Canadian Association of Gift Planners Annual National Conference
Gatineau, Quebec, Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Thank you for your warm welcome. I am pleased to join you at the outset of this important conference.
I often find it worthwhile to begin with the seemingly simple questions, so let me ask: why are we here today?
The answer, of course, is not simply that we are here to support philanthropy through the development and growth of gift planning in Canada—though of course that is your important work.
Ultimately, our reasons for being here are more profound than that.
We are here to foster a more generous, compassionate, creative and sustainable Canada.
And we are here to contribute to the building of a more fair and just society, where each individual can realize his or her potential, according to their hopes and dreams.
That is why you are involved in the field of gift planning. And that is why I have chosen to encourage the culture of philanthropy in Canada as one of the priorities of my mandate.
Each of you is playing an important role in fostering philanthropy, and I want to thank you for your contribution.
I also want to convey my particular appreciation to those of you who are professional advisors, whether from the field of law, accounting, insurance or financial planning. One of the unique strengths of this organization is its ability to bring together the charitable and the private sectors, and you have a unique role to play in helping Canadians achieve their philanthropic goals.
Let me ask another question: why is it important to inspire a greater culture of giving in this country?
The answer is straightforward: because we can, and because we should. And not least, because a generous Canada is the kind of country we want to live in.
As governor general and as a father and grandfather, I dream of a smart and caring Canada that recognizes that we all have something to give—be it time, talent, gifts or simply a generosity of spirit that strives to see the best in others.
In my experience, when you expect the best from others, you get the best.
Let me tell you a story about that.
When I was the dean of law at the University of Western Ontario, I made a point of speaking with each graduate individually and encouraging them to undertake 10 per cent of their cases pro bono.
And over the years, when I had occasion to speak with those graduates about their professional practice, many of them would say to me:
“Dean, I just couldn’t give 10 per cent of my time, but the 2-3 per cent that I was able to give was always the most meaningful.”
I love that story, and what it says about human nature and our experience of giving. Not only does giving make a difference to others, it means something to us.
Never mind that those former law students of mine were unable to give 10 per cent of their time. The important thing is: a gift was given.
Just as importantly: a gift was received. And likely, at some point in time, that initial act of generosity was reciprocated in some way.
This virtuous circle of giving reminds me of one aspect of the traditional “gift economies” of the Pacific Northwest, as defined by anthropologists. In these societies, giving was of central importance. There were three related obligations: the obligation to give, to accept, and to reciprocate.
Of course, today we are not obliged to give, receive or reciprocate, but I believe this cycle of generosity endures in our society, even if it is not codified as such. I think we can all agree that most people who benefit from an act of kindness or generosity try to give back somehow. It is only human to want to do so.
At heart, people want to give back. They want to be part of something larger than themselves, and they want to leave a legacy of some kind for those who follow. I believe this insight is one of the keys to expanding the circle of giving in Canada.
Of course, oftentimes a great deal of hard work needs to happen before people will allow themselves to give. This you well know through your professional work.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Ruth MacKenzie on her appointment as executive director of this association. In fact, I should extend my congratulations to all of you, because Ruth will most assuredly make a wonderful contribution to your efforts—just as she has done with Volunteer Canada and as a member of our Rideau Hall advisory group on volunteerism and philanthropy.
As professionals involved in gift planning, your work plays a critical role in balancing the interests of those who would give with the aims and objectives of Canadian charities.
You aim to widen the circle of giving all across Canada, educating, mentoring and advising others on both the need for and the possibilities of giving.
And always, you try to remain sensitive to the values and needs of donors and recipients alike, innovating and responding to the rapid changes and growing demands of contemporary Canada.
I know that each of you understands the importance of innovation and continuous improvement in your work. New ideas and approaches are essential if philanthropy in Canada is to advance, and it is a credit to this organization that innovating and planning for change is part of your guiding philosophy.
Let me highlight one specific way in which innovation can reinforce and enhance your ability to serve both donors and clients.
Recently, I read Bill Gates’ annual letter to the supporters of the foundation he and his wife, Melinda, have established. Their foundation has the remarkable goal of improving the quality of life of those who are most in need—regardless of where they may live. It is an extraordinarily broad mandate that requires constant innovation, and as Gates outlines in his letter this year, measurement is one of the keys to its success.
“I have been struck again and again by how important measurement is to improving the human condition. […] Any innovation—whether it’s a new vaccine or an improved seed—can’t have an impact unless it reaches the people who will benefit from it.”
As Gates concludes, the key to understanding the effectiveness of our ideas and innovations is to measure them carefully and then evaluate the results.
In philanthropy as in all our efforts to build a smarter, more caring Canada, we must always ask: what is the evidence?
In principle, that is simple enough, but the reality is that the importance of sound measurement and evaluation is often overlooked. And measurement is not always easy to do.
However, I believe that improved measurement can enhance gift planning and indeed all philanthropy in Canada in two fundamental respects: (1) by improving the effectiveness of donations and gifts; and (2) by reassuring those who give that their donation will be used to good effect.
Better measurement will lead to greater effectiveness for recipients and thus more confidence among donors—indeed, the two outcomes go hand in hand.
Anyone who has solicited donations knows how important it is to be able to tell a potential donor confidently how their gift will be used, and how it will have a real and positive impact on peoples’ lives.
Through your work, you have an opportunity to enhance giving in Canada by encouraging charities in their efforts to improve their effectiveness, while sharing their successes with potential donors. You can help us be smarter in our caring.
Of course, this is just one example of how innovation can help us to expand the circle of giving. Other new approaches are being developed in social finance, in donor engagement and in communications and information-sharing, to name a few.
The key words are innovation and collaboration. We can and must work together to enhance philanthropy in this country.
Over the past 16 months, I have convened meetings across the country on the state of philanthropy in Canada. And I am encouraged at the number of exciting ideas and initiatives that are underway.
You may be interested to know that one of the recurring themes of the nine meetings we held across the country was the importance of mentoring the next generation of philanthropists. We know that young people are eager to help and to create a more fair and just world, so how do we encourage them to give? How do we unlock the generosity of new donors?
A number of creative suggestions have been made on how that might be done, and I would welcome your ideas on this important issue.
In addition to meetings on philanthropy, we have convened roundtables on professionalism in the voluntary sector, on co-operation between post-secondary education institutions and communities, and on youth engagement. A fourth gathering on corporate philanthropy is also in the works.
I would also like to briefly mention the Caring Canadian Award, which I have presented more than 300 times since April of last year, when the award was re-launched. The objective next year is to increase the number of caring Canadians being recognized by this award. Fortunately, we have no shortage of deserving recipients in this country.
As each of you knows, there is so much we can do to raise the philanthropic bar in Canada, but it will take a great deal of commitment, creativity and hard work by many people. I am confident, however, that we are equal to the task.
In a democratic society, everyone has something to give, and I want to thank each of you for your important contribution. The work that you are doing is making a real difference in people’s lives, whether they are beneficiaries, charitable organizations or donors themselves.
Through your important work, you have an opportunity to leave a legacy that will serve Canadians for years to come.
You can help to build the smarter, more caring nation of which we all dream.
I wish you the very best.