Why I love Canadian fundraisers             

This article was written by Tony in August 2013, prior to attending AFP Toronto Chapter’s 2013 Congress event.

I have been coming to the AFP Toronto Chapter Congress now for over seventeen years and I continue to prioritise it my invitations in my speaking and travel schedules.
But why?

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 recognise that philanthropy is pretty universal and perhaps has a little more ownership, if not history, in Europe?” On the fundraising call 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 learnt 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 what do we look to Canada for? I hear you ask ……

On my fundraising journey I was invited to speak at the Toronto Congress and to explore Canadian fundraising. From the outset 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, fundraising. Like the British I believe that Canadian fundraisers have studied and embraced the learning from America, but you have not only adapted it, but evolved programmes that firmly keep the foundations of best practice and thinking in place. Canada has created a unique style of fundraising programmes and products that people can learn from at so many levels: strategic, data, market insights, creative, etc.

Canadians take time and are thoughtful about your fundraising strategies; you have a rigour around your programmes that balance 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 your 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 programmes are cutting edge and the mainstream charity programmes 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 practice and sharing, but it now needs to stretch further and ensure it really is the best possible showcase of Canadian fundraising …. but how? 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 and my challenge to speakers at Congress 2013 is 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 at Congress 2013 in November.