Preparing your Charity for the Future

While there are over 83,000 registered charities (2013 data from T3010 filings with CRA) in Canada and growing, they are facing increasing pressure on their sources of revenue. While donations have generally been stable as a percent of GDP, they are showing a trend of softness, accompanied by relative static number of donors in Canada. While Canada ranks second on CIVICUS ‘Enabling Environment Index’ (EEI), government-civil society relations are under strain. So, a challenging picture emerges for the sector – higher need, stagnant funding sources and government funding, a key source of revenue for many organizations, is decreasing and becoming more selective in what it would support.

How, then, can a Canadian charity, whether it be an institution of higher learning, a health care facility or service, an independent school, an environmental group, a community social services agency, international development organization or arts and cultural centre or any other, prepare itself to survive and, indeed, thrive in such an environment?

While the response to this question is dependent on the specific societal needs, constituencies and competitive environment of each organization, the key common thread is in adopting an operating culture that uses four key approaches: staying abreast with “smart data”, quest for “creative and innovative solutions”, adopting mode of “strategic planning” and imbibing a “global focus”.

With advancing use of internet and communication technologies, the sector uses more data, information, research and knowledge to make decisions. The use of technology in this sector, however, has lagged behind the private sector, spending 1/6 of what the for-profit sector spends. The ability to extract and use “smart data” from a myriad of sources is a key strength of any organization that can either be available in house or secured through service providers. The use of data analytics coupled with the adoption of social media continues to have a bearing on new tactical strategies of finding creative solutions, as seen more recently with crowdsourcing, and use of rapid fundraising strategies during global natural disasters.

An understanding of philanthropic trends is key to adopting “creative and innovative solutions”. For example Canadians are likely to seek advice from their advisors on which assets to donate, how much to donate and the nature of the vehicles through which the donation will be made and this has led to the growth of donor advised funds, especially within community foundations and financial institutions. I have had the privilege of leading Toronto’s Sick Kids Foundation Gift and Estate Planning team launch the first charity run donor advised fund in Canada. While an understanding of the drivers of philanthropy is key, every organization needs to differentiate itself through creativity, and have the ability to speak with a unified, amplified voice to key audiences and deliver highest quality programs.

With a constantly changing technological and demographic landscape, it is necessary not only to adopt best practices and develop long term “strategic plans”, but be able to be seize opportunities as they arise, with a plan that can be brought into early play. For example, in the $120 million Vision 2010 campaign for the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Waterloo, our strategy was not only to develop a long-term, step-by step approach to our goals and capacity for campaign design and implementation, but simultaneously maximize evolving funding opportunities, as with matching funding available through government infrastructure stimulus funds for capital projects during the 2008 economic downturn. In taking a proactive planning approach, the organization can minimize financial and reputational risks by constantly simulating “what-if” scenarios and adopting strategies accordingly.

The final consideration is through taking a “global focus” towards fundraising. This is especially important in a virtual communication environment, with internationalization permeating every segment of society. While private-sector companies have already embraced this strategy in allocating and outsourcing their resources, the not-for-profit sector is beginning to do so at an increasing pace. This is no more so than in the education sector, especially post-secondary institutions and independent schools having alumni and friends around the world. But this is also true for health care institutions whose supporters include multi-national health care companies, headquartered in other countries, environmental charities who look at their sector from a frontier less lens (as I experienced while working for the Pembina Institute), and international development agencies whose work has a global impact (such as the Aga Khan Development Network, that I served with in Karachi, Pakistan).

I am delighted in being part of Global Philanthropic, where we apply our knowledge of international best fundraising practise and the philanthropic marketplace to develop practical fundraising strategies that start from each client’s stage in its fundraising program and systematically move it to the level necessary to maximize philanthropic support in alignment with the client’s vision. In joining the Canadian team, that has been serving charities over the past five years, and leading our operations in Toronto, Canada’s largest most diverse city, I have the privilege of offering our services in the Greater Toronto Area and other communities in southern Ontario.  Drawing on our network of consultants and associates in Asia, Europe and Australia, as well as across Canada, we can offer personalized and robust level of service.

Our services range include: Consultancy, Research, Giving and Training. We help non-profit organizations develop major gift strategies to obtain the resources they need to meet their most ambitious goals. Our research strategies give us international capabilities and knowledge of developments and trends across the philanthropic sector. Our giving services assist high net worth individuals and foundations develop effective strategies for giving. Our training services, ranging from group seminars to one-to-one mentoring and coaching, develop capacity and spread international best practices and knowledge. I look forward to working with organizations and helping them maximize their potential in serving our communities in an ever-changing global environment.