Reflections on the Philanthropic Foundations of Canada Conference

Michelle and I have just returned from the 2016 Philanthropic Foundations of Canada bi-annual conference. It was a jam-packed four days. The pre-conference activity kicked off with the Grantmakers Round table. 

The roundtable was facilitated by our friend and colleague Patrick Johnson of Borealis Advisors. He lead a group of two dozen staff and board members through the five stages of the grantmaking lifecycle. He drilled down on how to design/refine a grantmaking framework, how to obtain good grant proposals, making the grant, managing your grants and finally closing the grant. I had an opportunity to share insights on the growing grants management software choices in the sector and how a digital strategy can help foundations avoid the hype that sometimes comes with grantmaking software.

After the roundtable concluded, the main conference began. The plenary and deep-dives focused in on:

  • How do we plan for and build more sustainable communities and spaces?
  • How do we engage in greater understanding, reconciliation and respectful partnership with Aboriginal communities in Canada?
  • What new funder knowledge exchange networks are being created in Canada and around what themes?
  • How can we apply the lessons from innovation and systems thinking to have more impact?
  • How can we learn from the lessons of smaller Canadian foundations who are using innovative approaches to the deployment of their resources?
  • How do we assess our effectiveness in this more collaborative and open space?

Paul Lacerte, CEO of the Moosehide Campaign Development Society gave a powerful speech descrbing his personal journey that lead him and his daughter to lauch the Moosehide campaign. Their goal is to get 500,000 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men to stand up against violence. He encouraged conference participants to make the pledge and spread the word as they march into 2017.On Wednesday night, many conference-goers visited the Musqueam Cultural Centre. We listened to Elder Larry Grant of the Musqueam Nation provide a short history of their people that have lived in the area uninterrupted for over 4,000 years. We then had a wonderful meal while watching members of the Musqueam community sing and dance for us.

Thursday morning, we listened into Phil Buchanan from the Centre for Effective Philanthropy deliver a summary of the CEP’s recent report Big Issues, Many questions. He shared five big concepts:

  1. Fundamental questions about the role of philanthropy as the so-called establishment comes under fire
  2. Questioning the traditional approach to endowment management
  3. An evolving notion of what good strategy and measurement look like in philanthropy
  4. The embracing of – or return to – aligned action among funders (and with other actors)
  5. A new sophistication in considering how to support nonprofits effectively

Phil had some of the room laughing and some cringing at his proactive calls-to-action and things to consider. Specifically, how foundations must consider aligning their assets with their granting (endowment management). He framed it by stating “that rhetoric is outpacing action”.

After the panel, we heard from James Temple at the PwC Foundation lead a session “Thinking about Systems: a global perspective” with Helle Bank Jorgensen, President Global Compact Network Canada and Dr Jacline Nyman, President and CEO United Way Canada discuss three topics:

  1. How new technologies and big data are empowering better decision making about measurement and systems level change
  2. Why systems change projects must start from the inside out
  3. What are the most effective measures and frameworks to help us track impact

The conversation focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). There are 17 SGDs ranging from ending poverty to partnering for the goals. Attendees were quite interested in learning more about how their current goals align (or not) with the SDGs.

Closing the conference, PfC Board Hosts, Laura Manning (Lyle S. Hallman Foundation) and Allan Northcott (VP, Max Bell Foundation) summarized a few really important take-aways:

  1. Reconciliation: Foundations do have a role – and have been invited – to participate in reconciliation
  2. Using data better: Considerable opportunity for the foundation to take advantage of all the data and information they and their grantees generate and have access to
  3. Collaboration: By using an abundance mindset (Canadian foundations manage billions in assets), collaborations are important strategies amongst funders and allies.

Grantbook looks forward to working with the PfC movement in the future, and grateful to participate this year.

Anil Patel

Co-Founder, Futurist & Design Thinker

Sector Trends, Future of Work, Design

With more than two decades' experience in philanthropy and technology, I have written, reviewed, reported, and/or optimized the process for thousands of grant proposals. This has provided me with a unique perspective on how to re-imagine the flow of philanthropic information, so that people can devote more time to the most purposeful work. Currently, I'm exploring the Future of Work: specifically, how automation, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) will disrupt most corners of the economy and many pockets of society.

Michelle Moore

Board Member

Strategy, Transformation, Process Optimization

Transformation work is my passion. I have helped former Soviet enterprises transition to a market economy, consulted companies on innovation performance, optimized business processes and implemented new technologies. Today, authentic transformation for lasting positive impact is faster and more accessible to all individuals, organizations and systems. Tapping into the collective wisdom of our teams, through high quality attention & intention, presencing, and embodiment is the new source for insight and innovation.