Governor General’s Conference on Giving: Working Together for the Common Good
Rideau Hall, Thursday, April 27, 2017
I’d like to welcome all of you to Rideau Hall for this conference on giving.
We’re here during National Volunteer Week to discuss and share ideas of where giving is headed, how we can encourage Canadians to give and how we can build sustainable giving in the long term.
For me, this day is very personal. Almost seven years ago, in October 2010, I said in my installation speech that volunteerism and philanthropy are essential to a smart and caring nation.
Since that day, I have travelled to every province and every territory.
And what I’ve seen is truly a smart and caring nation.
You would think, then, that I would have a solid grasp on the idea of giving, but to define it is still quite tricky.
I’ve seen giving evolve and change into something wholly different than what my grandparents were accustomed to when they would tithe the first 10 per cent of their income to charitable causes.
New technologies, for example, have made giving easier but have also presented their fair share of challenges. It is wonderful that we can show our support of a cause through likes and retweets, but we must go further if we want to make a real and lasting impact.
From what I’ve seen, while there are common elements to how and why people give, there is no single approach. Instead, we have targeted and innovative giving that meets the specific needs of a community.
And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my time as governor general, it’s this: giving is transformative.
I’ve met with Canadians of all ages and backgrounds who are opening their hearts and giving back in countless ways.
Their giving not only has changed lives—including their own—but also has the potential to change whole communities.
I saw it in Fogo Island, Newfoundland and Labrador, through the Shorefast Foundation, which is helping to diversify the economy of this rural community, which was once almost solely dependent upon the cod fishery.
Thanks in part to the work of this foundation, Fogo Island is preserving its traditions and culture and creating new opportunities for residents.
Giving can start at a very young age. Consider the example of Hannah Taylor of Winnipeg, who at age five wondered why there were homeless and hungry people when there was so much to share. So she decided to do something about it and recruited a bunch of volunteers and givers.
Today, more than ten years later, her organization, the Ladybug Foundation, has helped to raise millions of dollars for projects across the country, including shelters and food banks.
Transformation driven by need and inspired by individuals affecting an entire community.
That’s the power of philanthropy.
That’s the power of volunteerism.
But we cannot be complacent.
We have a unique challenge facing us.
Canadians are generous. I’ve seen this. You’ve seen this.
We care deeply about causes and are smart about how we give.
But too few Canadians are actively involved. Too many are sitting on the sidelines. Too many do not have the right motivation to give.
How do we change this?
By finding the right inspiration.
Let me share a story with you.
When I was the dean of law at Western University I gave the introduction to each incoming class. I said, “You are about to enter a noble profession. You will develop precious skills. Try to give 10 per cent of your time to pro bono work. I guarantee that as much as you enjoy the 90 per cent of your regular work you will enjoy the 10 per cent even more.”
Years later, many of the graduates would come back to me and say:
“Dean, I just couldn’t give 10 per cent of my time, but the 3–4 per cent that I was able to give was always the most meaningful. And I’m trying harder.”
I love that story 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. This kind of generosity leads to a wonderful reciprocity of giving, a virtuous circle.
That is what motivates people to give—that feeling that you’ve done something meaningful and fulfilling for yourself and others.
The question becomes how do you encourage that? How do you harness that energy? How do you move people from watching to doing? How do we go from ‘what’ to ‘so what’ to ‘now what’?
All of you who are gathered here today know exactly how to do this. You’ve been successful in persuading people to become actively involved.
You’re non-profit and corporate leaders, academics and public servants and you’re here to help us strengthen our giving culture. You’re here because you know that this is an issue that affects all of us.
I would also like to mention that today marks another milestone: the closing of the My Giving Moment campaign.
This national social-marketing initiative gave rise to a new community of Canadians who shared their stories online and on social media platforms to inspire people to get involved. I’m truly thankful to all of the partners who have joined us on this journey—many of whom are here with us today. And I thank the Rideau Hall Foundation for your commitment to giving and for taking on what was started with this campaign.
So where do we go from here?
We go further.
Let us not be satisfied with the status quo. We should strive for something better, something stronger.
As communities and as a country, we must innovate and find creative ways to give.
Giving, after all, is a form of nation-building—that which puts people first.
Let’s continue to use our talents, our expertise, our energy to create a new national approach to understand and motivate giving in Canada.
I encourage you to take this opportunity to meet new people, to learn from different experiences and sectors, and to help us pinpoint the questions we still need to ask.
I look forward to learning from your perspectives.