September 27, 2016
From the President

An Agenda for Canadian Philanthropy

By Hilary Pearson

Every two years, we bring together Canadian philanthropic funders from across the country for two days of exchange. This year, we’re excited to be doing it in Vancouver, for the first time. And what are our hopes for this gathering? Learning, certainly. Networking and connecting with others who are or will become friends, partners, collaborators, most definitely. But beyond this, we hope, ambitiously, to set directions for Canadian philanthropy, to create an “agenda” of sorts through our program and through the speakers and topics that we bring together.

While every funder sets individual priorities, we believe there is value in naming common themes that we believe are evident in the work of Canadian philanthropy at this moment. What are some of those key themes?

Equity, Reconciliation and Understanding – this is a period in which Canadian funders are more focused than ever on the great challenges and the great opportunities for building understanding and achieving reconciliation with indigenous peoples and communities across Canada. Equity is on the philanthropic agenda, not only because of the evident need for social justice but also because it is about hope, about “each of us reaching our full potential” as said in a recent blog piece on equity and philanthropy. Our plenary speakers in Vancouver will be talking about this.

Civic Engagement – Canadian philanthropy is focused on civic spaces and dialogues. One of the solutions to loneliness and a sense of exclusion is to bring people together to engage them in shared community. Building a “public square” – whether physical or digital – offers that opportunity. For a great example, check out Simon Fraser University’s Public Square. SFU will be at our gathering to talk about engaging citizens in creating sustainable cities.

Working Together – Whether it’s shared spaces, shared platforms or simply shared goals, more Canadian funders, both families and businesses, are collaborating for impact. We will be sharing many examples in Vancouver of how funders are coming together in their communities or through intermediaries to pool their resources. As Phil Buchanan, CEO of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, says, “Nothing of real consequence has been accomplished when our toughest societal problems are tackled by a single entity acting alone.” Phil will be in Vancouver to share his insights on this and other “big issues, many questions” for philanthropy.

Policy Advocacy and Public-Philanthropic Collaboration –Typically. Canadian foundations have not wanted to be policy advocates, leaving this role to their grantees. But as we discovered in Toronto in 2015, at our symposium on philanthropy and public policy change, the landscape has evolved to the point where foundations are not only advocates but in some cases partners with government. Many examples of Canadian foundations engaging directly in policy work are ably illustrated by Prof Peter Elson and his colleagues in a recent article in The Philanthropist . In Vancouver, we`ll be hearing for a panel of foundations working with governments, supporting more effective public policy change.

Building Capacity for Impact –This has been a theme in philanthropy for a while now. Most foundations know that the operational and strategic capacity of their grantees is the key success factor in whether their funds are going to be used for maximum impact. But it is easier said than done to provide effective support for “capacity,” however it is defined. In the end, leadership capacity may be the critical if often overlooked factor. Some Canadian foundations have been looking at nonprofit leadership and how to build it. In Vancouver, we are offering a workshop on philanthropic strategies for building leadership capacity, led by James Stauch of the Institute for Community Prosperity. For an early taste of the state of leadership learning for social change, check out this report on the Institute’s site.

Global Frameworks for Local Issues – Philanthropy is local, but its actions and impact can be global. How can we understand this better? In a digital and boundary-less world, when political, economic and environmental actions can have impact far beyond borders, how do we figure out how to align our strategies with global goals for our planet? The UN`s Sustainable Development Goals provide that framework. And philanthropy is working to figure out how to use those goals in its work. In Vancouver, we will have a workshop to help Canadian foundation understand how to use the SDGs, with help from the new York-based SDG Funders group. For a taste of the tools and support provided by SDG Funders, check out their SDG Indicator Wizard which helps you determine which Sustainable Development Goal(s) and Targets relate to your work, and which Indicators you can track in conjunction with your own indicators to measure your work’s impact.

These key themes resonate throughout not only Canadian philanthropy but more broadly North American and global philanthropy. You will see them reflected on the agendas of conferences and in studies and commentaries across philanthropy. In creating the program for Vancouver, we hope that we have also created an agenda for discussion within Canadian philanthropy that will frame the conversation around foundation board tables in the year to come. In the best of all outcomes, it will lead to more effective and more powerful philanthropic impact in Canadian communities.

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Showing 2 comments
  • Meredith Wrede

    Our family is international and we have begun the process to find out our philanthropic ideals and how to actualize them. Please put me on your email list thank you. Meredith Wrede

    • Jennifer Thomas

      With pleasure. Thanks for reaching out.

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