Towards a Framework for Cross-Sectoral Engagement in Fundraising

As an Inclusion and Philanthropy Fellow I have given the topic of inclusive leadership in the fundraising sector much thought. Initiatives such as this fellowship program are indicative of the Ontario Government and the fundraising sector’s commitment to enhance diverse, equitable and inclusive leadership. To realize this aim, it is essential that a robust framework for disciplined and strategic cross-sectoral engagement be developed that enables the fundraising sector to capitalize on its natural linkages to other sectors and learn from their efforts to enhance inclusive leadership within their structures.

It is opportune to have these conversations and discussions now, at the cusp of a new political moment in Canada in which there is great diversity in the Cabinet of Ministers in Federal Government. For example, there is greater Sikh representation in the current Canadian Cabinet than in India’s National Government. This juncture, which represents a watershed in Canadian history, provides a golden opportunity to the fundraising sector to work towards transcending parameters of creed, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and physical ability to mainstream inclusiveness and lived experiences of diverse Canadians within its leadership.

The changing nature of Canada’s demographics is undeniable – by 2031 it is expected that approximately 28% of the population will be born outside Canada and the majority (~60%) of Toronto and Vancouver’s populace will be comprised of visible minorities (Statistics Canada, 2011). This reality makes it imperative that the fundraising sector’s leadership (as well as rank and file) be able to tap into the multi-cultural fabric of society. Enhancing diversity and inclusion in fundraising will not only augment the sector’s innovation, creativity, cultural agility and ability to tap more efficiently into the diverse Canadian workforce but also more fundamentally, allow philanthropy to take on a more inclusive hue, one that is reflective of the communities that it works with.

Cognizant of the fact that the complex issue of diverse and inclusive leadership is not unique to the fundraising sector and in an effort to gain a more nuanced understanding of this issue, I have had several thought provoking conversations with leaders in both the for-profit (FP) and the not-for-profit (NFP) sectors who are experienced at enhancing inclusive leadership in their domains. These ongoing conversations have awakened me to the successes and failures of similar initiatives undertaken by other sectors. These conversations have also reinforced the fact that in order for fundraising to strengthen its sectoral identity as well as enhance its efficiency and effectiveness, it must grapple with several fundamental questions – one of them being the issue of enhancing inclusive leadership.

It is undisputable that the fundraising sector is embedded in various other industries. According to the 2013 report titled ‘State of the Sector: Profile of Ontario Not-for-Profit and Charitable Organizations’ 33% of the 3,567 NFP organizations that were surveyed – 1,177 organizations, across 13 specializations running the gamut from Sports and Recreation to International Development to Social Services – reported having fundraising (including grant-making and voluntarism) units. This unprecedented cross-sectorality is fertile learning ground to critically analyse the success and failures of these organizations in pertinent domains. For example, the experiences of Social Service organizations in promoting inclusive leadership could prove very useful to the fundraising sector. An analysis of the operationalisation of The Ontario Public Service (OPS)’s ‘Inclusion Strategic Plan 2013-16’ to make the workforce of Ontario’s 60,000+ public servants a more diverse and inclusive environment can provide several adaptable learnings for the fundraising sector to undertake similar high – level planning.

Furthermore, philanthropy must not only limit itself to the NFP sector in its quest for answers to complex questions; the lessons learned from the successes of the private sector in enhancing diversity among its rank and file could also be very powerful. The experiences of organisations such as the Royal Bank of Canada and Shell Canada, to name just a few, in promoting inclusive leadership through initiatives such as the ‘Employee Resource Groups’ (which provide a forum for employees with shared backgrounds to come together to form networks for peer support and professional growth) and ‘Senior Women Connect Program’ (aimed at supporting women leaders) respectively can also provide valuable insights.

A robust framework for cross-sectoral engagement would not only promote the inflow of ideas into the fundraising space, but it would also create opportunities for the systematic outflow of thought leadership and innovation from the fundraising sector on a wide range of topics such as building and managing human capital including the development of volunteer hub networks, harnessing technology including gaming platforms for greater social engagement, leveraging innovative financing models such as social impact bonds, to name just a few, thereby creating a truly permeable membrane between the fundraising sector and the rest of the NFP and FP sectors that cohabit similar spaces in the knowledge economy. This outflow would also enhance philanthropy’s visibility and participation in the knowledge economy where ideas are both cache and currency.

It therefore behoves the fundraising sector’s leadership to develop a cross-sectoral engagement framework that enables philanthropy to successfully grapple with fundamental questions facing it such as the issue of enhancing inclusive leadership. It is my hope that through open discussions such as this, the fundraising sector will continue to be self-aware and critically self-examine, both of which are sine qua non for long-term relevance, growth and sustainability.