What is COG OSO’s mandate? COG OSO is a local/regional chapter of the national charitable organization Canadian Organic Growers. COG’s mission statement, which applies to all local chapters, is “to lead local and national communities towards sustainable organic stewardship of land, food and fibre while respecting nature, upholding social justice and protecting natural resources.” Aligned with this mission statement, COG OSO (formerly known as COG Ottawa) has provided a wide range of educational services in the community for over 30 years. Because of the importance of environmental sustainability in this mission, COG is particularly supportive of locally organic growing to reduce the negative impacts of long distance transportation of food and other substances with organic ingredients.
How is COG OSO managed? Just as the Canadian Organic Growers national charitable organization (COG National) is led by a volunteer board of directors, the Ottawa-St. Lawrence-Outaouais Chapter is led by a volunteer steering committee (SC). Local chapters do not currently have independent legal status, and must vet legal issues through COG National, including authorization for charitable grant applications and all contracts. The SC is accountable to COG National and to our funders as per terms of funding agreements.
The Steering Committee normally convenes a business meeting one evening per month and carries out other business by email and occasional ‘irregular’ meetings as needed. We often hold one-day or half-day retreat each year to discuss longer-term planning for the coming year. SC members are very hands-on and directly involved in delivering services within the community, along with additional volunteers. We follow the Working Board model. We make every effort to avoid excessive communications between SC meetings. We try to facilitate participation in Steering Committee meetings by offering On-line Conferencing options for Steering Committee members.
What do COG OSO Steering Committee Members actually do?
Since the chapter does not have an executive director, Steering Committee members provide the guidance for the organization and are often directly involved in the work of the Chapter.
Depending on SC members’ interest, the SC either has one chair or co-chairs who help guide the work of the chapter. Other major roles can include Treasurer, Secretary, Program Liaison Representatives (Growing Up Organic, Senior Organic Gardeners, Community Outreach and Farmer Outreach), Fundraising Leader, and Event Representatives, Recording Secretary, Communications Leader, and Mailing List Secretary, as well as Members at Large. Each Steering Committee member normally holds responsibility for at least one program, event, or function of the chapter and acts as the Liaison for that role with the rest of the Steering Committee Minor decisions within that role can be made by the Liaison, but decisions regarding funding or policy direction are made by the full SC. The SC follows a consensus model of decision-making and maintains a written record of decisions in minutes of all meetings. Where appropriate the SC Chair(s) consults with the Executive Director of COG National for direction.
How is COG OSO work funded? Some of our services are offered freely, others are operated on a cost-recovery basis from donations, registration fees, and sponsorships. Some of our activities are operated jointly as awareness-raising events and fundraisers. We also apply for and benefit from selected grants through the national organization. All funds go to covering the costs of providing charitable services in the community. Our course instructors receive an honorarium for their contributions of time and expertise, and we currently have two paid part-time contract staff to deliver our Growing Up Organic program.
What are the COG OSO policies? COG National is currently updating their Chapter Handbook. In the meantime the COG OSO SC has chosen to adopt policies that are consistent with COG National’s and the federal and provincial regulations for charities. The COG OSO SC has further articulated some of these policies as they pertain to our activities. Each of these are laid out below.
- COG’s Conflict of Interest Policy is directed at the Board of Directors and is adopted by the COG OSO SC. Where the policy says “Directors” read “SC members”; where the policy says “President” read “Chair”. In signing this COG OSO document, SC members affirm that they have read and agree to uphold the Conflict of Interest Policy, available at this website: http://www.cog.ca/uploads/COG%20Conflict%20of%20Interest%20Policy.pdf
- COG OSO’s SC members must be appropriately mindful that federal and provincial laws lay out detailed requirements for Directors of Charities, and that while SC members carry on local/regional activities on behalf of the National Directors they should likewise adopt these duties, as defined in this document: http://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/charbullet/bullet3.asp .
- COG National’s Fundraising Policy applies to the national organization and all of its chapters. It is available at this website: http://www.cog.ca/uploads/Canadian%20Organic%20Growers%20Fundraising%20Policy%20Jan11.pdf In addition, COG OSO developed its own Fundraising Policy and Guidelines available as a separate document, which are to be used in combination with those of COG National.
- As an organization that manages annual financial transactions of over $100,000 COG OSO is obligated to maintain integrity and accountability for its finances. The chapter’s Treasurer has recently been joined by a professional Certified Management Accountant in a volunteer capacity. This document outlines practices and guidelines that they are continuing to adopt: http://www.cica.ca/focus-on-practice-areas/governance-strategy-and-risk/not-for-profit-director-series/npo-briefings/item65428.pdf .
- COG National’s Policies and Procedures Handbook (2009) is currently undergoing major revisions to reflect major changes in the operation of COG, but it can be seen at: http://www.cog.ca/uploads/COG%20Policies%20and%20Procedures%20and%20By-Laws%20-%20August%2009.pdf .