January 8, 2015
From the President

Looking Back, Looking Forward in 2015

By Hilary Pearson

As we begin the new year of 2015, what are some of the trends that struck me most in 2014? And what will is likely to be compelling for Canadian philanthropy in 2015? What follows is a highly personal view of what was important to philanthropy in 2014, and what is to come. But add your own insights and suggestions now! Everything is still possible as this year begins to unfold!

First, a look back. In 2014, Canadian organized philanthropy’

  • Took a close look at itself through the numbers; Imagine Canada and PFC painted a decade-long portrait of the growth and giving trends among Canada’s largest foundations, which collectively granted over $1 billion in 2012. Data is a key input to the knowledge that we are starting to build about the grantmaking field in Canada.
  • Brought energy and attention to some big issues: The activity and impact of Canadian foundations showcased in the program of the PFC Conference in Halifax in October was simply astounding!
  • Walked the collaborative talk. Groups of funders are getting together more often and more formally to coordinate learning and action on issues such as youth mental health, impact investing, and partnering with aboriginal communities and leaders
  • Acted as creative convenors. Whether funding conversations about Possible Canadas or Cities for People or healthy food systems or ecofiscal policy, Canadian foundations were central to future-oriented conversations across the country.

And what about 2015? An always interesting forecast of trends in philanthropy, both US and global, is provided by Lucy Bernholz, who issued her annual look ahead Blueprint 2015 late in December. Among the predictions (admittedly US-centred) that Lucy makes this year are the following:

  • Sessions on “digital social” or some form of that term will become regular features at philanthropy conferences
  • Demands from the public for greater transparency about donors to nonprofits and foundations will heat up
  • Foundations and nonprofits will start hiring data scientists to do work yet unknown or imagined
  • Impact investing as a practice will gain regular coverage in the mainstream business and finance media
  • The growth of impact measurement and social impact analysis as a professional field will continue especially in Asia.

Do any of these predictions apply to Canada? I think that they might although we are less eager to put our toes in the digital data water than Lucy suggests is true for US foundations. One trend she mentioned last year is the intention to work more collaboratively and with more feedback between grantmakers and their grantees. Lucy points to a collaborative fund created in 2014 by US foundations as an indication of increasing interest in improving philanthropy through beneficiary feedback. The Fund for Shared Insight is a multi-year collaborative effort among US funders that pools financial and other resources to make grants to improve philanthropy by providing grants to nonprofit organizations to encourage and incorporate feedback; understand the connection between feedback and better results; foster more openness between and among foundations and grantees; and share what is learned. A good model for Canadian funders possibly in 2015?

What else should we look forward to in 2015?

  • More foundations participating in impact investing in what is becoming a very active marketplace – a change in the federal limited partnership rule could accelerate this trend considerably
  • More discussion of the foundation model: is perpetuity possible and/or desirable? How transparent must foundations be to be accountable? How much can foundations do to break the foundation walls – to learn more from and share more with each other?
  • The millennial voice in philanthropy – new stories emerging about how Canadian millennials and younger generation foundation members engage in networked and direct philanthropy
  • More public awareness of philanthropy and of foundations in general as individual foundations step up as convenors and advocates

And finally some important dates and events for philanthropy:

  • Canadian community foundations convene in Calgary in May .
  • The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports in early June
  • A federal election takes place in the fall or possibly as early as spring 2015
  • PFC gathers Canadian grantmakers in Toronto for a day in late October

Tell us what your suggestions and predictions for organized philanthropy in 2015!

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