How to Bring Fresh Voices to the Table in Philanthropy

Four leaders discuss the future of philanthropy.

Why It Matters

To reach new generations of donors, volunteers, and employees, organizations update their tactics and learn to reflect the changing communities around them, say four young leaders in a digital roundtable with Future of Good.

In 2019, it’s clear that traditional philanthropy is being challenged. Between the growth of new online fundraising models, the boom of companies mixing purpose with profits, and generational shifts in donors, organizations across Canada are having to grow and evolve to meet fresh needs and a new generation’s values.

To explore the future of philanthropy and how organizations can bring fresh voices to the table, Future of Good sat down with a set of panelists from Community Foundations of Canada’s All In 2019 conference. These four leaders come from a variety of philanthropic backgrounds, and all had insights on how philanthropy can evolve to meet the needs of younger donors, volunteers, and employees.

Below, find our digital roundtable with John Michael Koffi, author of Refugee: the Journey Much Desired and president of the UBC Africa Awareness Initiative; Heela Omarkhail, a fundholder at the Toronto Foundation’s Vision 2020 initiative, which aims to bring more Millennial and Gen X donors into philanthropy; Nicole Gagliardi, director of Strategic Initiatives at Community Foundation of Greater Peterborough; and Michael Redhead Champagne, an award-winning community organizer and public speaker.

From left to right: Michael Redhead Champagne, Nicole Gagliardi, Heela Omarkhail, and John-Michael Koffi speak on a panel at Community Foundations of Canada’s All In 2019 conference. (Photo by Jesse Gillett and courtesy of Community Foundations of Canada.)

 

What specific actions would you love to see the social impact sector do in order to engage the next generation in philanthropy?

 

Omarkhail

In order to engage the next generation in philanthropy, it is incumbent on the charitable sector to create meaningful opportunities for the next generation to engage. This goes beyond donating to a cause or buying tickets to a fundraising gala. It could include recruiting young people for boards, committees, and subcommittees. Allow the next generation to play active roles in planning and shaping fundraising events and initiatives instead of just attending them. More than that, allow and encourage the next generation to challenge the status quo of philanthropy and articulate why things can and should be done differently, and then demonstrate how.

 

Koffi

First, they should be very transparent in all they do. Many donors often do not know where their money and resources go, whether it pays the salaries of CEOs, CFOs, and staff, or it impacts communities in need. Through transparency, the non-profit sector can spark genuine interest, especially that of younger generations who are always looking for opportunities to help.

Second, they should always involve the target communities’ members at every step of a project, both as staff and as participants in developmental initiatives. It is through involving community members that they’ll be able to work with the younger generations, who will most likely join them and continue the legacy they began with genuine passion and experience as both recipients and givers of support.

 

Gagliardi

I think we have to ask ourselves what we want the next generation of philanthropy to look like, and then try to create the kinds of relationships and engagement that will build that reality. I would love to see charities define themselves boldly around the change they’re trying to create, and make an unapologetic case for investing in the pursuit of that change. 

I would love to see charities engaging philanthropists in radical acts of generosity, with the audacity of expecting unrestricted operating funds to meet community needs in a sustainable way. And I would love to see accountability for making change shift away from “performing impact” for donors, toward evaluations of success from the people impacted by that change. 

 

Champagne

The philanthropic sector as a whole has to do a better job of educating young people (and everyone) on system literacy and system navigation. If we want young people to engage with the sector, they must understand why it’s relevant and how it works. It would be nice to see more of an effort in explaining processes, describing and exploring networks and relationships, educational modules, online educational and engagement tools, ongoing in-person entry points, or a “Philanthropy 101” welcoming session for people to ask everything they are usually too afraid to ask.

 

 

How can social impact organizations adjust their governance structures to more effectively shift power into the hands of young professionals?

 

Gagliardi

Getting serious about equity and being intentional about cultivating and supporting diversity in leadership at the board, staff, and community levels is key, and so is adopting practices like the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s Decent Work practices if you want to cultivate younger leadership in staffed organizations. 

Beyond that, I think a generations approach to governance can be really effective at creating ways to share power and accountability while strengthening the quality and efficacy of decision-making in an organization. In a generations approach, the focus is not on engaging younger people in existing structures (which is often a failing strategy), but looking at how to shift existing structures to accommodate participation from people at all ages and stages of life. 

 

Koffi

Break the hierarchies and adopt decision-making frameworks which are more horizontal than vertical, especially as an organization starts including more members from the marginalized groups.

 

Champagne

Broken record here: improving system literacy will help young people understand how current governance operates so they can determine their own terms of engagement. We then need current leadership to demonstrate a willingness to give away some power, listen to and try out young people’s ideas.

 

Omarkhail

I feel there is a real disconnect in the values we promote and try to cultivate in young people and the “business as usual” approach of governance structures. We talk about the importance of speaking up, sharing opinions, sharing lived experiences, engaging in positive debate, listening, being “different” and being yourself, being inclusive and equitable — but it’s the same qualities and values that are often not given space or credence in existing governance structures. 

I’m not sure it’s the governance structures that need to be adjusted. Perhaps it’s the people and approaches within these structures that have to be more open to and encouraging of the values we collectively promote. If we tell young people they need to speak up more and share experiences, then we need to create the environment and opportunities for this to happen and welcome it, not be afraid of it. 

 

 

How can individual colleagues or leaders within institutions overcome traditional governance structures to empower new voices and ideas? 

 

Omarkhail

Collaboration is key. It is a challenge for individuals to go it alone, and it’s also less impactful, frankly. Individual change is good, but systems change is better, and that’s what’s needed in philanthropy today. Yes, there need to be champions and drivers, but they need allies.  Those allies can be from community and from well-established institutions. To foster collaboration, relationships need to be built — across generations, communities, and sectors. The more diverse and representative these groups can be, the stronger the voices and ideas, as well as the ability to overcome traditional structures.   

 

Champagne

Mentorship and succession planning. Each existing board member should be reaching out to a younger leader. I want to be clear this is a two-way mentorship or “buddy” relationship, with the young leader and experienced leader co-mentoring one another. You could start bringing your buddy to meetings, including them in important discussions and creating space and opportunity for them to learn and participate.

If you’re deliberate about mentorship and respecting the new voices, succession will happen as equity is respected around the decision-making tables. When the younger leader eventually takes over formal leadership positions, the older buddy sticks around as a mentor and helper as needed.

  

Gagliardi

We have to be pretty careful with expectations that individuals can – or should – be drivers of change (or equity, or empowerment, or diversity) within charities. Governance, as the practice of who gets to make decisions, is a complex site of relationships, power dynamics, and formal structures. While one charismatic or effective person can step into a role and create a bit of space for new voices or ideas, it’s always unsustainable until you build a coalition of champions to drive a shift in culture and create an enabling infrastructure (yes, that means policies and practices) that can support it all. It’s long-term work that requires a breadth of collaborators, knowledge, and experience (and yes, that includes those “well established” folks) .

 

Koffi

Individuals should be willing to both speak their minds and to listen carefully to those around them. I think proper and transparent communication is what empowers individuals to do more and be better, regardless of their status and/or privilege and position in society.

 

 

As emerging leaders, how do you see larger charitable organizations and foundations remaining relevant to a generation of people who are moving away from well-established institutions?

 

Gagliardi

What I see is a generation of charities that are facing a gigantic digital gap, who have underinvested in leadership, refused to diversify, are facing the pressures of competing in an increasingly professionalized environment, and have shortchanged capacity-building. Everyone is yelling, “Don’t you dare start another charity!” and simultaneously lamenting “Why aren’t those youth getting involved?” — all in the context of increasing challenges and unmet needs in our communities.

“Millennials” have become such a common scapegoat for structural issues in the charitable sector (and elsewhere, to be fair) that it’s almost laughable. It’s like giving out apples from a creepy, run-down haunted house on Halloween and wondering why the kids in your neighbourhood aren’t ringing your doorbell — it’s not very inviting.

 

Koffi

The main reason younger generations are moving away from institutional frameworks is because institutions are hardly serving their interests or operating in ways that engage them. Institutions need to hire or work with more and more youth to get fresh ideas and properly redefine their priorities and goals according to the current socio-cultural contexts. That way they remain relevant.

 

Omarkhail

Larger charitable organizations and foundations will appeal to the new generation once they truly embody the values embraced by this generation: diversity, inclusion, transparency, advocacy, community-based, etc. 

Furthermore, there needs to be a change in approach. In a past panel, John Michael made a very powerful statement along the lines of how philanthropy and engagement should be with communities, not for. If this approach is truly adopted by well-established institutions with the alignment of values, we can move closer rather than away. 

 

Champagne

If larger institutions take up a “nothing about us without us” approach, they will have no choice but to adapt to what they hear from those traditionally un-included voices that are now taking up space and holding power. Be wary of creating tokenistic positions and get out of the boardroom or head offices to be in the community and building relationships with those projects you’re supporting.

We need the philanthropic sector to be representative of the communities they serve and to acknowledge that the old charity models aren’t working anymore and the future is in honouring relationships.

 

 

Do you have any advice for young professionals trying to move into the world of philanthropy?

Champagne

I want to encourage young people to do as much research and learning as possible before you walk into these spaces. I would say identify two mentors if you want to do this, someone who will be in those meetings with you and someone on the outside who can help you with your mental health.

 

Gagliardi

Anyone thinking about a career in the charitable sector needs a reminder that your rights to fair compensation, personal wellbeing, or career development should never be sacrificed for the benefit of your organization. Exploitation has become normalized and acceptable in so many charities and nonprofits; it often looks like “wearing multiple hats,” banking obscene amounts of “lieu time,” being underpaid, lacking access to training and development, and burnout.

Organizations that rely on exploiting your passion for change to make an impact are, by definition, ineffective and unsustainable. Take your talents and values to organizations with decent work practices and you’ll have a long and fulfilling career.

 

Koffi

Younger people should first define their passions, their interests and what they want their future goals to be. With this, they can find and work with organizations or institutions that are best suited for what they want to accomplish for themselves and for their communities or create such institutions if they do not exist already.

This is particularly important because it takes significant time and resources to establish oneself in philanthropy, and it would save young people so much trouble and resources if they have defined goals and a clear purpose.

 

Omarkhail

I’m learning that philanthropy is not about money… or at least that it doesn’t have to be. That is my reminder to young people. Being involved about philanthropy is not about raising money or donating money. It’s about influencing change — with your time, resources (that may be money), networks, etc. It’s about opening doors for others when doors have been opened for you. But it’s also about understanding your power and privilege, including how and when to use it.