November 12, 2013 From the President

Talking About Charities

Reading the substantial new polling report Talking About Charities 2013, an initiative of the Muttart Foundation of Edmonton, I was struck by the finding that Canadians approve more (since 2008) of the quality of information provided by charities about the programs and services they offer but think less of the information they are getting about the impact of those programs. This suggests that charities aren’t paying enough attention to understanding and communicating the impact of what they do – the “what” not just the “how”. Talking About Charities reveals that Canadians have less trust in charities than they did ten years ago. This being said, Canadians are generally less trusting of all sectors, consistent with a general mood of greater cynicism. But the message is important. In a cynical world, it is even more necessary to be perceived as trustworthy. One of the ways of doing that is to demonstrate that you are using your resources wisely to bring about maximum positive impact.

Even more than average Canadians, grantmakers want information from charities about the impact of their work. This is certainly legitimate as funders want to be sure that they are using their resources to best effect. But it is interesting that many charitable funders don’t take more time to measure and report on the impact of their own work.  While private funders don’t have the same need in most cases to solicit resources from others, arguably they have an obligation to build trust with the Canadian public which implicitly endorses the public policy that rewards donors with tax incentives. One way of doing this is to create more stories, just as other charities do, about a “great grant” or “program” that is having impact on the issues they are addressing. Different funders will have very different interests and different capacity to measure and inform others about their impact. But almost everyone has a story to tell and this is an important way of sharing impact and building trust in the crucial work done by foundations across Canada. What do funders think?

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