August 28, 2018
From the President

The Fall Season: A Preview

Jennifer Thomas

Its been a hot and challenging summer for many, given the forest fires in the West, the heat overall, and the constant news blasts from the south. However, in the optimistic spirit of a return soon to cooler weather, this blog anticipates some of fall’s exciting events in Canadian philanthropy.

What are we looking forward to this fall?

  • The 2018 PFC conference in Toronto in mid-October. Registration is open and in full swing. We are looking forward to some great plenaries and challenging conversations on philanthropy and civic engagement, on the role of foundations in an era of populism, on the tough issues around measuring our impact, and on the accountability and social license to operate of charitable foundations in Canada.
  • A new series on how to understand and use data and evidence more effectively. PFC and PoweredbyData are developing a series of three issue briefs (the first one is available now) and we will be offering some special learning sessions and discussions around the topics raised in these briefs.
  • PFC is starting a conversation this fall about diversity, equity and inclusion. Beginning with a benchmark survey of current practices among our members, we will follow up with a discussion during the fall conference and eventually a discussion guide on implementing diversity and inclusion policies and practices within the foundation space in Canada.
  • A new series of webinars on tools for grantmaking foundations, delivered by Sheherazade Hirji, an experienced grantmaker herself. These webinars begin in late September and will run through December, with an emphasis on creating a peer group for exchanging practices.
  • We will be developing more supports for funder affinity groups this fall; continuing with the development of an affinity group for program staff; and working with members on the development of affinity groups around issues of youth and the labour force, and potentially a new group for funders of organizations serving women and girls.

PFC’s goals are to help make connections, to inspire funders to be more effective, and, in doing so, to make change – change in how funders think about their own strategies and practices, or in how to work with partners and communities. Our priorities this fall address some of the big questions that we feature in our conference program:

  • Are we collecting evidence wisely and thinking smartly about what data we need to inform our decisions and assess what we and our partners are achieving?
  • How do we reach out and engage with the next generation around social impact?
  • What difference would using a gender lens make to our funding decisions? And to our own practices?
  • How do we think about philanthropy and power? Power to get things done, to change policy, to mobilize action? Or power to build networks, and leaders who will make change happen? Whose power do we seek to strengthen through philanthropic action?
  • What gives philanthropy its “social license to operate”? How important is public trust to philanthropic “success”?  with whom and by who do we define success?

News on the Public Policy Front

In July, Justice Edward Morgan of the Ontario Superior Court declared the sections of the Income Tax Act that restrict registered charities’ political activities to be unconstitutional. The ruling also expands the Income Tax Act’s definition of charitable activities to include political activities. The prohibition on charities engaging in partisan activity was not in question and remains in place.  This was surprising but excellent news for charities and charitable funders who support the engagement of charities in public dialogue and advocacy. We welcomed it.  PFC has been engaged on behalf of our members for over two years in the federal consultations and discussion on this issue of the limits on the advocacy work of charities.  It has been our view that there should be no need to monitor and limit this work if a charity or a charitable foundation pursues its recognized charitable purpose in engaging in public advocacy.  Justice Morgan agreed with the Consultation Panel on Political activities recommendation on this point.

In mid-August, the federal government announced that it recognizes the experience and value that charities bring to public debate, and to the formulation of public policy.  The Government is going to appeal Justice Morgan’s decision on points of constitutional law. Nevertheless, the Ministers of Finance and CRA announced that “as a matter of good public policy, and to move forward with this commitment, our Government intends to amend the Income Tax Act to implement changes consistent with recommendation no. 3 of the Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities. The intended amendments will allow charities to pursue their charitable purposes by engaging in non-partisan political activities and in the development of public policy. Charities will still be required to have exclusively charitable purposes, and restrictions against partisan political activities will remain.”

The government will be bringing in legislation to act on this commitment this fall. PFC has applauded this important move forward. We trust that these changes will include the removal of the requirement of charitable foundations to report on political activities of charities for which they have given funding. We will be vigilant in watching for the government’s future announcements and ready to intervene during the fall in collaboration with our colleagues across the charitable sector.

It should be an interesting season!

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