For the past 24 years, I have had the distinct pleasure and opportunity to be a founder, entrepreneur, and CEO for a charitable organization in the social sector. This awesome adventure has brought forth so many people that I have collaborated with, learned from, and been inspired by. This entrepreneurial journey has taught me resiliency, creativity, gratitude, business acumen, and leadership. As a result, I better understand how best to grow in a sector that has traditionally been rewarded for efficiency, instead of for taking risks and spending little or no money on overhead. Years later, I have now acquired a strong belief that our sector is as much about doing good and achieving impact as it is about pushing our sector to take risks, be innovative, and be more effective.
For years, I have struggled with the word “nonprofit,” as I find it limits our sector to grow and actually address the world’s most pressing problems with real impact. We are a business and as a business we need to be freed up to generate revenue, be more industrious, pay our staff well, and spend funds on overhead without the restrictions that the philanthropy sector can put on the social sector. We all must realize that our sector has evolved further and is ready for a new name to reflect the dramatic social progress it is making. Perhaps we can call it the “social profit sector.”
The Power To Give Foundation was created to address philanthropy as an opportunity, not as a responsibility. Traditional methods of giving are growing less appealing. There is more interest in engaged models of giving back and the pandemic has proven that. People don’t want to just write cheques and hear heartwarming stories. They want to know the real deal: real stories, real challenges, real impact. They want to roll up their sleeves and offer useful skills and make a real difference.
A mentor of mine once said, “people give to people,” and I truly believe how you show up when raising capital makes a difference. People who have the ability to inspire others to give will succeed in raising capital. Whether it is the private or social sector, I believe there is only a small group of people who raise capital well. What if a foundation like Power To Give could remove the burden of raising capital to free up these social entrepreneurs to focus on the impact they intend to achieve? That is exactly what we intend to do.
There has never been a more important or timely opportunity to solve the world’s most pressing social problems. People who were vulnerable before are now even more vulnerable. Social service organizations that existed to help vulnerable people are themselves vulnerable, and many have had to close their doors. We have also seen a degree of innovation and action that is unprecedented. Corporate and foundation funders that were slow and bureaucratic increased and accelerated philanthropic giving to ensure front-line organisations had much-needed support. Corporations started to shift from passive, ineffective corporate social responsibility to viewing social change as an opportunity. Institutional charities struggled to stay afloat while smaller, innovative organizations and social enterprises took action.
Perhaps most importantly, we have seen organizations in all sectors that have come to realize that “safe” social change just isn’t good enough anymore. Moving forward, solving social problems depends on taking risks in ways that this sector has never done before. If this doesn’t happen, too many people will fall through the cracks and the massive climate change catastrophe predicted by leaders such as Bill Gates will be a certainty.
These are the issues that frame the context for Power To Give to play a leadership role in our social profit sector and secure future investments that will help solve some of Canada’s most pressing problems, starting today. The following list details how we plan to solve these issues.
- We will shift from supporting slow-moving, institutionalized charity approaches to investing in agile agents of change that prioritize impact rather than process.
- Embrace the model of trust-based philanthropy that funding has to be distributed fast — and without a web of restrictions
- Shift decision-making power from the investor to the entrepreneur with the organizations addressing the issue or problem
- Build trust-based relationships and redefine traditional notions of risk
- Acknowledge that no one person has all the answers and that we can’t achieve our goals without listening, collaborating, and co-investing with others. Soliciting and seeking valuable perspectives will help inform our work.
- Before entering into an investment relationship, ensure the onus of due diligence is on the investor, not the investee
- Simplify and streamline paperwork to be freed up to concentrate on mission and impact
- Be transparent and responsive to help move the work forward. Prioritize innovation by asking new questions: what is the fastest way to make the biggest impact? How will we know that our investment has been successful? What are the opportunities to re-invest in promising solutions to other problems?
- Offer support beyond funding that will help foster healthier and more entrepreneurial organizations by bolstering leadership and capacity
- Broaden our investments that strengthen our narrative on the journey toward a better economy, long-term social sector impact, scalability, and more sustainable companies across all industries
- Demonstrate that making meaningful change will create new opportunities, not new risks. Today, too many investors and agents of change see making substantive change as a risk instead of an opportunity and focus on optics instead of results.
- Prioritize organizations that have a plan to put themselves out of business and social change leaders that are working to put themselves out of their jobs in order to tackle new problems. Real success will be achieved when no funding is needed and Power To Give should orient its longer-term plans and actions with this objective in mind.
- Involve people with lived experience from start to finish. People with lived experience of the problems being addressed are best able to identify solutions. However, they are almost never involved in funding decisions or program development.
- Reinvent monitoring and evaluation (M&E) to ensure it doesn’t get in the way of action. We need to shift from M&E as a requirement to M&E as reward.
- Move faster with the right expectations. Results that are less than anticipated do not necessarily mean the results are not good enough; it just means the problem is more difficult than expected and the actions taken may need to be refined or adapted.
The opportunity cost is too great not to make the shift to audacious giving and audacious change. I would like to thank the many people in my life who have provided their time, financial support and guidance to help Power To Give get ready for today and the future. I would like to extend a special thanks to Kevin Starr of the Mulago Foundation for his mentorship and for sharing his business model on measuring impact. I would like to extend a sincere thank you to Dan Pallotta for pushing me to think “big capital”. Most importantly, I would like to extend my deepest gratitude to the Annual Foundation for believing in Power To Give and for giving us the ability to build a giving platform together that makes giving and impact easy, effective, and scalable.
Tim Cormode May 2021