As CEO of World Vision Canada for 18 years, Dave Toycen's core product was hope for distressed children and families, whether in the rubble of Nepal or in parched African villages. But he also faced the challenges of running a business with revenues of more than $400 million—competition, costs and harnessing social media. After a 40-year international career with the Christian charity, which is the largest private relief and development agency in Canada, Toycen is stepping down at age 68.
What were your darkest moments?
They were disaster situations where you didn't have enough resources. The flood of people in need goes on and on, and you ask yourself, "What am I doing here?" Children are dying of cholera because they can't get enough clean water, and you are questioning God and your values. But you have to stop worrying, because it becomes self-pity, and you have to act. Usually what happens is a spark of hope, often from the people who are struggling.
You boosted revenue by a factor of eight during your tenure as CEO. How?
The key element has been the way we engage the public. We believe that it is important to tell stories—to share the needs of the world through personal detail, and how you can make a difference.
Do Canadians give enough to charity?
About 84% give to a charity of some sort. That is a high number, and Canadians need to be commended. The average total is around $450 a year, although 50% give less than $125. People's concerns about the money they need, personally, are probably higher than ever before.
So people really need their possessions and vacations?
It's tricky. People can argue that they are just as empathetic as before, but then they say, "I have so many more needs of my own to deal with."
Why are many other charities and NGOs in rough shape?
It is actually a much more challenging time for all of us, but especially larger NGOs. There are 88,000 charities in Canada now, and the growth in numbers is putting pressure on all of us. World Vision has a development and fundraising model that is successful, but revenue growth has been modest over the past few years.
Doesn't Ottawa now favour faith-based charities?
From what I understand, the statistics aren't convincing either way. But one of the most effective things the government has been engaged in is child and maternal health.
Has social media boosted your ability to reach donors?
The new technology has been effective in engagement, but not in actual fundraising. People feel like they are doing something when they give us a "Like" on Facebook. But in the past, there was more willingness to make a a donation. And it is costing more to reach people. You get smaller audiences now—in radio, TV or newspapers—but nobody is charging you less. It is the same in digital media. One positive aspect is the greater potential to divide our donors into segments, and to know much more about the interests and motivations of individuals.
Almost 20% of your expenses go to fundraising and administration. Is it too much?
We are in the middle range of organizations with a model similar to ours. Some can do it cheaper—they might have a strong volunteer component. But the other measure is impact. Are you interested in the organization that spends the least on overhead, or the one that is helping the most?
How much do you make personally?
My income is just under $200,000, so I am well paid. That is the challenge. We need to pay enough to get top-notch people to run the organization, but we work with some of the poorest people in the world. There has to be a willingness to see this as a mission. You are not getting top dollar for the job you are doing.