Thinking Globally? Canadian Foundations and Trends in International Philanthropy


Warren Buffet made headlines last year with his pledge to contribute the bulk of his fortune—US $31 billion—to the work of the Gates Foundation, thus creating the world’s largest foundation. Other major American foundations—Ford, Rockefeller, and Carnegie—are well known not only for their domestic activities but also for the many millions of dollars they contribute to programs to reduce poverty and promote civil society and environmental protection in countries around the world. Last year, in Europe, businessman Maurice Greenberg created the Starr International Foundation with a potential endowment of US $20 billion; one of its first grants was US $4 million to Médecins Sans Frontières.2

Global philanthropic activity is growing, and international development is clearlyan area of interest for individual donors and foundations. Philanthropy is also growing in Canada. Community foundations report that last year their donors contributed $271 million (VoluntaryGateway, 2007). Such generous donors and strong investment returns have led to over a billion dollars of growth for community foundations in a two-year period. There are also examples in Canada of philanthropic interest in international development. Last year, for example, entrepreneur John McCall MacBain announced plans to use about a billion dollars from the sale of his company to set up a foundation focusing on improving the health and education of children, particularly in Africa (McArthur, 2006).

Trends in international philanthropy are of interest to civil society organizations (CSOs) that work in international cooperation and development. In Canada, many such organizations are members of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC), a coalition of about 100 internationally oriented CSOs such as CUSO, the Canadian Nurses Association, and Project Ploughshares. CCIC members, like all voluntary sector organizations, not only design and implement programs but must find ways of funding their work. A 2006 CCIC study of the revenue trends among its members noted that while revenue from Canadian foundations represents a very small share of total private revenue sources for CSOs, there has been a strong increase in this area over the last ten years (Tomlinson, 2006).

This article explores the nature and scale of the international activities of Canadian foundations and looks briefly at how they compare with U.S. and European foundations. It is important to clarify at the outset what is meant by international grantmaking. In reporting on foundation grants, the term is used to designate all granting outside a particular country. Canadian data sources, for example, consider international grantmaking to include support for activities in Europe, the United States, and Israel as well as support to missionary activity. Grants can be made directly to organizations outside Canada (these are classified as “crossborder” grants), or they may be given to Canadian registered charities that act as intermediaries and direct the funds overseas.

CCIC members work globally to support sustainable human development, end global poverty, and promote social justice. Their work includes policy dialogue on Canada’s foreign policies and initiatives to engage Canadians on global issues, as well as a range of overseas activities to support counterpart organizations in developing countries and to provide humanitarian assistance. They are interested in the segment of international granting that supports the elimination of global poverty, the strengthening of civil society, the promotion of human rights, and the provision of support to people affected by humanitarian crises. Unfortunately, looking at the available data, it is very difficult to separate grants for these activities from the larger category of international granting, partly because foundations use different ways of classifying their grants. Another limitation is that major Canadian databases on foundations are primarily intended to support grant-seekers and are not necessarily designed as comprehensive and open research tools to provide information on trends or profiles of granting in particular sectors. The areas of interest to international CSOs often overlap with traditional sectors (such as health, education, or social services), and it can be difficult to separate out the international components. We also found the data from the two major sources often differed and therefore were difficult to compare or not comparable.3

Given the weakness of available data for research purposes, this article takes a very broad-brush approach to portraying the Canadian foundation sector and relies heavily on a series of interviews with foundation and CSO staff.

Canadian Foundations

The Canadian foundation sector is relatively young, small, and growing. In 2005, there were over 8,800 foundations registered with Canada Revenue Agency (CRA); about 2,900 of these were active. The number of active foundations has more than doubled since 1998, when there were 1,078. The total assets of these foundations are $13.9 billion, and in 2004 they gave out more than $1.2 billion in grants.4

There are two main types of foundations: private foundations (where half the capital comes from one source and the board of directors often has family or other non-arm’s-length members) and public foundations (where the money comes from more than one source and there is an arm’s-length board). In Canada, over 80% of the active foundations are private family foundations. 5

Public foundations include community foundations, special purpose foundations, government and corporate foundations, and foundations connected to service clubs. Within this group, community foundations are growing quickly. In 1992 there were 28 community foundations with assets of $500 million, whereas today there are 155 community foundations with more than $2 billion in assets.6

When we think about foundations, we think mainly about their grantmaking, but in fact foundations’ activities often go well beyond that to include important roles in convening, networking, developing and disseminating knowledge, and providing leadership on key community issues. There is a worldwide movement to strengthen philanthropy and develop its institutional capacity, both at the level of individual nations and at the global level.

Two major organizations provide support to Canadian foundations. Philanthrop—ic Foundations Canada, founded in 2001, brings together 86 of the major private foundations. Community Foundations of Canada, founded in 1992, supports the growing network of 155 community foundations. Foundations also come together in affinity groups around issues such as community leadership, or more formally in networks like the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network.

International Activities of Foundations

The extent of international engagement by Canadian foundations is quite limited. Only 3% of foundation funding is allocated to all international activities. Of the 15 largest Canadian foundations, only seven make international grants. In 2005, grants self-designated by Canadian foundations as “international grant giving” came close to $40 million with 765 grants.7 This group of grants involved approximately 169 foundations and included grants to Israel, Europe, and overseas missionary work.

If we focus more narrowly on the interests of international CSOs—i.e., international development, human rights, addressing global poverty—a bit more than 1% of foundation funding goes to these activities. In 2005, this was approximately$18.2 million and involved roughly 400 grants. Imagine Canada’s Canadian Directory to Foundations and Corporations lists some 80 foundations involved in this kind of funding.

Among foundations undertaking international activity, three main approaches can be identified:

1. The largest group consists of foundations that are primarily responsive to requests for support for the international work of other organizations. Most of the funding for internationally oriented CSOs falls into this category. Some foundations do not accept unsolicited proposals and invite specific organizations known to the board and staff to submit proposals. Most have an open solicitation process, and CSOs submit proposals that the foundations review and decide upon. In 2004, the foundation allocating the largest amount of money in this way was the Fondation J. Armand Bombardier, which allocated $425,000 to nine projects. This included three relatively large grants to one organization (for a total of $345,000); the other six grants were for less than $25,000 each. Other examples for the same year included the Donner Canadian Foundation, which allocated $401,000 in 10 grants, and La Fondation Marcelle et Jean Coutu, which made 10 grants totaling $275,000. In this category, most of the grants are relatively small, one-off grants.8

2. There are a few foundations that take a programmatic approach to their international work, with a thematic focus and a set of higher-level objectives. Examples of this approach include the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation’s Global Citizenship program, the Simons Foundation’s focus on peace and security, and the Harbinger Foundation’s recent focus on international water issues. These foundations further their objectives in a variety of ways including granting, fellowships, convening, and supporting research. The Gordon Foundation’s program is unique because, rather than supporting overseas projects, it seeks to strengthen Canadians’ capacity to participate in international activities (e.g., through youth fellowships in international policy, engagement of diaspora communities, etc.).

3. A third, small group is made up of operating foundations that develop their own programs overseas and fund them directly through agency agreements with overseas organizations or through a Canadian intermediary. The Colin B. Glassco Charitable Foundation for Children is an example of the latter. Focusing on the treatment of trachoma among children in Zambia, in 2004 it allocated $332,000 to its program through the intermediary of ADRA. The Mary A. Tidland Charitable Foundation supports medical and educational projects through agency agreements in a variety of countries. Both foundations raise funds from other private donors and involve volunteers. In many ways their work resembles that of international CSOs.

Table 1 shows some of the major international CSO recipients of grants from Canadian foundations in 2004.

The average grant is about $15,000 and goes to support work overseas. Grant recipients are primarily the larger organizations that have higher profile among the Canadian public as a result of their own communications strategies or media coverage. It is likely that only the larger organizations have the capacity to undertake the research, build the relationships, and submit the proposals necessary to secure foundation funding.

And it does take work. Interviewees reported that each foundation has to be approached on an individual basis. As one person said, “Once you know one foundation, you know one foundation”. They have very different approaches,

Table 1: Major Recipients of Canadian Foundation Grants, 20049


Grant Total

No. of Grants

University of West Indies (Jamaica)



USC Canada



World Vision



Médecins Sans Frontières



Stephen Lewis Foundation



Aga Khan Foundation Canada



SIM Canada



Foster Parents Plan



CARE Canada



Canadian Bureau for International Education



ADRA Canada



Oxfam Canada



interests, and decision-making processes. It is generally agreed that one must build personal relationships with foundations. This is particularly true for family foundations, where decisions are often made based on the interests of the family members who make up the majority of the board members, and for those foundations that do not accept applications.

Canadian international CSOs use the contacts of their board members and other friends and supporters to build relationships with foundation boards and staff. CSOs report that it has been difficult to interest foundations in their policy and education work here in Canada. However, through personal contacts, one CSO was able to secure support for its Canadian activities from foundations that in general do not support international activities.

Community Foundations

Community foundations by their nature focus on local issues. Currently, Canadian community foundations make a few grants to international organizations through their donor-advised funds (such as the 2006 gift to the Coady International Institute through the Hamilton Community Foundation). However, staff and boards of community foundations are noticing an increasing desire on the part of their donors to give to activities outside of Canada. They say this is partly a result of the changing demographics of Canadian communities, where people who came as immigrants now want to give back to their home community, country, or region. In addition, the dramatic media coverage of disasters like the 2004 tsunami generates a humanitarian response from many. Finally, the increasing awareness of the global nature of issues such as climate change, poverty, and HIV/AIDS has prompted people to want to give both in Canada and internationally.

Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), the umbrella organization for the network, is planning to develop mechanisms in Canada to facilitate giving to international causes. These mechanisms will link with the expanding community foundation network around the world, in which CFC has been very active through the work of its CEO. CFC staff have been active in the formation and development of Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS)—a network of grantmakers whose purpose is to strengthen the institutional infrastructure for philanthropy worldwide—and its component (WINGS-CF) which seeks to build and strengthen community foundations globally. Currently there are more than 1,100 community foundations in 42 countries around the world.10

What Are the Barriers to International Engagement?

Given the increasingly global nature of our world, how do we explain the relatively modest international activity of Canadian foundations? Interviews with foundation and CSO staff suggest there are three main barriers to a broader international engagement of Canadian foundations—mindset, legal frameworks, and capacity.

i) Mindset

In foundations, particularly family foundations, the motivations and experience of board members are very important in determining where they direct their support. In general, they give back to the communities where they have lived and worked. Among foundations, as among the broader public, the level of awareness of international issues is not very high. In general, foundations do not have the capacity to choose international organizations in which they have confidence and monitor their activities. This seems to be changing in family foundations where younger family members are traveling and working overseas and developing a broader perspective.

Foundations, like other donors, want to see impact and make a difference. Their perception is that international CSOs are supported by many private funders, as well as by government, and they are not convinced that their funds would make a difference. Some are concerned that CSOs take too much off the top in administrative fees.

Another important influence is the role of the state. In Canada, many assume that foreign relations and international aid and development are the responsibility of the government. Finally, many foundations are created with assets generated in the private sector. Interviewees noted that Canadian businesspeople have not tended to have a global perspective, although this may be starting to change.

ii) Legal Issues

Canadian foundations are established by letters patent that articulate their charitable purpose and mission and reflect the intent of the original donor. That can be very restrictive. It might limit the foundation to particular geographic areas, certain sub-sectors, or specific organizations. For example, Max Bell, the creator of the foundation of the same name, stipulated that one third of the amount awarded each year by the foundation must go to McGill University. If the focus of the foundation is predetermined, it is very difficult to change, and foundation boards and staff have little discretionary authority.

Another limiting factor is the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) regulatory framework. The Income Tax Act permits a charity to carry out overseas activities in only two ways:

• it can make gifts to qualified donees—a very limited set of organizations that includes Canadian registered charities, certain universities outside Canada, the United Nations and its agencies, and a few foreign charities; or

• it can carry on its own activities. These activities can be contracted to another organization (agent), but the Canadian organization must be the active and controlling partner (CRA, 2000).

Public foundations have an additional qualification in that a minimum of 51% of their grants must go to qualified donees (CRA, 2001). Some foundations— including private foundations—have gone beyond that and set their own internal policies that designate a larger percentage that must go to qualified donees. This is based on a concern about the dangers of possible illegal acts by their agents, a concern which may have increased in recent years with the implementation of anti-terrorism legislation and an increased preoccupation with security considerations.

These same regulations, with the exception of the 51% to qualified donees rule, also apply to Canadian international CSOs, so we might ask why foundations find the regulations such a barrier. A number of people interviewed felt it was because some foundation staff and boards do not have a good understanding of the regulations and seek to keep things simple and avoid risk.

However, several people noted that the charities regime is out of date and needs reform. The Institute for Media, Policy and Civil Society (IMPACS) was working on this through a process of educational outreach, an analysis of what can be done and engagement with some of the leading institutions and experts.11 On the international side, expanding the list of qualified donees would facilitate giving.

iii) Capacity

A third limiting factor is capacity. Individual foundations are not very large and many do not have paid staff, making it difficult for them to develop a systematic, strategic approach to their work. Although this is also true for their domestic work, the difficulty is exacerbated by a lack of international experience and knowledge, which leads to a lack of confidence in their ability to select partners and exercise due diligence in the monitoring and evaluation of the work.

In Canada, there is very limited infrastructure to support foundations, and this is particularly true in the area of international granting. An exception is Tides Canada Foundation, which through its relationship with Tides Foundation in the U.S. can assist other Canadian foundations as well as individual philanthropists in making grant recommendations to U.S. or international charities.12

Taking these three elements together—mindset, legal framework, and capacity— it is just easier for foundations to respond to the many needs in communities here in Canada.

Foundations in the United States

In comparison to Canada, the U.S. has a large, well-established foundation sector. It is exponentially larger—not just the normal American/Canadian ratio of 10 to 1 based on population—as the figures in Table 2 reveal.

Table 2: Comparison of International Grants by American and Canadian Foundations13

United States 2005

Canada 2005

Number of foundations:



Total assets:

US $510.5 billion (2004)

$13.9 billion

Total grants:

US $33.6 billion

$1.2 billion (2004)

International grants:

US $3.8 billion (11%)

$36 million (3%) (2004)

Factors that contribute to this more developed sector are a larger population, the significantly larger economy and greater wealth, and the early emergence of foundations in the U.S. a century ago. The difference is also related to American views on philanthropy, which see a more limited role for the state and a larger role for private individuals and institutions.

The American foundation sector has significantly greater capacity at the level of individual foundations and a well-developed network of support organizations that provide research, training, networking, and convening services. The Washington-based Council on Foundations has an international membership of 2,000 private, community, and corporate foundations. There are many organizations, like the 400-member Council of Michigan Foundations, which aim to support foundations and strengthen philanthropy in particular regions. There is much more academic interest in the sector and more public debate on relevant issues such as the role of private foundations in the development of public policy.

The amount of funding allocated to international grants is much larger—not just in dollar terms but because a higher percentage of overall grants goes to international activities. In 2004, even excluding the Gates Foundation (which allocated $1.4 billion), there were seven foundations that allocated more than $50 million each to international grants. International funding is more concentrated than domestic funding, with the top 25 foundations accounting for 83% of all funding. More than half of the 100 largest U.S. foundations have geographical restrictions written into their charter or as part of their grant guidelines (Pfitzer et al., 2003).

International granting by American foundations grew rapidly between 1990 and 2000 from US $508 million to US $2.5 billion (Pfitzer et al, 2003). The downturn in the stock market, a recession, and a more difficult political climate following 9/11 contributed to a decline in 2002. Giving remained about the same in 2003 and rebounded in 2004 and 2005. From 2002 to 2005, international giving climbed 12% while overall giving grew by only 2%. The growth was due to large gifts by the Gates Foundation to international health issues, major growth by the Moore Foundation and its contribution to environmental programs, and substantial support by American foundations to respond to humanitarian disasters in South Asia and Sudan. Yet these increases in some areas were offset by reductions in giving by foundations whose assets had not recovered from the downswing in the stock market (Renz & Atienza, 2006).

A study of a smaller sample of foundations for the period 2002–2004 found there had been strong growth in international giving by community foundations and corporate foundations. Community foundations, which account for just 1% of international granting (in the sample), increased their international granting by 35% to US $39 million, and corporate giving increased by 31% to US $151 million (Renz & Atienza, 2006).

Some other trends from the same study:

• More foundations were involved in international granting.

• Newer foundations tend to rely more on U.S.-based organizations to implement their programs rather than directly funding overseas groups.

• Overseas giving primarily benefited Africa, Asia, and global programs.

• Grants to U.S.-based recipients mainly targeted developing countries.

• If the Gates Foundation were excluded from the sample in both years, international giving would have decreased 4%. Still, international giving would have fared better than overall giving, which would have declined 6%.

The trends indicate that much of the growth in the sector can be attributed to significant growth of a few mega foundations rather than to the broader foundation sector developing a more global perspective. An extensive series of interviews carried out to examine why more U.S. foundations have not gone global found some of the same reasons that our interviews found here in Canada (Pfitzer et al., 2003):

• Many U.S. donors and foundation boards are motivated to give back to their own communities.

• They lack the experience and infrastructure to make effective grants outside the U.S.

• Complying with U.S. government regulations is seen as risky, complex, and time-consuming.

• There is little collaboration among U.S. international grantmakers in sharing expertise and infrastructure.

• Some see a lack of political and economic stability and institutional integrity in some overseas regions as a major deterrent.

The U.S. has a much more vibrant support network for those wishing to move into international granting. Groups like the Rockefeller Philanthropy Workshop offer donors the opportunity to travel and experience first-hand the situation overseas. Other organizations like Grantmakers Without Borders and The Global Philanthropy Forum help them to learn more about effective granting and support more collaborative work.

U.S. foundations are also very involved in promoting philanthropy and supporting the development of foundations in different parts of the world. Last year the Ford Foundation announced an endowment of US $30 million to launch TrustAfrica, an Africa-based grantmaking foundation based in Senegal. Synergos, a New York-based foundation, supports the development of community development foundations in Latin America, Southern Africa, and Southeast Asia through its program Strengthening Bridging Organizations. The Open Society Institute (OSI), a private operating and grantmaking foundation founded by George Soros, aims to shape public policy to promote democratic governance, human rights, and economic, legal, and social reform. Related to the Institute, and also founded by George Soros, is an international network of Soros foundations established in particular countries or regions to initiate and support open society activities.

Analysts predict that international giving will continue to grow in the U.S. In the short term, there are several large new initiatives such as the Partnership for Higher Education in Africa, where a consortium of foundations has pledged US $200 million. In the longer term, the main factor increasing international giving will be Warren Buffet’s US $31 billion contribution to the Gates Foundation. There are some factors that may limit international giving. The continued volatility in the stock market, an anticipated economic slowdown, and political uncertainty affecting oil prices may undermine the growth of foundation endowments. In addition, the ongoing war on terrorism and the increasingly restrictive legal framework may discourage giving (Renz & Atienza, 2006).

European Foundations

The studies on European foundations are more limited. However, the European Foundation Centre (EFC) has created a Research Task Force15 to improve knowledge of foundations and better document their public and social contributions. Foundations in Europe are not a new phenomenon, and charitable giving can be traced back to the Middle Ages in many European countries. However, foundations emerged much more slowly during the twentieth century, compared to the United States, and it was not until the end of the Depression and the two world wars that foundations began to re-emerge. There has been rapid growth over the last decade: for example, over 40% of German foundations were set up in the last decade. The highest growth rates took place in countries that reformed their laws governing foundations to be more enabling.

The EFC estimates that in the early 2000s, there were 62,000 foundations operating in the 15 member states of the old European Union. The size of the foundation sector varies significantly across Europe. Anheier (2001) described three clusters:

• countries like France, where there are few foundations and they play virtually no role,

• countries like Germany with a sizeable foundation sector, and

• countries like Italy, where the foundation world is relatively large and important, both economically and politically.

Unlike foundations in Canada and the U.S., most European foundations are operating foundations, although many combine their own programming with some form of grantmaking (Anheier, 2001).

Another interesting feature is the political party-based foundation, like the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Germany and the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), which represents a government-created foundation model. The WFD, which was created in 1992, is an independent public body sponsored by the Foreign Office, from which it receives an annual grant of £4.1 million. It seeks to strengthen the institutions of democracy, principally political parties (through the work of the UK political parties), parliaments, and the range of institutions that make up civil society.

Although there are limited data on the international giving of European foundations, the EFC Task Force reports a growing trend towards cross-border activity, both within and outside the European Union. This is particularly evident in the Netherlands, where 31% of Dutch foundations are active at the international level. In Belgium, some 13% of the foundations’ expenditures are used abroad. In the UK, a recent presentation indicates that foundations give approximately 4% of their wealth to international development; in comparison, 14% of private donations by the UK public are allocated to international activities (BOND, 2006). The EFC Task Force suggests that cross-border giving could be enhanced by creating a more enabling legal environment through a European Foundation Statute and the mutual recognition and equal tax-treatment of qualifying organizations from one EU country to the other.

The EFC, which was established in 1989 by seven of Europe’s leading foundations, is the main body bringing together European foundations. It has a membership of more than 200 members, associates, and subscribers and 350 community philanthropy initiatives, as well as a further 50,000 organizations linked through a network of 58 information and support centres worldwide. Until 2006, the EFC hosted Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS), a global network of some 130 grantmaker associations and support organizations.

The EFC also has a project to promote international activities. Europe in the World is a campaign with a mission to advocate and mobilize more leadership, collaboration, and knowledge-generating efforts for global development among foundations, in partnership with governments, multilateral and supranational institutions, business, and international development organizations. Its website16

Table 3: Major Foundations by International Giving, U.S. & Canada in 200414




Int. Grant


No. of Int. Grants

Focus Areas


Int. Grant


No. of Int. Grants

Focus Areas

Banyan Tree





Bill & Melinda

Gates Foundation



Health, public libraries

Swift Family




Education, health

Ford Foundation



Democratic values, international cooperation,

education, community development, religion, arts and culture, peace

Fondation J. Armand Bombardier



Education, health, international development

Gordon and Betty

Moore Foundation



Environment, scientific research

Donner Canadian




Health and medicine

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation



Conservation and sustainable development, human rights, international peace and security

Buller Foundation



Health, international missions





Food security, global health, education, culture, global inclusion

La Fondation Marcelle et Jean Coutu



Education, health and medicine, international youth, international development

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation



Education, population, environment, performing arts






W.K. Kellogg




Reduce poverty, rural communities

The Simons




Peace and security, human rights





International exchange programs, fellowships and international studies





Health and medicine, food security, international youth, international missions

Carnegie Corporation of New York



International peace and security, enhancing universities, women’s opportunities, libraries





Health and medicine, human rights

Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation



Global citizenship, international relations, international education

Starr Foundation



Democratic values, international relations

has information about the many collaborative international initiatives of European foundations such as the European HIV/AIDS Funders Group, led by Bernard van Leer Foundation, or the Sub-Saharan Africa Funders Network.

Global Philanthropy

Many American and European (and a few Canadian) foundations are involved in activities to promote philanthropy globally. In 2000, they created the aforementioned Worldwide Initiatives for Grantmaker Support (WINGS) as a meeting place for those engaged in building the institutional infrastructure to support philanthropy everywhere in the world. WINGS-CF is a component of the overall WINGS network supporting the development of community foundations. With support from several American foundations, USAID, the World Bank, and a number of community foundations, WINGS has created the Global Fund for Community Foundations to promote the growth and sustainability of community foundations in developing and transitioning countries. The fund is located in the European Foundation Centre. From 2007 to 2010, the WINGS Secretariat is being hosted by the Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium in Manila.

Philanthropy in Canada

It is clear from these quick sketches that, for a variety of historical, political, and economic reasons, the foundation sectors in Canada, the U.S., and Europe have followed different paths of development. In Europe, the foundation sector is relatively small but growing quickly. Within Europe, there is a higher level of international awareness than there is in Canada, as a result of history and migration patterns, more international media coverage, and the greater number of links within and beyond Europe. This higher level of awareness is reflected in the foundation sector. The United States, with the early emergence of foundations a century ago and the global orientations of many of its corporate leaders, has supported the development of a very innovative philanthropic sector. The Canadian foundation sector is much less developed but is growing quickly, and it presents opportunities to those interested in support for international work.

One specific question that interests Canadian international CSOs is whether it is possible to increase the flow of foundation dollars supporting their work. In Canada, in the short term and given the existing philanthropic infrastructure, the answer is probably a qualified “no.” Given the small size of most private foundations and their lack of capacity, they are difficult to influence. In addition, there is a lot of pressure on foundation funds to support activities here in Canada, which will only increase with the growing interest in environmental issues.

Although American and European foundations do little direct funding of Canadian organizations, the larger foundations have offices around the world. The most effective way for Canadian international CSOs to access these funds is by developing innovative programs with partners overseas and engaging the foundations through their local offices.

So, in the short term, there is probably not substantially more money for the specific activities of Canadian international CSOs. In the longer term, the promotion of philanthropy in the developing world and the development of networks of regional and national overseas foundations mobilizing local as well as international funds might provide more secure funding for the work of their overseas partners.

The Bigger Picture

If we look more broadly at the philanthropic sector in Canada, there are more opportunities. Over the next 10 to 20 years, $1 trillion is expected to pass from older generations to younger ones (Cohen, 2006). It can be expected that some of that money will be directed to philanthropic activities through the creation of family foundations and donor-advised funds in community foundations and through planned giving to a variety of charities. Given what we heard during our research about growing awareness and interest in global issues, it can be expected that some of those resources will be directed to international causes. However, accessing those funds will involve some challenges. The values of donors have changed from 40 years ago. These are not people who are prepared to write a cheque and just give it to an organization. They want to be more directly involved. International CSOs will have to find ways to engage donors in meaningful ways and to demonstrate how their work is contributing to making a difference.

Several of the people interviewed from both foundations and CSOs thought it would be beneficial to begin some conversations to increase mutual understanding. Currently, in Canada, the foundation community has a low level of awareness of international issues and few infrastructure organizations to help organizations and individuals who want to give to international issues. Canadian international CSOs have experience and knowledge about working in many places around the world as well as years of experience in negotiating the legal requirements guiding international giving, which could be of benefit to foundations and individual philanthropists. The international foundation sector has resources, networks, and expertise in supporting activities overseas, and a vision of promoting philanthropy globally and strengthening its infrastructure. A better understanding of the trends in international philanthropy could broaden the thinking of Canada’s international CSOs about how to support the work of their overseas partners. Stronger collaboration between these two groups could strengthen Canada’s contribution to addressing global challenges.


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VoluntaryGateway. (2007). Community foundations report third year of recordbreaking donations. Retrieved March 20, 2007, from <>


1. The authors would like to thank the following people for their assistance with this article.

Thanks to Elaina Mack for the analysis of statistics and background data. Thanks to Laird Hunter of Worton Hunter & Callaghan in Edmonton for interpretation of CRA regulations. Thanks to Molly Kane of Inter Pares and Rieky Stuart (formerly with Oxfam Canada) for reviewing the document. Thanks to Ann Simpson of CCIC for editing assistance. Many thanks to the following people for conversations on these issues: Tim Brodhead, The J. W. McConnell Family Foundation; Amy Buskirk and Helen McLean, Donner Canadian Foundation; Tim Draimin, Tides Canada Foundation; Colin Glassco, The Colin B. Glassco Charitable Foundation for Children; Patrick Johnston, Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation; Monica Patten, Community Foundations of Canada; Hilary Pearson, Philanthropic Foundations Canada; Mary Tidland, The Mary A. Tidland Charitable Foundation; Connie Wansborough, Harbinger Foundation; John Goulding, World Vision; Carine Guidicelli, CECI; Jean-Pierre Massé, Cardinal Léger et ses œuvres; and David Salter, Oxfam Canada.

2. See, for example, <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.

3. The two main sources used were Imagine Canada’s Canadian Directory to Foundations and Corporations (<>) and FoundationSearch Canada (<>). Both are available through subscription.

4. For more information, see <>. Information retrieved March 20, 2007.

5. For more information, see <>. Information retrieved March 20, 2007.

6. For more information, see <>, retrieved March 28, 2007.

7. FoundationSearch Canada, <>, retrieved November 25, 2006.

8. Information from Imagine Canada’s Canadian Directory to Foundations and

Corporations, retrieved November 28, 2006.

9. Numbers generated from Imagine Canada’s Canadian Directory to Foundations and Corporations and FoundationSearch Canada, retrieved November 28, 2006. Note that contributions to the University of West Indies were much smaller in 2005 ($36,801). Also, most of the funds granted to USC Canada came from the USC Foundation. As noted in the text, there are weaknesses in the available data for research purposes. This table is intended to provide an indication of the scope of Canadian foundation grants to internationally oriented CSOs, but should not be considered a definitive analysis.

10. For more information, see <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.

11. See <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.

Note: IMPACS ceased operations March 21, 2007.

12. For more information, see <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.

13. For Canadian data, see <>, retrieved March 20, 2007. U.S. data are from Renz and Atienza (2006) and Foundation Center, Highlights of Foundation Yearbook, 2006 edition, < research/pdf/fy2006highlights.pdf>, retrieved March 28, 2007.

14. Note: These numbers represent a sample from 2004 only. Other major Canadian spenders include, in 2005, the R. Howard Webster Foundation ($355,000) and, in 2003, the Sprott Foundation ($115,000). Sources: Canada: Imagine Canada Canadian Directory to Foundations and Corporations, FoundationSearch Canada, 2004; United States: Renz and Atienza (2006). Dollars converted on November 30, 2006. As noted in the text, there are weaknesses in the available data for research purposes. This table is intended to provide an indication of the scope of international giving by major Canadian and U.S. foundations, but should not be considered a definitive analysis.

15. See <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.

16. See <>, retrieved March 20, 2007.


Deputy Director, Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)


Former President/CEO, Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC)


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