Small towns: Big Impact Study

In 2007, we carried out a study of six small towns across Ontario. We wanted to assess the impact of our grants in these communities to:
  1. Inform our grantmaking
  2. Share our findings to help Ontario communities


To ensure the reliability of our findings, great care was taken in selecting the small towns and the key interviewees to include in our research. Six small towns representing all regions of Ontario were selected:
  1. Goderich (West)
  2. Haliburton (Central)
  3. Hawkesbury (East)
  4. Kapuskasing (Northeast)
  5. Kenora (Northwest)
  6. Port Coloborne (Southcentral)
We combined standard qualitative research methods and data analysis with a community-based approach to gathering audio and video evidence.

Challenges Facing Small Towns

Our research found that small towns face challenges that either do not exist in large urban centres, or are far less common. These challenges include:
  • The need for diversification in local economies
  • A mismatch between skills/education and job opportunities
  • Declining numbers of young people
  • Lack of resources related to infrastructure
We found that many small towns are rallying to address these challenges through innovation, energy and optimistic commitment. Strong leadership and committed volunteers are rejuvenating their communities, building resilience and adaptability. In the process, small towns are learning to trust their own abilities, embrace new opportunities, and find promise for the future.

Challenges Facing the Voluntary Sector in Small Towns

Our research on small towns also provides further insight into the key challenges facing not-for-profit organizations in rural Ontario. These challenges are:
  1. Funding and sustainability
  2. Volunteer burn-out
  3. Leadership retention
  4. A lack of young volunteers and transportation

Going Forward - Increasing OTF's Impact in Small Towns

Our findings suggest that OTF should continue to focus on a few key areas.  These include:
  1. Make grants that encourage and develop local leadership
  2. Facilitate and support the convening of local organizations in small towns
  3. Focus on volunteerism and civic engagement
  4. Be present on the ground in the communities we are serving
  5. Encourage and facilitate collaboration