features, though, is the path workflow. Set objectives for each individual in your database and define a path for how they’ll get there.

What does this all mean?

It means that you can mobilize your people to make a difference and it’s a total game-changer if you’re an organization looking to execute an effective campaign—for securing new members, soliciting donations, or empowering your people to make a difference during an election cycle.

Third-Party Advertising

Buying a primetime slot for a TV ad is no small achievement. But it isn’t impossible, either. Organizations like Adbusters have used crowdfunding to broaden their ad budgets. For example, they used Indiegogo to generate funds for their “Most Powerful Attack Ad Ever!”; enough, in fact, that they were able to purchase eleven prime time CBC slots just a week before the 2015 federal election.

The ad never made it to TV as it didn’t have the mandatory third-party wording, so it wasn’t approved, but don’t let that stop you—just don’t make the same mistake Adbusters made. Learn the rules!

Purchasing ad space to promote political issues or candidates is easier than ever, whether you decide to use a crowdfunding service or a community organization system to help you meet your goals.

And even if you choose not to buy ad space, you can still create powerful marketing assets and broadcast them digitally. While Adbusters didn’t get to push their TV spot over official channels, they did put it out over YouTube, and they generated enough interest over the media to make their campaign go viral. Which you can do, too!


Newswires are not dead, despite what you’ve heard. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) makes excellent use of traditional newswires to get important news pieces out to the media. Sometimes, if a story has enough Velcro to it, it’ll gain traction, which means a wider audience, and press. Lots of press.

Using traditional channels doesn’t always work—but if your media release is timely and packs some punch, it might get picked up. At the very least, your message will reach a wider audience. Which is always a good thing.

Gone are the days when you could simply put money behind a candidate whose values aligned with yours, but you can definitely empower that candidate with your members using some of these tools.

Advocacy has never been easier.

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