Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A great day for the Canadian charitable sector

Yesterday was a great day. As I’ve posted about a few times, I was thrilled to be involved in the Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy leadership forum, Surviving and Thriving in Challenging times.

I’m a hard one to please when it comes to professional development, but this was a brilliant day.


Firstly there were great people there. Some excellent speakers, and a fantastic bunch of delegates, over 100 of them.

Secondly, people were open, honest and sharing.

Thirdly, the quality of the information presented and the value derived from this was first class.

In the morning session we heard from Al Hatton, President and CEO of the United Way Canada, who talked about 2008, a year in review. What they had learned from a tough year. What I loved from Al was when he stipulated that we all needed to ‘make a plan based on facts’ if we were going to make inroads moving forward. Spot on Al.

We then heard from Scott Mullins of TD Bank who gave us the lowdown on what the banks are planning in 2009 in terms of charitable support. Scott’s message was that it will be more of the same in terms of the level of support but gave some great insights into what they really want to see in submissions, not what charities think they want.

Malcolm Burrows from Scotia Private Client Group talked about foundation giving, specifically referring to different types of foundations and how they may be affected moving forward. Malcolm’s take was that foundation endowments are likely to decrease by 10%-30% this year meaning that the payouts for charities (even at the 3.5% they have to payout) will be proportionately less. He also suspected that foundations are more likely at the moment to focus on existing charities they already support.

I was next cab off the rank and my slot focused on the 6 steps to avoiding recession suicide. Here they are in point form (please email me if you want a more detailed summary):

1. Practicing good relationship management with donors and not ignore them.
2. Not sacrificing long term for short term.
3. Avoiding distraction: focus on the things that will have the biggest impact.
4. Getting the balance right. Cost v value.
5. Use data to make informed and strategic decisions.
6. Look around and see what others are doing.

Besides getting the chance to rant for 45 minutes, the highlight of the day for me was Dan Pallotta’s session.

Dan is the author of "Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential". The premise of Dan’s book and his message yesterday was that charities are unable to have a monumental impact on the world because of the constraints placed on them by society. Dan contends that we can’t really tackle pandemics like world hunger and a cure for cancer given the barriers placed upon nonprofits to deliver lots from little.

He challenges (rightly, I might add) that asking “what % of my dollar goes towards programs” is fundamentally the wrong question to ask. We should be concerned with outcomes, not cost per dollar raised or the proportion of money spent on services.

He challenges (again, rightly) the disproportionate amount of time and questioning of Senior Charity Executive salaries, the criticism that charities are placed under about spending on fundraising/marketing and that in effect we need a paradigm shift on the way charity is viewed and how we operate.

Yes, yes, yes! Finally this stuff has the opportunity to be on the public agenda. I love it.

Fortunately we all got a copy of Dan’s book for attending the forum and I have to say I’m already well into it and absorbing every page.

Dan joked that to get his message heard he needed to go on a Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth type crusade. I don’t think this is a joking matter, I think he does. This requires a movement, a shift in the way people perceive charity and the way that we operate to genuinely change the world.

Rebecca Davies from Médecins Sans Frontières Canada then gave us a really honest and open assessment of how her organization is dealing with the current economic crisis. She implored delegates to ‘fundraise from the frontline’ and gave a really moving account of her own experience visiting projects and how this has made her ‘a better fundraiser’.

Rebecca also told us about some key policy changes Médecins Sans Frontières Canada has made which allowed them to consider corporate support they previously hadn’t been able to which would now mean taking treating each corporation on a case by case basis (rather than ruling out certain sectors, with some exceptions), and how donor field visits, a practice previously un-allowed has already reaped rewards with some sizable gifts following project visits.

The day finished with a panel of experts, which I managed to get a seat on. As well as some of the previously mentioned speakers, we were joined by other sector leaders like Kimberley MacKenzie from the Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation and David Love from the Conservation Foundation of Greater Toronto. The panel responded to questions from the floor from topics such as managing boards, policy changes right down to views on recruitment activity in the current climate.

This was a great day for the Canadian charitable sector.

Key people getting together to cut through rhetoric and talk about what’s really happening out there and what we can and are doing to continue to deliver the services we need to our beneficiaries.

I was proud to a part of it. I look forward to the next leadership forum of this type.


There were other sessions in additition to those mentioned, but for fear of blogging for two days, I have tried to summarize the days events..

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