October 13, 2020
PFC Blog

Amplifying Philanthropic Positive Impact

Inès Chaâlala, Director of Learning and Partnerships

2020 has been and continues to be, a year of unprecedented challenges. COVID-19 has drawn attention and amplified existing disparities in Canadian society and worldwide. In the face of the pandemic, we are not all equal, nor are we when confronted with climate change and other disruptions. This year’s PFC virtual gathering Fast-Forward: Harnessing the Power of Philanthropy to Build a Better Tomorrow on November 17 to 19, will address some of the key issues highlighted by COVID-19:

Day 1 will focus on the state of the charity sector, and on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and how philanthropy can better respond to anti-racist movements and adopt an equity lens to grantmaking and governance.

Day 2 will focus on the issue of sustainability and economic recovery, climate change, and ways for foundations to take action on climate;

Day 3, the final day, will help us build on some early learnings on new and/or emerging practices, about collaboration with other funders, on strengthening relationships with communities based on trust, and on the future of philanthropy in this changing world.

In terms of DEI, the pandemic has highlighted the need to address issues in interconnected ways. The most vulnerable populations of the pandemic are the same, for the most part, as those most vulnerable to climate change – Indigenous communities, racialized and economically disenfranchised populations. Economic inequality affects not only these communities but the quality and sustainability of their surrounding environments leaving them more exposed to climate change-induced risk. We have also seen how the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated long-standing racial inequalities that are rooted in systemic racism.

In terms of sustainability and economic recovery, whether the environment is a core mission of the foundation or not, climate action is possible and can have a multiplier effect and amplify the impact of grants that are not considered traditional environmental grants. We will learn more about ways of doing that during this gathering.

Finally, through these different but interconnected lenses, we will reflect on the changing and evolving practices and trust-based relationships in philanthropy, what these issues mean, how they are related, and what role philanthropy can play. We are increasingly seeing practices demonstrating that philanthropy can be nimble and act swiftly, collaborate well with other funders to address pressing gaps, and is close to the reality of communities and frontline organizations dealing with the pandemic. Part of the success in the way philanthropy had responded to the pandemic stems from proactive listening to the needs of communities. We are also seeing more strategic collaboration to address systemic challenges such as climate change and racism.

Why are we focusing on these themes at our 2020 virtual gathering?

PFC started its learning journey on diversity, equity, and inclusion in Canadian philanthropy some time ago, launching a PFC members’ DEI survey in 2018. As Canada’s population diversity grows, and as our community partners and donors seek to work with those representing a more diverse in background, perspective, and approach, PFC considered it urgent to ask: How inclusive are the policies and practices of organized philanthropy? Can we learn from the experiences of peers who are finding ways to bring diverse voices to their board tables and to their decision-making around funding?

Preliminary conclusions of the survey helped build a DEI learning program for PFC members which included a toolkit for Canadian foundations to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion both in their grantmaking and in their governance released in 2019 and a Gender-Lens Philanthropy: A practical guide for Canadian foundations released the same year. In response to recent events and thousands of Canadians going to the street to protest systemic racism, we deemed it important to organize a workshop on anti-racism to complement our plenaries and panels. We have learned a lot together during the current crisis as a community, and our sector is mobilizing support for the most marginalized within our communities.

In partnership, Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, and Environment Funders Canada have developed Five Guiding Principles for Supporting Grantees to guide foundations as they consider how to best respond to the current situation in March 2020.  A COVID-19 Learning Series was developed to provide foundations with guidance around issues of continued learning in times of crisis,  tips for foundations’ response to social inequities highlighted by the pandemic, and a Primer for Working with Non-qualified Donees.

I have been working 3 years in philanthropy, having had some experience with large international foundations in my past career in International development. In just 3 years, I have had time to learn more about philanthropic practices and observe the shifts and changes that are taking place. Without a doubt, this past year has accelerated some of those trends that started before the crisis. What we would like to start learning about during this gathering is whether those changes are going to become lasting practices or not.

In essence, how can we sustain these positive trends in the long run and when planning for recovery? What do we need to change or do differently considering that philanthropy cannot solve all problems on all fronts but does have a vital role to play to strengthen, sustain, and change? How do we rethink the future when looking forward?

Press pause and join us to reflect on the philanthropic practices and approaches adopted by foundations in this unique time, and fast forward to visualize what we would like our world to be by 2030 and beyond.

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