We know where charity begins, but where does it end?
For the Canadian Centre for Diversity, the end came around a board table on Monday night. The directors of the body formerly known as the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, created in 1947 to fight anti-Semitism, decided it was time to wind down their programs in diversity education.
The organization that was famed for its ability to bring together the moneyed elites of Toronto’s once-separate Jewish and non-Jewish communities at must-attend gala dinners could no longer attract enough support in a changed multicultural Canada.
“We can’t afford to run our programs any more,” said Leonard Latchman, a board member who grew up attending those galas with his father and grandfather. “It’s a very competitive fundraising environment out there, especially for second-tier and third-tier charities.”
The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews was once regarded as top-tier, in the post-war years when a new Canada was evolving and the growing desire for inclusivity could be equated with economic success. But the name change made six years ago, intended to proclaim a 21st-century inclusivity, managed to alienate established supporters.
“We lost a lot of Jewish donors,” said Janice O’Born, chair of the centre’s board. “The change wasn’t handled well.”
The old name was too narrowly defined for the school boards the organization needed to reach with its programs on inclusion and acceptance of diversity. But this need to fit new social values had unexpected consequences: By broadening its name to fit its goals, the Canadian Centre for Diversity lost its identity, and the powerful affiliations of its core donors.
“It wasn’t focused any more,” Ms. O’Born said. “It wasn’t defined as Christians and Jews. All of a sudden we became all things to all people.”
Bernie Farber, former CEO of the now-disbanded Canadian Jewish Congress, believes the problem with the new name wasn’t its vagueness. “They changed the name at a time when diversity was becoming a dirty word,” he said. “Canada was becoming more conservative, and I think 9/11 played a huge role in this. People started backing away.”
The organization once was known for running the March of Remembrance and Hope, which sent Canadian students of all backgrounds to study intolerance and genocide on sponsored visits to Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland. When that program ended – “The Jewish community in Toronto wanted to support a similar program through their synagogues and not through us,” said Ms. O’Born – the traditional donor base shrank even more. But the anti-bullying Peer Leaders Network program that became the centre’s priority didn’t resonate with donors in the crowded inclusivity landscape.
The centre’s intensive one-year program had particular difficulty competing with the We Day celebration of student empowerment run by Free the Children’s Craig and Marc Kielburger. “The Kielburgers have done an amazing job,” Ms. O’Born said. “They’ve turned it into a theatrical event. But a lot of schools we went to said, ‘Oh no, we already had We Day.’”
Charities just as much as businesses have to consider the implications of rebranding. “When they tried to reinvigorate their organization, they kind of lost their way,” said Malcolm Burrows of the Scotia Private Client Group. “The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews came about at a specific moment of time in Canada. You morph into something else and you’ve lost your focus. But if you lose your core support, you’re dead in the water.”
Or maybe even charities have a shelf life. “It’s not unusual,” said Ed Waitzer, a Toronto lawyer and adviser on philanthropic issues, “for these organizations to find that either they’ve achieved their mission or the world has overtaken their mission or their mission has been overtaken by others who can do it more effectively. If the Canadian Centre for Diversity is not sustainable, there’s no shame in saying, ‘We’ve done our job.’”
Follow us on Twitter: