Research | A portrait of Canadian Foundation Philanthropy

publication date: Apr 30, 2018
author/source: Study by Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University, Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC) with the collaboration of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC)

There is broad agreement that private philanthropic investment is poised to have an increasingly important impact across the world. Yet those who seek to optimize the impact of philanthropy and social investing are hindered by a lack of reliable data and knowledge regarding philanthropic resources and trends.

Better data and analysis have the potential to lead to improvements including increased philanthropic capital, improved philanthropic strategies, a more favorable policy environment for philanthropy and civil society, and, ultimately, greater philanthropic impact. This global research initiative led by the Harvard Kennedy School will address this knowledge gap.

In Canada, we can identify some key trends in the development of organized philanthropy over the last three to five years:

• A steady growth of the private foundation sector in Canada, with more families and donors interested in committing to institutional philanthropy.

• Within the sector, a larger number of very big private foundations with assets over the billion dollar mark are appearing, a trend that is a new phenomenon for Canada.

• Among established foundations, the millennial generation of young people now in their 20’s are starting to make their voices heard more significantly on foundation boards and demonstrating a different approach, particularly an interest in impact investing and deployment of all assets for mission.

• A deepening of the infrastructure for institutional philanthropy, with a significant increase in the number of organized funder affinity groups focused on specific issue areas (e.g. indigenous philanthropy, mental health, youth, homelessness).

• Growing interest in and sharing of practices around systemic and policy change grantmaking. This is encouraged by the fact that many of the most prominent social issues in Canada are complex and require systemic approaches and solutions, such as climate change, sustainable development, urbanization, reconciliation with indigenous populations and integration of migrants and refugees.

Overview of Trends – Canada

We have certain regulatory barriers which have an impact on the operation and effectiveness of philanthropic institutions in Canada:

• We have fallen behind the rest of the common-law world in the way we regulate and treat charities. Our courts have been far more conservative than the courts in England, Australia, New Zealand or the United States. An unreformed system of charities regulation defines charities in legislation by their activities not just their purposes and constrains charitable activity. Foundations are also constrained in their ability to engage in funding nonprofits or in engaging in any form of social purpose business.

• The role of policy advocacy by charitable foundations has been questioned, in the face of government audits of charities for their so-called “political” activities. While this pressure has been lifted by the current federal government, this whole area of engagement in public policy and civic dialogue has been strained and requires clarification by the regulator.

Canadian foundations collaborate to a high degree:

• The institutional philanthropy sector in Canada benefits from a relative consensus on social values, on the role of the state, and on widespread citizen and voter support for government programs that help to even economic, social and regional disparities.

• Based on this social consensus, and alignment of purposes and roles, foundations in Canada are engaging in several cross-sectoral collaborative and collective impact projects from which there is much to learn and share with others.

This is a summary of the "A portrait of Canadian Foundation Philanthropy." Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC) with the collaboration of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) is participating in a study to better understand the profile and practices of philanthropic foundations in Canada. This study is part of a pioneering global effort led by researchers at the Harvard Kennedy School at Harvard University. The objective is to begin to develop comparative data and information on institutional philanthropy around the world.

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