The Giving (R)evolution

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Canadians are a giving bunch, that much we know. The most recent Canadian Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (CSGVP) stated that in 2007 Canadians volunteered 2.1 billion hours, a 4.2% increase from the previous survey, though the average number of per person volunteer hours remained static at 166 that year. A total of $10 billion was donated. That's an increase of 12% since 2004.

Still, the majority of donations come from a smaller portion of Canadians. It's estimated that 21% of people represent 82% of the total value of donations and 12% of Canadians make up 78% of all volunteer hours.

What's most interesting is Canadians with the lowest household incomes give a greater percentage of their income than others. And here's a stat from Imagine Canada that's probably not surprising: "those exposed to giving and volunteering activities early in life are more likely to continue those behaviours as adults."

So we know where we stand as donors, volunteers and, dare we even say it: philanthropists. But change is in the air. There's a palpable evolution that's affecting how we give, what we give, who gives and what we expect in return. It's a topic that will be addressed in an upcoming event on November 16th hosted by Social Venture Partners Toronto (SVP Toronto). Titled Toronto's Changing Face of Philanthropy, speakers will include Aditya Jha, Helen Burstyn and Salah Bachir.

Who gives?

In their own way, each presenter speaks to the message of change, explains executive director Connie Clement. They'll be addressing issues such as what motivated their philanthropy; how their experience has been similar or different from other philanthropists; and what they do to inspire others to give. Each will also expound on the community benefit that derives from giving time and money, she adds.

Jha's experience, in particular, embraces a different approach, one adopted by a growing number of Canada's new philanthropists. As Clement explains, customarily, immigrants would give back to causes of their own culture and faith, whether in Canada or their country of origin. Considering the great needs in many of those countries, it's not hard to see why. But Jha is different. Upon arriving here he was taken by the struggles of Canada's aboriginal communities. "He became aware that First Nations are living in conditions similar to people in his county and he didn't anticipate that," explains Clement. So Jha focuses most of his giving on supporting entrepreneurs working with First Nations.

Give how?

The other change we're seeing is in the different methods of giving available. For one thing, thanks to technology, prospective donors can make an impact by going online. It's a particular effective method if you're looking for the most "bang for their buck" says Andrea Seale, principal at Blueprint Fundraising and Communications. Simply put: it's a way of giving that costs the charitable organization the least. "It is a reality that when you give through something like a run or gala, there are higher costs of fundraising associated with those endeavours," she explains. Not one to discourage people from events, as they inspire and engage in ways online can't, Seale can't help but state the facts: "When you go online and send a donation directly to the group you love, it is very cost effective for them and it means more of your money goes towards their top needs."

Technology has also given rise to philanthropy's favourite muse: microfunding. Kiva — the first peer-to-peer microlending platform — is a perfect example of how an innovative model that relies on microloans can effect enormous change. In fact, the online site is so popular, since its inception in 2005, Kiva facilitated nearly $150M in loans, connecting lenders and entrepreneurs in 196 countries.

The whole philanthropic scene will be "blown wide open in the next few years," owing to microlending and other similar opportunities, predicts Assaf Weisz, executive director of Young Social Entrepreneurs of Canada (YSEC). Aside from Kiva, there's also Kickstarter, which funds creative projects through a "unique all-or-nothing funding method where projects must be fully funded or no money changes hands." The most recent addition to the microlending spectrum, Profounder, was created in part by former Kiva co-founder, Jessica Jackley.

A notable feature of these newer offerings is the availability of microloans not only to those in the developing world but also to those in North America (Kiva has also dipped its toe into the approach recently). The potential for these organizations to change the investment landscape is huge, says Assaf. "It's one thing to give 25 bucks to a micro-entrepreneur in Bolivia but it's a whole other thing to invest with terms in an entrepreneur in Miami or Calgary."

I'm engaged!

These companies are touching a number of chords. For one thing, micro-lending is an especially fashionable form of giving for the younger, typically more cash-strapped folk. For another, it speaks to the growing desire to engage, lending itself especially well to the changing needs of Gen X or Y. "Young philanthropists want to be involved," says Weisz of YSEC. "At the very least they want better reporting."

Kiva allows them that. Prospective donors get to read individual stories of individuals looking for support, making you feel you're part of the decision and allowing you to base your re-investment on the facts before you.

People are looking for impact in ways they haven't before, they want to take a more participatory approach in where their money is going and how it's getting there. Seale agrees. "I see a wide variety of ways that donors want and expect to engage with charities and giving," agrees Seale, adding that development professionals have a great challenge: to offer many options to donors, while making choices about what truly works best for your cause, and all the time keeping fundraising costs within acceptable limits.

Adds Weisz, "I think young people really want to recognize that for 99% of them money is not what they have to give; it's their time or small contributions." Talking about engagement, Weisz relates how in the U.S. there's a young philanthropy camp where kids practice how to enact pragmatic and involved granting decisions.

Imagine that!

The formation of Social Venture Partners Toronto in 2007 is perhaps a good representation of this new approach. The original SVP started in Seattle and now boasts 23 chapters across North America and Japan. In Canada, a chapter is about to open in Waterloo, Ontario. The original founders — successful tech professionals — were tired of traditional charitable giving. Using a venture partnership model, SVP promotes philanthropy that is more involved. It's not about funding services; they're in the business of helping charities — through time, expertise and money — enhance capacity, making it possible for them to deliver programs as effectively as possible.

Co-founder Joanne Kviring explains what attracted her to the organization's model: "My donation is within reach and gets pooled with all the other partners so I have greater impact," she explains. "So my one affordable donation — 100% charitable tax donation — becomes part of what's been a $75,000 grant to Eva's Phoenix Printshop over three years, which is huge; I could never have that impact on my own."

Strategically sound

"I think equally important is the impact we have on building new philanthropists," says Clement, explaining how current research shows involvement in SVP encourages more general giving and volunteering over time. "Partners give and volunteer more strategically by eight or ten measures," she says. And strategic giving is key. How and why do people pick causes? What induces them to stick with one long-term? Those questions are significant in the changing face of philanthropy narrative.

The SVP model also necessitates giving beyond money. Kviring relates how people are looking for more than just cutting a cheque. "Philanthropic is an adjective not just a verb, it means you're engaged as a citizen," she says, adding that each of the three panelists exemplifies just that: bringing expertise, energy and personal involvement to their giving. Likewise, the upcoming event will be an education on how it's done. "Every speaker blazed a trail in their own way of how they give money."

It will also be an education in self-definition. When people hear the word philanthropist, they often think Rotman, Gates, or Rockefeller, says Clement. "What we want to do is encourage people to think of themselves as philanthropists."

Elisa Birnbaum is a freelance journalist, producer and communications consultant living in Toronto. She is also president of Elle Communications and can be reached at: info@ellecommunications.ca.

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