Think Philanthropically

Many of us equate philanthropy with giving. However, accelerated societal change requires more than casual donations of cash or even large, one-time bequests. What if we were to see ourselves as agents of change rather than mere donors? What would that look like?

“If we want to see change happen,

we have to push for well coordinated action.”

It is always important to begin any journey by understanding the starting point. What has changed or is changing as we navigate towards a post-pandemic reality? We are certainly living in a period of rapid ongoing change and our approach to philanthropy might also need to evolve in order to respond effectively.

Here are two important things that we can do:

1. Help build a movement – Almost every significant social “revolution” that has occurred throughout recent history started with a small dedicated group of people. Ultimately, progress is incremental until momentum is built by engaging multiple stakeholders and influencers. Activists and advocates matter, but activism alone is seldom the primary catalyst that propels significant social change. Major policy shifts tend to move in concert with the development of a wave of sustained public opinion. What is needed is a movement – a sustained movement. A movement starts with the development of a shared understanding that change is both essential and achievable. As it grows, everyone coalesces around a consensus that there is a better path forward. This in turn provides the impetus for significant policy shifts by governments.

2. Advocate for well coordinated action – Most complex social challenges in Canada do not line up under a specific heading. They touch on jurisdictions that are simultaneously national, provincial and municipal and they demand a response from a wide variety of government decision makers and ministries. An issue like violence that is perpetrated against women may contain elements that are within the scope of multiple ministries like justice, immigration, housing, indigenous affairs and the ministry responsible for the status of women. Quite often several government departments are concerned about the problem – but nobody truly owns it. Is the funding and oversight of affordable housing a federal, provincial or municipal responsibility? Who is responsible for seniors who are food insecure? Is it the job of local school boards to feed children who come to school without having had breakfast? Who is responsible to reduce homelessness in our cities? If we want to see change happen, we have to push for well coordinated action. A system of interdepartmental “buck passing” needs to be replaced by an accountable leadership structure and a process that is designed to produce an outcome. Solving a problem as critical as the youth dropout rates in specific at-risk communities cannot be the sort of thing that ricochets around in the silos of multiple government departments. Addressing things like the food insecurity challenge in Canada will require careful planning by all levels of government, healthcare providers and community service organizations. It will also require a well targeted and recurring funding approach that is transparent and measurable.

“Our approach to philanthropy might also need to evolve

in order to respond effectively to this period of rapid ongoing change.”

We could argue that Canada won the geographic lottery. We are a well-positioned, wealthy country and we have the financial means to solve complex most of our social challenges. There is no legitimate reason why anyone should be permanently disadvantaged and disconnected. Undercurrents that feed prejudice, violence and discrimination can be exposed and their roots starved of nutrients. The opportunity in front of us transcends traditional donor-centric philanthropy. The best way to become an agent of change is to identify an issue that concerns you profoundly and explore ways to actively partner with a well-positioned organization that is active and engaged with the cause.

Sam Watts serves as the CEO of Welcome Hall Mission  He serves on several non-profit boards and is an appointed member of the National Housing Council of Canada.  He is the author of Good Work…Done Better

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