July 22, 2020
Guest Blog

Embracing Opportunities To Work With Non-Qualified Donees: The Why and The How

By Ana Sofia Hibon, with the McConnell Foundation and Say Ça!

Ana Sofia Hibon collaborates across various teams at the McConnell Foundation and sits on the Board of Say Ça!, a Montreal-based organization dedicated to supporting newcomer youth.

Against the backdrop of widespread uncertainty and loss brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the mobilization of solidarity and care networks across Canadian society has been inspiring, moving, and at many times life-saving. In this context, the work of many “non-qualified donees” –including grassroots organizations and mutual-aid groups at the forefront of emergency response– has been invaluable.

On July 8, PFC brought together four leaders from the social sector who shared a wealth of knowledge around the considerations and untapped potential of working with “non-qualified donees” or “non-charities”. Below are some insights drawn from the webinar which was moderated by Hanifa Kassam.


Canadian philanthropy has the opportunity to actively work towards stronger collaboration with non-charities. Why should it do so?

We are beating around the bush

As Ikem Opara, Capacity Building Lead at the Ontario Trillium Foundation highlighted, the capacity and commitment to unlock the potential of communities does not exclusively reside with organizations that are “qualified donees” under the CRA. Many funders already support non-charities through mechanisms including trusteeships, mentorships, networks, and others. While current practices do the trick, they fall short by excluding many organizations and leaving potential untapped.

Current practices hold back innovation and transformative change

Many of today’s established social purpose organizations initially grew out of grassroots groups. Nevertheless, “it can be difficult for large organizations to pivot and move at the pace that communities need us to” shared Bridget Sinclair, VP at Laidlaw Foundation, and VP at Toronto Neighbourhood Group. To maximize impact, non-charities and established organizations must work in complementarity. As Michelle Clarke, ED of the Burns Memorial Fund, observed: “our rules are so rigorous and our understanding of them so limited, that we are actually cutting off the potential for innovation in the charitable sector”.

Community-based leadership is way ahead on community-based solutions

As Ikem emphasized, working with non-charities is crucial for large organizations to remain relevant and it ensures that the intended impact is defined “by and for” the communities involved. Bridget added that directly funding grassroots groups shortens the time lag and sometimes the experiential gap between pressing issues and effective responses.

Philanthropy cannot truly address inequity and social injustice…

…if meaningful avenues for collaboration with non-qualified donees do not exist. The short- and long-term crises we face today exacerbate the pain points of our systems and put marginalized and vulnerable people at further risk. Despite this, members of these communities are often the ones leading social transformation through the work of non-charities.

Ajeev Abhati, Manager of Policy and Community Connections at the Centre for Connected Communities, put it beautifully: Non-qualified donees are spearheading transformational social change and doing it while going against a system that’s been designed to hoard and preserve wealth, in particular from them”.


At this point, you might be asking yourself: now what? Panelists did not hold back on ideas to strengthen collaboration between funders and non-charities. Below are some ways forward:

       1. Advocate for regulatory changes while doing the “boring” work

COVID-19 has tested the agility of the social sector. Yet, our regulations are lagging behind. Getting behind the 2019 Senate Report on Charity Sector Modernization is an important step. In parallel to this, people working in philanthropy must become familiar with current legislation in order to be able to move forward confidently and quickly, within current regulatory constraints.

        2. Invest in networks and shared platform models

By providing access to organizational infrastructure and capacity building, promoting best practices and leveraging pooled resources, networks and shared platforms can advance work in a more efficient and collaborative manner. At their best, they can amplify the capacity of those that are closest to the issues and allow all parties to reimagine the power dynamics between donees, funders and intermediaries.

         3. Center the knowledge of non-qualified donees and their communities in our practice

Funders can learn from and work with non-charities and the people that they serve by ensuring that their voices are heard in decision-making processes, through leadership positions, and in program design. Ajeev shared the example of Laidlaw Foundation’s Indigenous Youth and Community Future Fund – a granting program where decision-making authority was delegated to an advisory group composed of Indigenous youth.

          4. Deepen relationships with the communities with whom we want to work

Ikem invited us to invest in deep-seeded relationships with the communities with whom we already work while thinking carefully about how new funding opportunities are shared.

Bridget noted that it is key to look at operational considerations through an equity lens. But, at a deeper level, prioritizing the diversity and lived experience of partners also involves a foundational decision to reconsider ways of working, thinking, and granting. This requires active listening and humility and acknowledging when it is better to get out of the way.

          5. Support and fund the experts that are championing this work

While there is still much ground to cover, some organizations –such as The Circle– are leading the way. Their work and learnings are only possible with support from the sector. As Hanifa concluded, this is not only about funding non-qualified donees but also about investing in a system that is supportive of their work.


This was the second PFC webinar focused on the potential of collaboration between the philanthropic sector and non-qualified donees. In the first session, lawyers Troy McEachren and Susan Manwaring addressed the practical and legal considerations of working with non-registered charities and other non-qualified donees. Revisit the March 26 session here

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