April 25, 2022
PFC Blog

A Vision for the Future: Paul Nazareth

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?

  1. There was a time when a lot of power and control was held – one might say hoarded – by individuals and entities in our sector. With the growth of third-party options, the power has shifted and a new world of funding, partnerships, and a mindset towards social good has taken root in the public consciousness. While scary at times to truly “lose control,” the result has also been quite beautiful when in the hands of caring communities and creative, entrepreneurial individuals.
  2. Technology is adding momentum to social capital raising. Whether it be “tap” technology (tiptappay.ca ), cryptophilanthropy, digital wallets or online wills integrating donations, there are more ways, accessible to all, to give and do good in Canada. Also, the pandemic forced our sector to advance its technology adoption. Even a year ago if I tried to hold a meeting on video chat it was near impossible and now, remote collaboration and intellectual connection is possible with more than just the well-resourced.
  3. The people! We are finally embracing the potential of diversity in our sector. Not just diversity that is skin-deep, but raising more voices from rural communities, neuro-diverse communities, aligned sectors (banking, technology, grassroots citizens), and meeting these new peers is exhilarating. I can’t wait for travel to open back up so we can all start collaborating more together.

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

While I often refer to the roadmap that I felt was well drawn by the Senate Report on the Charitable Sector (https://sencanada.ca/en/info-page/parl-42-1/cssb-catalyst-for-change/), I would personally like to see evolution in these three areas:

  1. We recognize our differences with heavy emotional debates around “donor vs. community” centricity. I would like to see more recognition that University Advancement is another universe to grassroots non-profit community giving – that, yes, cryptophilanthropy is fast approaching and there is great FOMO and fear around the Metaverse, but that’s another world from the questions around diversity, justice, social equality. Everything doesn’t have to be an either/or – we can all work in our universes and still respect what the others are doing as long as we are all committed to minimizing harm wherever possible.
  2. There is an overwhelming amount of books and writing about how philanthropy does great harm because the wealthy use it for tax evasion. Many of us in the social-good sector know that tax is exactly how we receive what is the bulk of all charity/non-profit funding, government funds at all levels. I personally don’t believe there needs to be a conflict, again, not philanthropy versus tax, but as a social-justice reality we in the sector need to embrace and advance tax benefits while still supporting taxation of the wealthy and corporations who for generations, yes, caused the issues our sector is trying to solve by evading tax at all levels.
  3. There is going to have to be a major rebalancing to BE sustainable, asking questions about how our endowments and foundations invest, not just to whom they grant funds. There are hard questions to ask about the connection to consolidation, extraction and the harm done by many of our most well-known philanthropists and corporations. If you become uber-wealthy making money and then give a pittance of it back to gain profile as a ‘philanthropist’ is something we need to take a hard look at in the future. Being sustainable when it comes to the earth, human capital, how we operate – this needs to be revisited.

As we continue to battle COVID-19, what gives you hope?

I’m going to be straight up here: I’m low on hope.

Toxic positivity is something I realized we need to acknowledge; it ran us right down to an empty tank in 2021, and in 2022 as it feels like we might come out the other side of this crisis, we need to refill that tank. There is a LOT of refilling to do. And me, I get energy and hope from people: getting to see them, hear them, learn from them, and not just on a screen but to break bread together again – be present on the land and in the community again.

I think a lot of us did some hard thinking and looking in the mirror during COVID, and we have a battle plan for what we’re going to do and who we’re going to be in “the after.” I know I certainly do. More time on the land, more time with peers, more walking meetings, more good food, and yes, conferences and gatherings! I am looking forward to looking my peers in the eyes again, getting back to the real hard work in all three dimensions, not 2D screens.

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

There is an over-quoted African proverb that goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As we faced hard questions about racial and social justice in this pandemic, one of the hardest questions, I’ve asked myself is, have we really moved the needle alone?

Housing, hunger, health care, climate change – all shunted by governments of all levels onto the back of our sector. Have we solved or even made great strides in these plagues on humanity, or have they all gotten worse because government and the corporate sector gleefully pushes them on nonprofits and then doesn’t provide funding?

Everyone wants to fund our work, our projects but not the capacity to do anything well or pay our people a living (gasp! competitive?) wage. I would really like to see us all work together more equitably at a table to solve the greatest problems of our time. And I’d like to say out loud that part of this is reconciliation with the people of this land who have millennia of untapped wisdom on how to help us do this. My team is part of the Circle’s ‘Partners in Reciprocity’ 2022 cohort (https://www.the-circle.ca/partners-in-reciprocity-2022.html) and the solutions, the world-view, the resources our Indigenous communities have access to and we have destroyed and ignored, is shameful. I’m not talking about just helping the communities we have harmed but recognizing all they must teach us.

What would you keep the same?

For the past few years there has been a lot of talk about “efficiency,” the need for charity mergers to save on cost. Well, what has this “at-need” supply-chain mindset got us? A leaner economy for sure, but I’d argue a meaner one, too. Gig workers who aren’t seen as employees, taking advantage of women in our economy, and not providing childcare and #DecentWork. More billionaires than ever, but more disenfranchised, too.

I have never felt more that we need independent healthy economies and social-good ecosystems that are place, space and people based. There is too much urban consolidation of power and representation when there is huge wisdom in our rural, northern, and diverse communities that is untapped. Can we give up more power in the hands of the few so we can see progress and activate the potential in the many?

I hope so.

How important are Canada’s foundations to the well-being of Canadians?

As we look at the data showing many foundations have NOT been granting to diverse communities, social-justice organizations and causes that really affect the lives of everyday Canadians, that is a good question. Are they important to the many, or the few? I’m glad PFC and CFC, our foundation champions, are asking more questions, hosting more discussions to question and challenge the status quo.

There is incredible value in the work of innovative foundations like Inspirit Foundation (to support a more pluralist Canada), Upside Foundation (to activate entrepreneurs before they go public and become philanthropists), Trinity Centres Foundation (saving Canada’s 28,000 faith-based buildings from condo developers and ensuring they remain non-profit sector assets) – so many doing amazing, unique, valuable work. But there are many more who are hoarding that wealth (maybe inadvertently because the advice they are getting is stuck in “endowment” mindsets), granting to causes and organizations that benefit the very few, not the many.

Looking at the (very personal opinion ) huge amount of wasted time and energy that the “Disbursement Quota” debates took from us in 2021 when we already had a roadmap of priorities (again https://sencanada.ca/en/info-page/parl-42-1/cssb-catalyst-for-change/) and this was not at the top, I ask myself daily, “Is this actually creating prosperity or just moving money around?”

I was honoured to guest-edit an edition of Foundation Magazine recently (https://issuu.com/dmn.ca/docs/fmjulaug2021_w?fr=sYzY1ZTQyNDExMzk), and I pulled together the voices of leaders who I really feel need to be heard, especially Sharon Redsky on Indigenous Philanthropy and Reconciliation.

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

Right now, right now? The government needs to ensure the sector survives! Sure, universities and hospitals will always be funded and with us, but local YMCAs, small nonprofits, grassroots charities doing work that truly touches the lives of everyday Canadians are going bankrupt.

I truly stand behind Imagine Canada and others that are asking all levels of government to fund us, not just our work. You can’t feed people if there is no food, no kitchen, no volunteers, and this ecosystem needs a booster shot, too, as we come out of the pandemic.

What are the most important regulatory reforms for the philanthropic sector that government could implement now to ensure the biggest or most important impact?

I don’t have the human energy for one more study. We have this roadmap https://sencanada.ca/en/info-page/parl-42-1/cssb-catalyst-for-change/ on which Bill S216 sits (https://www.parl.ca/legisinfo/en/bill/44-1/s-216 ). I want to spend less time debating what to do and actually do more things to help our sector and Canadians in their everyday lives.

Complete these sentences:

The philanthropic sector of the future should look like… THE PEOPLE IT SERVES. Not the people who fund and control it.

For philanthropy to renew its social contract with Canadians, what needs to happen is… we need to focus more on building trust at all levels. Transparency, accountability is thrown around a lot, but if we allow just the big organizations to represent us and speak for us, people won’t feel a connection to the sector. We can make as many infographics about impact on GDP and how many people volunteer and work in the sector, but if no one knows someone who works in it (meaning the two million people who do need to be proud to stand up and be counted) they won’t feel a connection to it.

Me personally, I have never felt more cynical of big corporate ‘purpose campaigns,’ philanthropists who create suffering and then donate .0001 per cent of that extraction back to the communities they’ve crushed and big charity profiles. I have never felt a stronger pull back to the community, the land, the people who do good, who shed blood, sweat and tears to care for all beings (humans and otherwise) who inhabit spaceship earth with us.

Paul Nazareth has worked in Canada’s philanthropic sector for over 20 years. He is currently Vice President, Education & Development at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) and was previously Vice President at the charity CanadaHelps. He has been a philanthropic advisor with a national wealth management firm in a Trust Company and has also spent over a decade with charities large and small. Paul is on the board of several charities including the Circle on Indigenous Philanthropy, on the Advisory Council of Carleton University’s Masters in Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program, and he serves as a lead faculty for the Master Financial Advisor in Philanthropy (MFA-P) program led by CAGP, Knowledge Bureau and Spire Philanthropy. He is a frequent instructor with advisor networks like CPA, Advocis and Estate Planning Councils. Paul writes on philanthropy for a variety of publications and regularly appears on national radio and television to speak about the intersection of philanthropy and generosity.

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