April 7, 2022
PFC Blog

A Vision for the Future: Jean-Marc Mangin

Philanthropic Foundations Canada

As the world changes, the non-profit and charitable social sector is adapting, and so must philanthropy. Our sector is a fundamental aspect of civil society, but reform is paramount. The status quo is not sufficient. Inequity is rampant in our communities, and there are global challenges we must step up to meet. In our new series, A Vision for the Future, PFC has asked non-profit leaders to share their understandings of where our sector is today, what its role is, and where we need to go. We’ll be sharing new contributions regularly, both in blog and podcast format, throughout Spring 2022. 

What three things motivate you today about the charitable and nonprofit sector?

Our sector fosters the social capital that brings together citizens in their communities across the country. In an era of weaponized polarization and deep divisions – when too many of us have retreated in our echo chambers- the collective work supported by the sector is more important than ever for the wellbeing of our communities and to the health of our liberal democracy. 

 And within the sector, philanthropic foundations fulfill a unique role. Their autonomy and independence allow them to stay engaged on issues for the long term. Unlike governments, foundations do not face elections; unlike private companies, they do not need to face shareholders every quarter. This ability to both be agile as issues emerge and to remain engaged – when issues disappear from the front pages – is a special power. Foundations can have influence in numerous ways, through their granting, their investments, their convening power, their networks and by helping their partners reach out to concerned Canadians and all sorts of decision makers.  

With 10,000 foundations across the country, there is enormous potential for ingenuity and social innovation. Having a wide array of actors in civil society – through a distributed model of decision making – means a diverse range of people involved in addressing issues, who bring in their own perspectives, skillsets, and resources. The pluralist nature of these philanthropic initiatives results in a web of people-to-people connections that make Canada more resilient and more inclusive. 

And when foundations work together within a network model, successes are shared quickly and efficiently, leading to a faster, smarter and more dynamic civil society. Given the complex nature of the existential challenges facing our world, a healthy charitable and non- profit sector is not a nice to have. It is a must have. 

What three things need to evolve to create a more sustainable philanthropic community for all people in Canada? 

 There needs to be more equitable access to charitable resources in Canada. 66% of philanthropic revenues go to 1% of charities in this country. The quality of our data is poor but the best reports that we currently have indicate that Indigenous-led and Black-led initiatives are each receiving less than 1% of philanthropic funding. Not only do these populations represent nearly 10% of Canada but they represent the most vulnerable and marginalized groups among us. This not a healthy or effective distribution of funding based on needs. The situation calls for a more-balanced material reality for our sector as a whole. 

 Moreover, more funders in Canada need to move from a project-to-project approach to multi-year, unrestricted program funding. The evidence is very clear that the results of these approaches are more impactful. They require moving from a funder-grantee paradigm to one of partnership, based on respect and trust. These actors are the closest to communities and issues, with real expertise that is largely untapped. In turn, introspection is required to ensure that foundations better understand and represent these perspectives internally. Equity, diversity and inclusion are not motherhood values: they require looking at governance, staffing, programming and internal processes. I am encouraged that many foundations are doing the hard work to integrate what this means for their own context.  

As we continue to battle COVID, what gives you hope? 

 There has been a groundswell demonstration of solidarity across Canada, which is very encouraging. As a society, that we have mobilized science and community resources to the extent that we have during this pandemic is incredible. 90% of Canadians adults have been vaccinated, and key public health messages have been embraced by society, at the community level and in public policy.  

That said, the fact that there have been 35,000 deaths from COVID-19 is a terrible tragedy. And we are all tired. Solidarity is clearly waning. But we must not forget the lessons of solidarity that got us through the earlier waves of the crisis. We are not out of the woods, despite our fatigue. COVID is not done with us.  

There are also other important issues that are asking for our attention from climate change to Ukraine, but vulnerable people in Canada cannot be left behind as we move towards emergence from this pandemic. It is not over yet. And we cannot forget the lessons we have learned the hard way.  

If you could change one thing about the nonprofit sector, what would it be? 

That it looked more like Canada does. That it fully reflects our diversity. It is not only the right thing to do, it is the smart thing to do. It would make philanthropy and the wider sector so much more impactful.  

What would you keep the same? 

The root of philanthropy is a love for humanity. It’s the driver and should always be with us. I have spent many years in Africa. I have been personally influenced by the Ubuntu philosophy and by the words of late Bishop Desmond Tutu: I am because you are. It embraces the idea that humans cannot exist in isolation. We depend on connection, community, and caring — simply, we cannot be without each other.  

How important are Canada’s foundations to the wellbeing of Canadians? 

 Foundations are important but let’s not overstate their scope and role. In Canada, foundations don’t represent the bulk of revenues that flow to charities and non-profits in Canada – most come from government and individual Canadians though donations and purchases of services. However, foundations are an important source of funding for program and activity that government and average donors are reluctant to fund directly, such as advocacy and policy development work, and new and innovative programming. Foundations help fill the gaps as key sources of social risk capital. We have seen this in long term engagement on child care and early childhood education and on developing climate mitigation and adaptation policies. By staying engaged, foundations have helped support the work of community organizations and researchers to move these ideas into the mainstream. 

What are the most pressing issues that government needs to be paying attention to right now when it comes to the philanthropic sector?  

In the immediate, there is likely a forthcoming announcement in the next federal budget regarding the disbursement quota. The disbursement quota is the minimum percentage of assets charities are required to grant out or spend on charitable programs each year. It is currently at 3.5% and the government has signalled its intent to raise it. PFC is recommending an increase to 5% along with a periodic review and a reasonable transition to the new regime. While the disbursement quota applies to all charities, it is especially relevant for foundations because their operating models are typically designed to endow charitable assets, with a portion of the earnings granted out each year. 

The necessary enabling conditions must be considered to ensure equitable results of any new DQ regime. One key opportunity to ensure the disbursement quota makes a real difference is Bill S216, which has passed first reading in the House of Commons, after being unanimously passed in the Senate in February. Named “The Effective and Accountable Charities Act,” it would reduce barriers and help create a level playing field for social-impact initiatives without charitable status but that are non-the-less carrying out charitable activities – initiatives that are often led by marginalized communities typically underfunded by philanthropy. Another key area that government needs to prioritize is incentivising impact investment, which are investments that both have a social and economic return. This would literally unlock billions for the sector. And government must fix our sector’s data deficit so that we understand where funding is flowing, where the needs are greatest, the impact of our work, and the best corrective actions that are needed.   

These are all very doable policy issues that could be addressed now. Tackling them would significantly reform the charitable sector, and they would be impactful for all Canadians.   

Complete these sentences:  

The philanthropic sector of the future should look like…

Canada! A more representative sector would undoubtedly lead to a more inclusive, prosperous and just civil society.   

For philanthropy to renew its social contract with Canadians, what needs to happen is…

We need to walk the talk of pursuing a just, equitable, and sustainable world. And we must accept that it ok that we will all stumble along that journey. I strongly believe that foundations are led by people of good faith that truly want to make a difference.  

The tenets shaping our work at PFC to help renew philanthropy’s social contract are that:     

  • We are a network that activates the power of people to shape their communities and protect the natural environment. 
  • We take a long view and stay engaged to have a meaningful impact. 
  • We are pragmatic and responsive in creating space for foundations to act and learn collaboratively. 
  • We share in the responsibility to create an inclusive philanthropic community based on trust and respect. Systemic racism and discrimination undermine our efforts. 
  • We work to strengthen relations with Indigenous Peoples, and to promote racial justice and equity for all. 
  • We are responsible stewards of wealth and other resources to support charitable and not-for-profit partners. Our collective work serves the public good in a non-partisan and transparent manner. 
  • We are continually learning how to translate these commitments into our practices – creatively and constructively. 

Jean-Marc Mangin is the President and CEO of Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC). To learn more please pfc.ca.  

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