The intersection of fundraising, philanthropy, and generosity

On GivingTuesday, Ruth MacKenzie, CEO of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, calls on the charitable sector to collaborate and celebrate the different elements of social good – fundraising, philanthropy, and generosity – to build back better.

On GivingTuesday, Ruth MacKenzie, CEO of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, calls on the charitable sector to collaborate and celebrate the different elements of social good – fundraising, philanthropy, and generosity – to build back better.


For those with a competitive mindset, the world is a small and dangerous place where one elbows up to capture money, resources, and market share. These folks often quote Charles Darwin and his “survival of the fittest” theories, when, in fact, in his later years Darwin talked more about how prevalent collaboration and cooperation are in nature, and how that results in more harmonious and holistic societies.

As someone who leads one of the many networks that make up Canada’s charitable sector, I have been proud to observe, particularly during the crisis of COVID-19, more effective collaboration – in making requests to the government, sharing our views and our voice with the public, and in our programs. As we attempt to “build back better,” however, there is a narrative needed, but there is an already-established set of events we can use to tell our story. And they are a great way to celebrate the different elements of social good: philanthropy, fundraising, and generosity.

First, each November brings National Philanthropy Day (NPD). Led by the Association of Fundraising Professionals across North America, it’s a day of robust celebration of philanthropy in all its forms. This year, with Canada in need of some positive spirit, NPD provided incredible stories of all those who contribute to and engage in community giving. From major gifts to building bricks and mortar in healthcare and education, to community programs and youth philanthropy.

How could we better activate this already-established event? Showcasing those who have an impact on philanthropy can be a powerful tool. Rather than create another set of awards, our Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) community celebrates legacy donors and professional advisors as part of NPD, often with Association of Fundraising Professionals and CAGP chapters collaborating across the country. Community foundations have also strategically embraced this day to celebrate and encourage local giving and tell stories of both smart fundraising and philanthropic impact.

One of the dangers that we at CAGP often talk about is letting the focus on tax savings and capital preservation lead the discussion around giving.

Corporations engaged in “employer-supported giving” initiatives that enable their employees in giving both treasure and talent would find huge opportunity in using NPD as a platform for celebrating the generosity of their employees. Those most savvy in corporate social responsibility often also integrate employee volunteer energy with local programs, highlighting the triple-bottom-line impact on the employee, the company, and the community – a very powerful narrative that we led in my own time as CEO of Volunteer Canada.

One of the great dangers that we at CAGP often talk about is letting the focus on tax savings and capital preservation lead the discussion around giving. There is a massive untapped opportunity for advisors who guide foundation donors (public and private) to use a day like NPD to not just tell the stories of their clients’ impact but to do so in a community-centric way that puts a spotlight on the causes and charities that do valuable work at the grassroots level. Fundraising is a tactic that when done well can bring greater benefit for the donor and the charity, but philanthropy is the outcome that can be showcased at a deeper level using an event like this. 

After celebrating NPD, we buckle down to activate the generosity of our citizenry in the most important giving season of the year: GivingTuesday. CanadaHelps, where I am board chair, was one of the founders of this day for giving in Canada almost a decade ago. Since then, GivingTuesday has encouraged dozens of communities – urban, suburban, and rural – to volunteer, to donate, and to participate in the act of all that “giving” means. This is the opportunity to tell stories of generosity beyond those in the traditional charity space. I acknowledge that GivingTuesday is sometimes criticized for devolving into “Donate Now Day,” but that’s because we default to what we know: the traditional notion of fundraising. However, focusing on donor recognition and promoting the community engagement that happens through generosity, and getting back to the roots of what giving is all about, is one of the greatest opportunities GivingTuesday offers us.

As charities, we engage donors 365 days a year, but professional advisors also have a critical role to play in amplifying charitable giving. Many advisors are part of a growing group who have committed to being an active part of the generosity economy with the Master Financial Advisor in Philanthropy designation, the MFA-P, launched by CAGP alongside the Knowledge Bureau and Spire Philanthropy, and thereby creating a “community of practice” of professionals highly committed to excellence in philanthropic planning.

Generosity is a constant tension between the head and the heart.

While many charities may lament the growth of donor-advised funds, feeling that they draw donor dollars away from their more immediate needs, they also provide a more community-centric approach that engages advisors and foundations (community, private, and public) and uses GivingTuesday to encourage donors to make grants and get educated (teaching the teachers) on the needs of the community and the causes they are passionate about, which is one of the ways we will shift from a donor-assumed approach to community-centric and mission-focused funding.

GivingTuesday was created as a day for all of us to experiment with generosity by going beyond simply giving to having an impact on issues people care about. A recent case study was this year’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, with the One Day’s Pay campaign, championed by The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada. CEO Kris Archie shared how many reconciliation-focused, Indigenous-led grassroots organizations are not “registered charities” because they do not work within the colonial system of registered charities and qualified donees, and encouraged Canadians who care about reconciliation to give directly to those causes. 

Generosity is a constant tension between the head and heart, something we at CAGP have learned repeatedly over almost 30 years of striving to find a balance, as philanthropy evolves in tax, technology, and methodology. While new days and movements will indeed rise, we have two established days that allow us to not only collaborate and grow as a sector, but to be more engaged in making Canada and the world a more just, equitable, and better place to be.

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