November 19, 2013 From the President

The Path Ahead for Organized Philanthropy?

Two weeks ago, Brad Smith, the President of the Foundation Center in New York spoke to an audience of students and foundation leaders at Carleton University in Ottawa. He was commenting on the key trends that he sees in American philanthropy today. I think that many of these trends are equally visible and relevant in the Canadian organized philanthropy community. Here are the key trends he mentioned (highlighted) with my comments on the Canadian situation.

Organized philanthropy (foundations) will continue to grow in terms of assets and giving. We have seen growth rates of 25% in foundation creation in Canada over the past decade and this is continuing.

Philanthropy will become an increasingly segmented industry with a relatively small (but growing) number of richly-endowed, well-staffed, and sophisticated foundations; a growing number with global ambitions; and a very large number of much smaller foundations, some with little or no staff at all, whose giving is primarily local. A similar pattern holds in Canada today, although the larger foundations are generally much smaller than in the United States.

As philanthropy and the fortunes that fuel it grow, governments, the media, and online communities will demand to know more about philanthropy and philanthropists.  Some of this is evident today in Canada as the federal government considers measures to increase reporting by funders. The additional reporting of political activities is an example.

The tool kit of organized philanthropy will increasingly be a continuum ranging from grants at one end to market-rate, mission-related investments at the other, with a broader array of operating programs and direct charitable activities in between.  This is also true in Canada as more foundations begin to think about funding their own programs or making loans or other mission-related investments in charities or in the business sector.

New forms of social investment will continue to evolve such that foundations will share the landscape with online giving/volunteering platforms, for-profit social enterprises, and new forms that we have yet to see.  This is likely to happen in Canada too, although new platforms are developing more slowly here due in part to regulatory limits.

Philanthropy will be increasingly data- and knowledge-driven as donors strive for more impact on a larger scale, and finding the right information quickly will be paramount. The conversation in Canada about impact is certainly accelerating but data for and about philanthropy is nowhere near as available in Canada at this point.

Working at scale will require collaboration with other foundations, government, the private sector, and nonprofits—often across the globe.  Collaboration is clearly of interest to many types of Canadian funders and more discussions and conferences on this theme are taking place.  More data would facilitate such collaborations.

Technology will make it possible to do things tomorrow with data, its delivery, and its visualization that we can’t begin to imagine today. This is certainly true also for Canada, although we have a data deficit to make up before we get closer to the American model of data availability and sharing.

1 Comment

  • Michael
    on December 2, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for writing up what was discussed for those of us that weren’t able to attend. It sounds like an interesting talk.

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