June 28, 2019
PFC Blog

Roadmap and Catalyst for Change in Canadian Philanthropy?

Hilary Pearson

The Senate Special Committee on the charitable sector, led by Senators Terry Mercer and Ratna Omidvar, has tabled a comprehensive report, Catalyst For Change: A Roadmap to a Stronger Charitable Sector that could have a positive impact on the work of charitable foundations.

Many of the 42 recommendations are important and relevant to charitable foundations and have been issues PFC has championed over several years. By making the rules more flexible, the recommendations would enable foundation work that cuts across boundaries and involves more non-charities than ever before. They would also make it possible for foundations to focus on the truly innovative and longer-term work that is so important to social progress, while helping charities earn more sustainable revenues that are not dependent on organized philanthropy.

Setting the Agenda

This report overall could set the agenda for the charitable sector’s policy priorities with the federal government for the next five years. And it’s based on a wide consensus. PFC would like to thank the Senate Special Committee for its impressive work in producing this road map. The Committee held 24 hearings and an e-consultation that reached 695 respondents. It talked to 160 witnesses and received more than 90 briefs. This public input alone has been very valuable for the sector. Four of PFC’s members and PFC itself presented briefs and testimony to the Committee. All were cited in the final report in different sections.

The Senate Committee has made it clear that it wants to see a more flexible, more enabling, more modern and productive relationship between the federal government and the sector. As Senator Mercer stated, “The Charitable sector is a major part of Canadian society and it has been ignored for too long.” As the sector faces more demand, greater disruption and more constrained funding than ever before, “its potential is limited by what are seen by many stakeholders as complex, outdated rules and a lack of coordinated support within the federal government.”

Flexibility Leads to More Potential

To tackle these concerns, the Committee recommends flexibility:

  1. For charities who want to generate more business revenue to pursue their charitable purposes.
  2. For foundations who want to work in closer partnership with non-charities.

Recommendations 28 and 29 are both intended to promote exploration of innovative means of ensuring adequate funding for the sector. Recommendations 30 and 31 are intended to help charities who work with non-qualified donees (agents or non-profits). These recommendations would allow more charities to try to generate business revenue as long as it is destined for charitable purpose. They would also ease the provisions around direction and control of funds that make it difficult for foundations to work with agents and with non-charities.  If just these four recommendations were implemented, there would be a noticeable improvement in the opportunities and the funding available to charities and foundations who want to collaborate. They would also do much to encourage work with the business and public sectors.

The Time to Act is Now

There are many other recommendations in the Report that will interest funders who want to see stronger sector organizations, especially around building stronger organizations with more human resource and technological capacity in addition to financial resources.

The Senate Committee has concluded that the sector needs meaningful law and policy reform and a renewed relationship with the federal government. It has set out a roadmap for getting there. It is up to us now, in the sector, and as charitable funders who care deeply about being more effective and having more impact, to use this report to catalyze much needed policy change.

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