Marina’s Picks is a regular feature from CanadaHelps CEO, Marina Glogovac, highlighting some of the many charities she is personally passionate about. As a champion for smaller charities, Marina wants to help fellow Canadians discover some of the lesser known organizations that are working to make our communities better.
Below is an interview between Marina Glogovac and Bruce MacDonald, President and CEO of Imagine Canada. This interview has been briefly edited for length and clarity.
Marina Glogovac (MG): What does Imagine Canada do and what’s unique about it?
Bruce MacDonald (BM): Essentially, we seek to improve the operating environment in which social good takes place: charities, non-profits, social entrepreneurs. Our work affects the whole system so organizations can do more for their communities.
MG: How do you do this? What are some of the key activities that Imagine Canada engages in?
BM: We do it primarily in four different ways. One is the provision of data, research, information or knowledge—helping leaders have more information with which to make good decisions. Our experience is that they’re so busy running programs, raising money, and finding volunteers that trying to stay on top of all of the leading edge data coming out is really challenging. For us, the question is how do we provide this information in bite-sized, consumable ways to help leaders use it to their advantage.
The second area we try to influence is the policy environment in which organizations operate. We do business exclusively at the federal government level, and the way I like to describe it is that we specialize in the kind of public policy that affects organizations based on their common legal construct. For example, whether an organization supports the arts, environment, mental health, education, or religious activities, gifts to all these organizations offer the same tax credit. So that’s where we spend our time. I like to say we get the real sexy stuff: tax credits, political activities, anti-spam legislation… that’s where we spend our time. On the public policy issues that organizations have in common because they are structured as charities and nonprofits – tax credits, political activities, anti-spam legislation etc.
The third area of our work is around trust building. Through our Standards Program, we seek to provide organizations with the opportunity to earn and then showcase the highest level of good governance transparency and accountability. Canadians can feel confident that those accredited organizations are doing all they can to be good stewards of their time and money.
And then the fourth area, which for Imagine Canada is a more emergent one. We’ve been traditionally a business to business organization, meaning we deal with the leaders of charities. We’re keeping that but also starting to seek to engage with Canadians directly to invite them to think deeply about social good in this country. What does it mean if their daycare providers who are charities or non-profits don’t make it through the pandemic? What does it mean that donors are aging out? What does it mean if the future of generosity might prefer social enterprises over charities? What does it mean? We want people to actually think about these things as they relate to the future of their community.
MG: Average Canadians have their causes they donate to. Why should they care about you? Why should they appreciate that you’re there?
BM: We’re the quiet, behind-the-scenes folks who are helping shape the entire system. As an individual, why should they care? Because we might be able to get them more generous tax credits for their donation. If they care about a cause, we might be able to spur more people to give and be generous, which means their cause does better. Ultimately our work can help Canadians live and work in better, healthier, more sustainable communities.
MG: What is something that you’re particularly proud of that Imagine has achieved?
BM: I think if there’s an aspect of our work that I feel collectively proud of—what I mean is on behalf of our staff and Board— is that it feels like there’s been a raising of a consciousness in Canada about the importance of the services delivered by charities and nonprofits in their communities. I think we’ve played a part in that—we appeared in about 1,500 media stories last year throughout the pandemic. There seems to be more awareness, and a sense from Canadians that it’s important that our society has these organizations. The fact that we’ve been able to play a role in that is hugely gratifying.
MG: From your fairly unique vantage point—you have the big picture—what are the hurdles, the challenges, and the opportunities that are coming up for charities in the coming years?
BM: Well, I think we have to face the biggest hurdle coming up before we talk about opportunities to a certain degree. We’re concerned about what I refer to as “the gap,” which is the time between the end of the broad governmental support programs and the full restart of society and the economy.
For example, right now the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) is scheduled to end at the end of June. If that support disappears off a cliff—long before organizations can restart some of their traditional mechanisms like special event fundraising, door to door canvassing—this will be very challenging for our sector. As we think about what’s been happening with organizations since the start of the pandemic, it may be that the most challenging period is about to hit. I think that’s the big hurdle.
That being said, one of the things that I’m really intrigued with is that there is what I would call ‘silver linings in the pandemic cloud’ that I think have been emerging. One is the rise in online giving which appeals also to younger donors. So, are there ways for organizations to make online giving part of their DNA in the future?
I’m calling 2 to 3 organizations a week and I’m really struck with the level of ‘forced innovation’ that is likely going to be retained in the long term. I wouldn’t use the word permanent as I think we’ve learned that nothing is permanent. But where necessity required them to do business differently, it’s actually changing their business models—likely for the good. It’s been a terrible way to get there, but there may be some benefits.
MG: What message would you have for Canadians when it comes to donating to charities?
BM: My message to Canadians is: get in the game. We are witnessing a surge in demand for services. Canadians are coming to charities in increasing numbers—46% of organizations are reporting that they’ve seen an increase in demand for services— so it’s clear that Canadians want and need these services. Therefore, it also stands to reason that it’s clear that Canadians need to be part of the solution for the provision of those services— beyond their tax dollars. We need them to engage as volunteers, as talent experts, and as donors. Organizations need money to survive and hopefully one of the other long term effects might be that people realize the value of nonprofits. People who never thought they’d be standing in line for food banks have done so this year and they might appreciate that moment and become donors and support that food bank in the future. They may never use food banks again, but they’ll remember that moment in time where they turned to our sector and our sector was there for them.
To learn more about Imagine Canada and support their work, visit Imagine Canada’s Charity Profile Page.
I encourage you to check out and support this inspirational charity that is working so hard to support the community it works in. Learn more about Imagine Canada on their website, or make a gift through their CanadaHelps Charity Profile.