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5 Factors Shaping the Future of Philanthropy in Canada

Tuesday, October 11, 2016
Grantseeker Monthly
Guest Writers
Grant Connect
Sector News
Suzanne Clark

On the evening of September 27, more than 150 nonprofit leaders and changemakers explored the future of philanthropy and celebrated the 50th anniversary of Grant Connect at Imagine Canada’s first-ever ‘Sector Social.’ This sold-out Toronto event, held at the Centre for Social Innovation, is one of four ‘Sector Socials’ hosted by Imagine Canada with others taking place in Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary throughout October.

Amid drinks and dessert, the main course of the evening was a panel discussion, ‘The Future of Philanthropy,’ moderated by Owen Charters, President & CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Canada, and featuring expert panelists:

  • Holly McLellan, Executive Director, Youth and Philanthropy Initiative (YPI)
  • Bobby Sahni, Partner & Co-Founder, Ethnicity Multicultural Marketing + Advertising
  • James Temple, Chief Corporate Responsibility Officer, PwC Canada

Imagine Canada’s President and CEO, Bruce MacDonald welcomed attendees and spoke briefly about the organization’s role and goals for the future: “Imagine Canada works to amplify the sector’s voice, to enable social good, to retain our place of privilege and trust and to ensure our sector’s relevancy.” 

So, what is the future of philanthropy in Canada?

1. The next generation

Together, we are the ones who create the future of philanthropy, suggests Holly McLellan. “This is the decade,” she says, “where we must challenge traditional investment norms and match our money to our missions.”

In the end, it comes down to the question: what does humanity value? “We need to get there as a team and engage youth. Young people need us to provide multiple access points, multiple opportunities for connecting directly with the sector and we must help them understand the mission.”

2. Relevancy

“It all comes down to relevancy,” says Bobby Sahni, offering 4 factors that inform his view of the future of Canada:

  1. The changing face of Canada – Immigration is Canada’s growth strategy
  2. Competition is intensifying – Individuals and corporations are inundated with requests to give
  3. More digital and social – We can now give peer-to-peer and can communicate across borders
  4. Corporations and consumers demand customization and integration – Consumers want to know “what can I do?” beyond writing a cheque

With Canada’s immigrants bringing their own preferences and “diversity within diversity,” in the future, Bobby argues, we will need to micro-target unique sectors.

3. Shifting structures & narratives

“By 2020 we will each have 6.58 digital devices connected to the internet. Blockchain will change the way finances are thought about, including within the nonprofit sector,” says James Temple. “We’ve created a narrative that not for profit is seen as not as important.” He recommends that through leadership development, storytelling and listening to stakeholders, we can begin to create a shared language across sectors.

In her own experience, Holly finds that when teenagers see charities at work, they are then able to understand what’s actually involved in charitable work.  

For Bobby, there is much we can learn by cross-pollinating and employing best practices from other sectors: “The perception is that nonprofits don’t have money.” The conversation, he suggests, has to be more progressive. “There is much that corporations could learn from nonprofits, and vice versa.”

4. Measurement

How will the sector meet the increasing demand for measurement of outcomes? Being able to access big data from the government, for example, and having access to additional resources on how to use this data is one way, suggests Holly.

Notably, measurement is a hot topic in the for-profit sector, also. “Benchmarking will be important going forward,” says Bobby “You need to know where you are today to measure where you’re heading.”

When it comes to measurement, we haven’t established what are the ‘need to haves’ and what are the ‘nice to haves’. James believes that these are important questions for the sector going forward.

5. Leadership development

What if you find a great organization and you want to grow there? With the prevalence of short-term contracts, internships, etc., in our sector, opportunities to stay and grow within an organization can be challenging to find. “Too often, it comes down to luck so networking is still really important,” says Holly. Owen finds that, “our sector doesn’t have systems in place for grooming youth for leadership roles,” and that makes developing leaders difficult.

In terms of solutions, James suggests that a new model of mentorship and coaching is needed. “Reverse mentorship is powerful,” he says, “and able to create a safe space for leadership development.”

Bobby suggests that our perception of Executive Directors might need to shift and that perhaps we need to look outside the sector for other solutions. Holly believes that the topic of decent work has a role in this conversation going forward, allowing organizations to keep talent in the sector. Another opportunity for the future, which Owen highlights, is the increasing capacity for individuals to use social media to self-organize.


What does the future of philanthropy look like to you? Share your insights and ideas in the comments section below. 


About the Author

Suzanne Clark is a former nonprofit executive and Partner at Four Corners Group, where she oversees the firm’s nonprofit and academic executive search practice.

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