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Many Canadian charities have been leading the fight against injustice and raising awareness about systemic inequity and inequality.istock.com

Canadian charities do tremendous work in communities across the country by channelling donor funds into causes that make a critical difference to the lives of people in need and to our world.

But beyond their individual mission, charities all have an important role in helping redress the historical societal imbalances within Canada related to inclusion, diversity, equity and access, or IDEA. And these are issues that charities must address both externally in the communities they serve and internally within their own infrastructure and programming.

For Jennifer Johnstone, incoming chair of AFP Canada’s board of directors, IDEA should be the underpinning of all aspects of a charity’s activities, both internal and external.

“Philanthropy is critically important to understanding the inequities and inequalities in our communities and taking action to redress injustices,” she says.

As president and CEO of the Central City Foundation in Vancouver, Ms. Johnstone has worked alongside others who are trying to change conditions in the community so that everyone has the opportunity to participate and contribute to building a community of belonging and dignity.

She says many Canadian charities have been leading the fight against injustice and raising awareness about systemic inequity and inequality.

“They are trying to make a change through a more equitable, diverse and inclusive approach and by looking at everything from their leadership, their governance, their programs, and the people or the purpose they serve,” adds Ms. Johnstone.

While new initiatives have emerged to address race and gender biases in philanthropy, it is important to keep in mind that still only about one per cent of philanthropic giving goes towards Indigenous-led organizations.

“Dismantling these colonial legacy systems and the embodied systemic and systematic inequity is going to take time and the efforts of everyone, and some charities have a longer road of adaptation and change than others,” she says.

For some, adapting their activities to align more closely with IDEA will mean changing the way they have operated up to now.

They are trying to make a change through a more equitable, diverse and inclusive approach and by looking at everything from their leadership, their governance, their programs, and the people or the purpose they serve.

Jennifer Johnstone
Incoming chair of AFP Canada’s board of directors and president and CEO of the Central City Foundation in Vancouver

“We need to reconstruct our organizations and our communities to ensure belonging, which to me is a bit different than inclusion,” says Ms. Johnstone. “We’ve spent many decades focusing on training or skills to help people fit in, but now we need to understand and accept that people should be able to show up just as they are to make their full contribution and to belong and be assured of their dignity and be respected and valued for who they are and what they contribute.”

AFP Canada recently formed a joint task force with the AFP Foundation for Philanthropy - Canada to determine how best AFP can create an authentic path to truth and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

“We are fundamentally committed to doing more than merely issuing statements of solidarity,” says Ms. Johnstone

Tanya Rumble, AFP Canada board member and director of development at Toronto Metropolitan University, says AFP has strategically embedded IDEA in all the organization’s activities, from marketing communications to show Canadians the value of fundraising, to government relations and professional development for members.

“The government relations work we do and the policies we advocate for at the federal level are reviewed through an equity lens. This same lens helps to guide how we advance all of our work at AFP,” she says.

For Ms. Rumble, IDEA means a return to the roots of philanthropy and the charitable sector in general.

“If we don’t respond and reflect the social challenges of oppression that many people in our society face, then we’re not really living up to the promise of what IDEA is all about,” she says.

Some large organizations are breaking wake for other small charities that are similarly willing to invest and engage in this work and be part of the dialogue and change fundamentally the culture of our sector by changing the culture of their organization.

Tanya Rumble
AFP Canada board member and director of development at Toronto Metropolitan University

“Some large organizations are breaking wake for other small charities that are similarly willing to invest and engage in this work and be part of the dialogue and change fundamentally the culture of our sector by changing the culture of their organization,” says Ms. Rumble.

“But it’s a journey with no end point. I think it’s intimidating and daunting for many organizations that responded initially to the social justice movements that happened in 2020 and 2021, but then didn’t really know how to embed that energy and focus into their organizations, especially if they felt those topics were adjacent to their mission and didn’t see them integrated into what they do as an organization.”

She says the charities that have done well are those that have seen how IDEA relates to their mission, even if their mission is about climate or animal welfare. They look not only to diversify their donor base to avoid stagnating but also at staff composition, pay equity and elimination of inherent bias or oppression through policies that protect their staff, volunteers and donors.

Charities must also be willing to take risks, she adds.

“Inertia comes from a fear of saying the wrong thing because these topics are delicate and folks are scared to step into something and not have all the right answers,” she says. “But it’s important to acknowledge the realities that your staff and volunteers and beneficiaries and anyone connected to your organization are experiencing and to be intentional and empathetic to that. Say something and then do something, anything; we need to start somewhere.”

Donors, particularly those giving mega-gifts, are also increasingly considering investments through the IDEA lens with some preferring to support causes and communities that have been left behind in the past,” says Ms. Rumble.

“I think that a lot of folks who have built their wealth in Canada are examining their family histories and how they were able to build their wealth and having a bit of a personal reckoning around the fact that money, whether it was self-made or their family didn’t come to Canada with a lot, the reality is that we all benefited from the subjugation of Indigenous communities and colonization,” she says.


Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with The Association of Fundraising Professionals Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.