Why I Love Canadian Fundraisers
By Tony Elischer
I have been coming to the AFP Greater Toronto Chapter Congress now for over seventeen years and continue to prioritize this invitation in my speaking and travel schedules.
I clearly recall meeting a leading American fundraiser many years ago who declared that “America had basically invented philanthropy and fundraising.”
“Excuse me,” I thought, “Shouldn’t we recognize that philanthropy is pretty universal and perhaps has a little more ownership, if not history, in Europe?” On the fundraising side I think I must concede, as America did pretty much invent the foundations of what we now know as professional fundraising.
When I started in fundraising over thirty years ago, I was told to look to America for cutting-edge fundraising practice, innovation and inspiration. This I did as an enthusiastic young fundraiser and I learned a lot. However, since those days the world has changed, and now we look around the world to different reference points for insights, learnings and inspiration.
So I hear you ask, what do we look to Canada for?
On my fundraising journey I was invited to speak at the Toronto Congress and to explore Canadian fundraising. From the start I liked the mind-set, outlook and general approach of Canadian fundraisers. It felt closer to what I was used to at home in the UK, but in a strange way felt even deeper and more committed to the life-long profession I had chosen by then.
Like the British I believe that Canadian fundraisers have studied and embraced the learning from America. But you have not only adapted the American style, but have evolved programs that firmly keep the foundations of best practice and thinking in place. Canada has created a unique style of fundraising programs and products that people can learn from at so many levels: strategic, data, market insights, creative, etc.
Canadians take time and are thoughtful about fundraising strategies—you have rigor around your programs that balances the delivery with the detail. Whenever I am with a group of Canadian fundraisers, there is a true engagement in exploring and going deeper into the thinking and possibilities. The atmosphere at Congress is like no other fundraising gathering. It balances professionalism with dedication, and a real openness to fun and creativity.
Canada is a developed fundraising market but one with lots of potential that is still untapped—the market needs more innovation, more challenge and more rapid “testing loops.”
I guess the darker side to what I love about Canadian fundraisers is the sometimes conservative outlook and need to over-control the risk. As Gide said, “If you want to set sail for new shores, you have to lose sight of the shore.” The rich make-up of the philanthropy “marketplace” in Canada could do more by better sharing and learning from the different segments of the sector.
Some of the best health fundraising in the world is driven from Canada—the education fundraising programs are cutting edge and the mainstream charity programs know how to build communities and deploy mass marketing with the best of them. So the knowledge is there, but do you truly share and leverage it?
Congress is a great meeting place for people, minds, best practices and sharing, but it now needs to stretch further and ensure it really is the best possible showcase of Canadian fundraising.
It’s quite simple really: all roads in fundraising lead back to people—their passion, belief, dedication and professionalism. So it is up to every fundraiser in Canada to step forward, step up and step towards your Congress to make it what it can and should be.
We all need more challenge. I challenge speakers at Congress 2013 to stir things up more, stop playing it safe, seek out radical examples from the commercial sector and put more fun back into learning! See you in November.
Tony has over 29 years of hands-on experience in the nonprofit sector. He has been a consultant for the last fifteen years working at the highest level across a wide range of causes and organizations and is the founder of the leading international consultancy THINK Consulting Solutions. He is an internationally regarded expert on fundraising and marketing, having extensive experience of helping charities worldwide with strategy, fundraising, management and troubleshooting.