15 Minutes on Charitable Landscapes

Episode Transcript

Lama Alsafi: 00:01 Hello and welcome to 15 Minutes to Change the World. Where in 15 minutes, you can learn a bit more about the world and how you can help change it. My name is Lama Alsafi, host of this podcast.

In this episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World, we are looking at the changing landscape that Canadian charities and nonprofits are facing today. Our guest is Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada. Imagine Canada’s mission is to strengthen Canadian charities and nonprofits so they can better serve individuals and communities both here and around the world. Thank you for joining us today, Bruce.

Bruce MacDonald: 01:06 Well, thanks very much for the opportunity.

Lama Alsafi: 01:07 Bruce, can you tell us a bit more about Imagine Canada?

Bruce MacDonald: 01:11 Well, absolutely. We’re a national organization that really seeks to work with and on behalf of Canada’s 86,000 registered charities, the public benefits side of the 90,000 nonprofits and the growing sector of social entrepreneurs, and we do that primarily through the provision of research, data information and knowledge we’re public policy advocates with the federal government in Ottawa. We certify charities for the highest levels of good governance, transparency and accountability. And we seek to engage with Canadians to think more deeply about social good in their communities.

Lama Alsafi: 01:42 Bruce, you’ve been working in the nonprofit sector for a number of years now. I wonder what first got you into the sector and what led you to Imagine Canada?

Bruce MacDonald: 01:51 You know, it’s interesting. I think that I, my path has followed, I guess a fairly typical path in that I was actually introduced to the concept of volunteering and giving at a very, very early age by my parents who both had their own way of contributing to the community, my mom was involved and kind of a traditional organization. And my dad, then got dragged in because my mom was involved. And uh, and so, you know, it, it began a path of really starting through amateur sport, winding my way through community service clubs, working with older adults, uh, persons with disabilities and then oddly enough, that sort of rather eclectic, um, group of stakeholders rolled up quite nicely when I wanted to work for an organization like Imagine Canada because I’d actually had sort of touch points throughout my career with different aspects of the charitable sector.

Lama Alsafi: 02:45 And Bruce, why should Canadians care about what’s happening in the charitable landscape? What is the impact of charities and nonprofits in Canada today?

Bruce MacDonald: 02:52 Well, they should care first and foremost because it affects them and their families. I mean, this sector that employs 2.4 million Canadians has 13 million volunteers is the, is one of the primary providers of the services that we as citizens have come to, not just expect but enjoy. And so for people in communities, it’s important that they think about tending to the garden that is this service so that they’ll continue to flourish for many years to come because they affect their kids, their grandkids, their friends and their work colleagues. We are everywhere in Canada providing services to all kinds of people. And it’s important to look after the health and well-being of this sector.

Lama Alsafi: 03:36 Well said. And considering your experience, I wonder if you can tell us a bit about some of the trends you’ve seen in the giving behaviour or volunteer behaviour of Canadians over the last few years?

Bruce MacDonald: 03:48 For sure. We were fortunate enough to partner with the Rideau Hall Foundation in 2018 to produce a report called “30 Years of Giving”. It’s a very comprehensive look at the state of philanthropy in this country. And I would articulate the key trends in sort of the following ways. First of all, while dollars raw dollars that are being given to charities to continue to go up, they mask a significant decline in the number of people who are making donations. The generosity of current donors, uh, it has been hiding a weakness in the system. We’re witnessing a concentration of giving in wealthier, older Canadians to the point where those donors who are in their seventies, 80s and 90s now represent 30% of all donations.

At the same time, we’re witnessing a weakening in donations from younger people for a variety of reasons, philanthropic or generous. But because it’s different economic starting points and massive student debt and not being able to find permanent jobs. And so what we’re seeing at the other end of the giving spectrum is, uh, a place where people under 40, um, the amount that they’ve contributed that representation inside of overall donations has dropped by half. And so for us, looking at the future of the charitable landscape, what we’re saying is there is a seismic shift in the way philanthropy is unfolded coming in the next 10 to 15 years.

Lama Alsafi: 05:19 So it’s certainly a big challenge. How can we get people under 40 more involved considering what you say, um, you know, financial constraints and these sorts of things. Are they, are people under 40 volunteering more?

Bruce MacDonald: 05:30 Yeah, I mean, it, it appears that, um, the idea of generosity is very present with younger people. It’s just unfolding differently than it did for their parents or grandparents. So if they don’t have incomes for which a charitable tax credit might benefit them when they do their income taxes each year, it doesn’t matter then whether they give to a registered charity or to a, an individual via a crowdfunding site or platform for which they’re not getting a charitable tax receipt. Um, we’re seeing young people who are getting involved in causes, um, through conversations or volunteering and sometimes more informal types of volunteering. Again, not necessarily through institutions.

And so I think while there’s great hope for continued generosity of future generations, uh, for those organizations who still require money, they need to reach out and connect with young people, but not necessarily exclusively through the lens of donors, but rather how do we engage them in our mission and cause so that as their life changes and they can become more rigorous donors, um, and philanthropists that we haven’t ignored them for a decade or two,

Lama Alsafi: 06:41 What changes are needed to, to tackle these, these sorts of challenges?

Bruce MacDonald: 06:45 I don’t think it’s as simple as as just changing tactics. I think that when it comes to thinking about the challenges of the future, that organizations need to have courage to look at what’s happening now and be thoughtful and intentional about where they go. So part of it is that, I think organizations need to develop a core competency in being able to adapt and change, not just simply replicate what has worked for 30 or 40 years, because data suggests that that, uh, is likely going to change. And I think the other part, and I think this is kind of the work that Imagine Canada does, uh, and others not just us, is to say, how do we create a system in which all of these organizations can thrive? What are the regulatory barriers? What’s the missing data so that we can make informed choices? How do we modernize the environment so that social good can thrive?

And I think this is where it’s important that organizations see themselves not just as independent units, but as part of a kind of a healthy ecosystem that needs to pull together at times to make sure some of these systemic issues are addressed. So I think it’s important that organizations understand that they’re not just, they’re on their own, but they’re part of an ecosystem where as we look at, uh, issues like ensuring that we have data so that organizations can make informed choices that, um, barriers are removed to create opportunities for innovation. There will be times when those individual units need to pull together to advance this collective change so that the system enables all of the social good to thrive.

Lama Alsafi: 08:32 Bruce, are you seeing any trends in innovations or you know, with the data that you mentioned, what’s happening? What’s the big picture in terms of innovation?

Bruce MacDonald: 08:41 Absolutely. I think, you know, we are seeing certainly right now with the social finance fund getting ready to be released by the federal government. I mean, the investment readiness program is out there. Um, there are, uh, opportunities for organizations to test, to test, their ability to innovate and take a little bit more risk, whether it’s the creation of a new program, a service program, whether it’s, it’s testing a new revenue model, whether it’s testing a new business model. But what we’re really hoping is that organizational leaders, we’ll step back and look at the communities that they serve and the constituents that they serve and say, are there new ways that will be sustainable in the future? And that, uh, might take a little bit of new thinking, maybe a bit risk appetite and that there’s instruments being put in place to allow us to, to try and flex our muscles in that regard. So, uh, we see the signs of, of adaptation and change and now we’re hoping that organizational leaders will embrace that kind of thinking.

Lama Alsafi: 09:44 And what about Canadians? What about, uh, anyone who’s at home right now listening in their car? What action can they take and how can they get involved?

Bruce MacDonald: 09:53 What we’d really want Canadians to do is to reflect on the contribution and impact that this sector has made on the lives of them and their family and their friends and their colleagues. Because from there, they can then choose a myriad of paths to get in the game and ensure that those services will be there for the people that they care about. In 10, 15 and 20 years. Unintentionality around giving is a problem.

People don’t think of it, not necessarily participating as volunteers, formal or informal in their communities. A retrenchment back to saying, you know, the government will look after it is not going to get us where we need to go as a society. And it’s critically important that if someone’s sitting in their car and listening to this conversation today, find the passion, find the cause that you care about, contact, research, and find a way to get in the game and make sure that this cause is around for many years to come.

Lama Alsafi: 10:56 Bruce thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. We really appreciate your time.

Bruce MacDonald: 11:00 Thanks very much. And uh, best of luck.

Lama Alsafi: 11:03 Thank you Bruce, Bruce McDonald, President & CEO of Imagine Canada joined us remotely today from Hamilton. Thank you so much to all of our listeners for tuning in and thank you again to Bruce MacDonald. You can stay up to date on the latest episode of 15 Minutes to Change the World on Spotify and iTunes.