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The Vancouver Foundation’s On the Table initiative gave the organization insights into the topics British Columbians discuss while enjoying a meal.

On September 14, a social event of unprecedented magnitude began in communities throughout British Columbia: over three days, around 4,500 people came together around 361 tables to break bread, make new social connections and talk about what was on their mind.

The catalyst was the Vancouver Foundation’s On the Table campaign, which invited British Columbians to host events, small and large, to bring others together. The foundation provided tools and tips, but the food served, locations chosen and people invited were entirely up to the hosts. Afterward, participants were asked to fill out short surveys, giving the foundation insight into table talk around the province.

“We know that we need to create opportunities to bridge across sectors of society, to create a greater sense of understanding and empathy, to build that sense of trust,” says Craig Hikida, vice president, donor services. “When people are connected and have a greater sense of belonging, there is greater involvement in civic life.”

Celebrating its 75th anniversary this year, the Vancouver Foundation was launched in 1943 because Alice Mackay, a secretary, had managed to save $1,000 and wanted to make a difference in the lives of homeless women. She convinced Whitford VanDusen to join her; he added $10,000 to the fund and convinced nine of his friends to do the same. Since then, the foundation has awarded more than $1-billion in grants, in amounts large and small, to strengthen communities in Vancouver and the province.

It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of the foundation’s impact, and that of similar organizations across Canada. A 2014 report by Imagine Canada and Philanthropic Foundations Canada found that the largest 150 grant-making foundations gave over $1-billion each year to Canadian charities.

For donors concerned with optimizing the effects of their gifts, organizations like the Vancouver Foundation offer an impressive historical track record.

“What donors can count on when they give to the Vancouver Foundation is long-term relevance,” says Mr. Hikida. “When Alice MacKay and Whitford VanDusen set up the foundation in 1943, would they have predicted that we’d now be in the midst of an opioid crisis or would have just experienced the worst wildfire season on record? I don’t know.”

But fast forward 75 years from now, he adds, and donors can be confident that the foundation will be well positioned to address whatever the issues of the time might be. “We also know that those original gifts, and those from everyone who has given since, will still be at work.

While the word “foundation” is often associated with the uber-wealthy, community foundations like the Vancouver Foundation harness the collective energy of the communities they serve, Mr. Hikida stresses. “Small bits of money add up to have a real impact.”

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PAUL DARROW/DARROW MULTIMEDIA

Did you know?

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Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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