Shifting our thinking from scarcity to possibility

publication date: Feb 24, 2016
author/source: Paul Nazareth

Paul NazarethIt’s one of the most-watched TED talks on the topic of philanthropy – ever.

If you are one of the few charity sector professionals who hasn’t watched Dan Pallotta’s TED talk watch it now. If you are one of the millions who has, you have no doubt said to yourself “I agree, so what?”. Dan started a conversation that has reverberated across the sector in a wonderful way. Dan has authored two ground-breaking books that further the discussion. Uncharitable and Charity Case provided a framework for us to consider change. He then created the Charity Defense Council to take this desire for change and make it a reality. 

But much of what Dan does takes place in the United States, and as much as we are influenced by our American peers, what about progress here in Canada?  We are finally making great strides in having good public dialogue on the public’s obsession with overhead.  As someone working in the sector myself, and yes, a big Star Trek fan I was nerdily overjoyed reading the brilliant comment of Imagine Canada CEO Bruce MacDonald on the annual charity ratings which frustrate so many of us annually. But back to Dan Pallotta – I had observed him giving a unique talk from Halifax to Vancouver to some very unusual suspects like accounting firms, chambers of commerce and banking professionals.

And he was talking to them about….us. About shifting their mindset on the charitable sector.

I caught up with Dan at one of these talks to one of the world’s biggest accounting firms and asked him:  This isn’t the usual fundraising conference talk, what the heck are you saying to an accounting firm about the philanthropic sector?! His answer was powerful: “I’m here to ask for help changing the very basis of what we value when we talk about charity. Corporate Social Responsibility is table stakes now; do a damn good job at an ethical price. They’re doing that already, the accounting firms already serve the billion dollar charitable sector in Canada well. But they have the chance to influence the shift from CSR to CSO”.  CSO?!

A new paradigm for the charitable sector: Corporate Social Opportunity.

What if the accountants, lawyers, financial advisors who guide charity boards and direct donors could encourage a focus on opportunity and not overhead? What if we could change the conversation from using scarcity terms like "non profit," to having a sector that inspires investment for "social profit" and encourage our partners to donate so that we can innovate and not just slap band-aids on the world’s problems. This is a whole new battle that is about changing culture.

Dan is right, we can’t do it alone. Without the help of the legal and financial ecosystem of accounting and board support around governance we’ll never be able to create a culture of impact and investment. We’ll never have advocates to speak to boards in a voice of leadership and with donors privately about the benefits of giving to a smarter organization.

Here’s the good news. We know them already. They are in the ranks of our local Estate Planning Councils, CFA Societies, CPA networks and in the charitable sector as partners with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. We need to lift them up, empower them to reverse-influence their own professions and sectors to change the conversation. This is not about membership, it’s about sea-change in how we influence.  

So, let’s talk to our networks about this and yes, take to LinkedIn and yes on Twitter. Let’s engage the now 25+ post-graduate fundraising programs, MBA and Masters programs in fundraising and Philanthropy on this topic. Let’s huddle up at our local AFP chapters and if you’re attending the CAGP conference in Banff next month this will be a big topic of discussion.

It’s been almost two years since Dan’s big TED talk. Just this past month Dan was a main-stage speaker at the big TED conference in Vancouver. Fans of his message and work are waiting with baited breath for that talk to go online. The theme of the conference was….Dream.  Could there be a more needed sentiment as we trudge through challenging economies and push through a mindset of scarcity to opportunity? I was overjoyed to hear about all the progress that has been made since his last talk when the editor of Hilborn eNews Kimberley MacKenzie spoke with Dan in this recent interview.

Let’s dream with Dan and turn this great idea into a movement of action. See you on the battlefield.

Paul Nazareth is VP Community Engagement with, Canada’s leading charity that brings together charities, donors and advisors online. He has worked with charities big and small, as a philanthropic advisor with a bank and now with thousands of charities across Canada. Paul is Chair of the Humber College Postgraduate Fundraising Program Advisory Committee, teaches fundraising with Georgian College and is a national instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. Find him on Linkedin or @UinvitedU on Twitter.


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