January 5, 2016
From the President

Hopes (Not Predictions) for 2016

By Hilary Pearson

As we begin the new year, I join others who speculate on trends for 2016 in philanthropy and nonprofits (one of the most thought-provoking speculations by the way is Lucy Bernholz’s Blueprint 2016. I want to focus on the opportunities that I see for philanthropy in Canada in 2016. There will inevitably be disappointments and frustrations. But let’s be optimistic and offer hopes, not predictions in this first blog of the year.

We Will Expand the Charitable Box in Canada

Charities in Canada are stuck in a fairly tight box defined by the courts, by federal regulations and by provincial monitors. 2016 will see the beginning of a new conversation with the federal government about the definition and regulation of the charitable sector. The Liberal government has indicated that it is open to discussion about modernizing the rules respecting charities as advocates, policy shapers, innovators and impact funders. We will use this invitation as the most promising one we have had in a decade to explore a wider definition of charity, an opportunity already seized in the last ten years by other countries such as the United Kingdom and Australia.

We Will Connect Local to Global Goals in Philanthropy

One of the exciting developments of 2015 was the engagement of philanthropy in the global discussion about new development goals, now adopted by the United Nations as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Foundations are taking their engagement in this work a step further through a new platform created to encourage philanthropic funders to shape their work in light of the SDGs. A special issue of Alliance Magazine devoted to philanthropy and the SDGs eloquently summarizes why we should care about the SDGs and how they can be useful to foundation work. I agree with the Alliance editors that, at a minimum, Canadian foundations should be aware of what the goals are, and how governments, intergovernmental agencies and civil society in Canada aim to prioritize and implement them.

We Will Commit to Significant Targets for Impact Investing

It’s clear that world and Canadian markets are going to be difficult for foundation investors in 2016 and beyond. Making 8% or 9% returns from conventional stock and bond investment strategies would be very tough. To meet their disbursement quota of 3.5%, cover their investment costs and inflation, they must target a minimum 6% return. But the slow or no growth scenario doesn’t mean that foundations have no opportunities to deploy assets in a way that furthers their charitable purpose.  Foundations can now invest freely in Limited Partnerships, some of which (such as social housing LPs) are deployed for social purposes. Foundations can also make loans and provide guarantees to charities and even non-charities. A mix of impact investments that include LPs, loans, guarantees and investment sin social purpose funds or enterprises enables foundations to reach a 10% allocation target. More Canadian foundations will be doing this in 2016, in spite of difficult investment conditions.

We Will Create a Canadian Platform for Sharing Philanthropic Information

It’s time that we created an IssueLab in Canada. The Foundation Center runs this in the United States. It is a platform that works to more effectively gather, index, and share the collective intelligence of the social sector.  While it offers many case studies, evaluations, white papers and issue briefs that are useful to Canadian philanthropy in general terms, it inevitably misses items that are particularly valuable to us in a Canadian context. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel, and we can use the IssueLab model to create a Knowledge Center for Canadian philanthropy. So we have to ask ourselves why we couldn’t implement this as a key piece of philanthropic infrastructure in Canada?. It does require, as the Foundation Center suggests, that we agree to a common set of publishing practices, such as the adoption of open licenses and the use of open repositories like IssueLab. Canadian philanthropy can use developing platforms such as CKX and the IssueLab model to endow ourselves with a philanthropy knowledge center and to support greater knowledge sharing at the collective level in 2016!

What are your hopes for Canadian philanthropy in 2016? Share your ideas with us!

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