20 Questions with Marina Glogovac, President and CEO of CanadaHelps

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As CanadaHelps  celebrates our 20th anniversary,  get to know our President and CEO, Marina Glogovac! Marina has been leading CanadaHelps through rapid growth and expansion for the last eight years. She is passionate about charities and their essential role in Canada, as well as our mission to democratize access to effective technology and education in the charitable sector. Under her leadership, CanadaHelps has almost tripled the donations we facilitate for charities and dramatically expanded our offerings for both charities and donors. Her dedication to connecting donors to the charities and causes that matter to them is inspiring. 

Head shot of CanadaHelps President and CEO, Marina Glogovac

Here are 20 questions in honour of our 20th anniversary to help you learn a little more about Marina!

1. What do you love the most about your role at CanadaHelps?

I love working alongside a team at CanadaHelps made up of people with a shared vision, and who share my passion, values and desire to enable social impact through technology. I also feel very lucky to get to speak directly to charities and love hearing about the impact that CanadaHelps has had on their work.

2. Reflecting on your 8 years at CanadaHelps, is there a particular moment or memory from your time that stands out?

Looking back now, it is hard to believe how much we were able to accomplish. We pushed really hard to launch so much for charities and donors on a shoestring budget and there were times, like when trying to launch our Donor Management System for charities to help them manage relationships with their supporters, that I wasn’t sure we could pull some of the things off. But we did it, and it made us all proud.

3. Why did you make the move to the charitable sector and what surprised you when you arrived?

I made the move because I spent a long time in for-profit organizations and I wanted to reconnect with the idealism of my youth—I wanted to work in a purpose-driven organization that generates social good, and improves the world. 

What surprised me was just how underfunded charities are, and yet, they are able to survive and accomplish so much. I felt a responsibility to help, knowing how critical their work is for our communities. People from for-profit organizations should learn from charities how to punch over and above, with so little.

4. What is one thing you think everyone should know about CanadaHelps that they might not already be aware of?

Often people know only one part about CanadaHelps, and usually that is our website, www.canadahelps.org, because that is what we had for the first 13 years. But we do so much more. We offer charities a full suite of fundraising software — customizable donation forms, peer-to-peer and ticketed events tools, and a full Donor Management System. We also invest a significant amount of resources into charity education because we know those skills are an essential complement to the software.

5. What is one thing people may be surprised to learn about you?

My original background is actually in academia and the arts! I initially came to Canada to join a corporeal mime troupe, which is a physical theatre technique. We travelled Canada performing. I am also a voracious reader and love to write, and for a period I wrote book reviews for Quill and Quire.

6. How do you decide where to donate? Do you have a specific cause close to your heart?

I have many causes close to my heart. I am particularly passionate about supporting Type 1 Diabetes because my son is diabetic, as well as charities that rescue or otherwise support animals. But I am also often inspired by amazing people which can drive me to give. For example, people who decide to turn hardships into something amazing. The sector is so full of those stories, and it shows us the inspiring and uplifting side of humanity.

7. What does a typical day in the life of Marina Glogovac look like at CanadaHelps?

I spend a lot of time in Zoom meetings these days! Beyond meeting with my team, I’ve been trying to stay connected to the broader CanadaHelps staff individually since I can’t see them in person. I’m also often meeting with people in the sector, and with charities to better understand what is happening right now from different perspectives.  

8. Why do you think CanadaHelps so important to Canadian society?

In this digital age, CanadaHelps ensures that a) donors can connect effectively with every single Canadian charity online and b) all charities regardless of size, can use technology to increase their impact. We provide access to technology and know-how — and these have become things that will make or break charities in the future. It’s become especially obvious during COVID that we provide critical infrastructure for tens of thousands of charities in Canada and we know we can’t let them down.

9. What is your first memory of arriving in Canada in 1987 and how has that memory shaped your view of Canada?

I was struck by the natural beauty of Canada, the people, and the generosity and peacefulness here. I grew up in the former Yugoslavia, which was a highly contentious place. As an outsider coming to Canada, it struck me that this is one of the places that has the best chance of peaceful coexistence among different people, relative to other places. We can’t take that for granted.

10. What advice would you give to Canadians looking to start their own giving strategy?

I encourage everyone to set up monthly gifts at the beginning of the year. This method is the easiest on your budget, and gives charities reliable, predictable revenue to plan their programs around.

11. Describe an a-ha moment from when you knew the work you were doing was making an impact.

Early in my time at CanadaHelps, I received a handwritten Christmas card from a sea turtle rescue. Our team was deep in building software and setting up marketing infrastructure, that it was easy to get tunnel vision. Hearing from this charity how much we had helped them really helped me focus on why we were doing what we were doing and what more we could be doing.  In the years since, I’ve realized we have a real role to play in bridging the gap between the digital have and have nots.

12. What is the best advice you have ever been given?

The first is that you’re not always going to be ready to take on something new. Take the leap anyway. The second is to get comfortable saying “I don’t know” – this is not a weakness, but an opportunity for learning and growth.

13. What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the Canadian charitable sector?

The biggest hurdle for charities and other smaller organizations right now, especially in light of COVID, is the urgency of reconfiguring their internal capacities and knowledge in order to be able to operate effectively in the digital economy.

14. How can Canadians help the charities and causes they love have a more sustainable future. What is your advice to Canadians wanting to make a difference?

The need is great right now, so I would urge all Canadians who can give to do so generously. Monthly giving is an easy way to help a lot while keeping the impact on your household budget manageable. I’d also encourage you to get engaged with a cause or charity you’re interested in — find out more about what they do, their needs, and spread the world. Finally, if you are someone with the highly sought after (and expensive) skills charities need right now, consider volunteering your expertise.

15. How do you think COVID-19 will change how charities operate in Canada?

It has already changed how charities operate — many charities have adapted,  innovated, and changed their models to be more sustainable. COVID accelerated the digital trends that already existed and charities were forced to adapt quickly. It is important to remember that technology adoption is not the goal though, but instead a means to an end. Charities have a unique understanding of how to help vulnerable populations and causes, and those assets are even more important as we face the world post-COVID and it’s greater inequalities.

16. Do you have any hobbies outside of work?

I love to walk (especially when dogs are involved) and I’m a voracious reader. I’m reading all the time! I love gathering knowledge, I’m curious about a huge range of topics.

17. What do you think is a misconception about working in the charitable sector?

Charity is haunted by a patriarchal framework of charity as handouts from the Victorian era.  Philanthropy needs to take a hard look at its colonial roots, how we view the work. Charities and nonprofits are building social good and that has immense and irreplaceable value.

18. Is there something you wish you knew more about?

The cosmos and exactly how black holes work.

19. What qualities do you think make up a successful leader?

Self-reflection, decisiveness, the ability to relate to different types of people and have empathy,  ambition, and the ability to suspend assumptions and keep learning.

20. What advice would you give to someone interested in working at a charity?

Do it. It’s really a meaningful and rewarding way to spend your life and your career! I found it made me a more whole person. Working in this sector helps you gain wisdom, perspective, and empathy. It is also some of the most interesting, challenging, and exciting work I’ve done.

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