Last year, CFC undertook what is undoubtedly one of the most challenging exercises for any organization: renewing our purpose. An organization’s purpose is its lifeblood, its raison d’être. It answers the questions: “Why do we exist? What problems are we here to solve?” Many minds, hearts and hands took part in this exercise. I want to take some time to personally share with you what we learned and where we’ve landed. My team and I are excited for what’s ahead and hope you will be too!
Where we’ve come from
As many of you are aware, CFC was founded nearly thirty years ago to connect and support local community foundations working across the country. For close to three decades, we’ve carried out that mission proudly. The movement has grown considerably. Your impact is felt more each day.
Wherever you may be in Canada, I think we can all agree that our communities and world look quite different today than they did in 1992. In the last few decades, we’ve witnessed unprecedented technological and environmental change, a new and at times fractious road towards reconciliation and Indigenous rights, and greater diversity than at any other point in our history. Our future promises to be even more complex. It is my belief that the leadership of community foundations has never been more vital. Local solutions to global issues have never been more important. We are making a change because the world needs us to make a change.
Creating a new purpose together
When we set out to explore renewing our purpose, it was with these realities in mind. It was important for us to do it with the movement and our partners. We sought different perspectives on how CFC’s strengths might best serve, and where we faced weaknesses.
Hundreds of you have been instrumental in helping us get to answers. I want to express my thanks for the time that so many of you took to participate in this process. Your feedback — via surveys, interviews and conversations — has deepened and enriched our efforts.
Several things became clear for us along the way.
We saw, for example, how important it was to build on our shared history and to honour the deep (nearly centennial!) tradition of community philanthropy in Canada.
It also became evident that “belonging” is irrevocably part of our DNA. Since we began our belonging journey a few years ago, this concept has emerged as our north star, a framework for policy decisions and programming. A tool for storytelling and working with donors on the ground level. “Belonging” speaks to a wide range of issues across our collective work, ranging from economic and gender inequality, to reconciliation, to the social isolation of seniors or the exclusion of youth or culturally diverse populations, to name just a few. As we explored taking CFC’s purpose forward, we realized it was a concept we couldn’t abandon. It also tied nicely to another core priority, the Sustainable Development Goals, whose motto is “leave no one behind.”
Yet we also saw the need to infuse “belonging” with fresh energy. A bolder, more ambitious and forward-looking frame. Nuances that might speak to the radically inclusive lens we want to adopt and the perseverance that is core to the work of community foundations. We began workshopping it. Thus emerged a refreshed purpose:
You might say: “that sounds an awful lot like words we’ve used before.” You wouldn’t be wrong! Yet, it’s also different. For some time, we’ve been witnessing a new spirit and ethos to “belonging” in our work at CFC, and within that of many community foundations. We wanted the new purpose to reflect that.
Let me explain.
Since Belong 2017, many of us (to your credit) have begun deep work around reconciliation, for example. Spurred on by the TRC and others, we started to take an honest, long hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves tough questions. We began exploring the ways in which our own power and resources (and how we came by them) have perhaps contributed to the marginalization of others. Where, rather than supporting greater belonging, we have done quite the opposite and unintentionally furthered exclusion. We began exploring more questions like: Where might we shift the power into the hands of those who aren’t, and should be at the decision-making table? Are we representing the diversity of the communities we serve? If not, how might we do that better? Where else are we coming up short?
As philanthropic leaders in a relentless pursuit of belonging, this is our duty.
The work begins with us
We’ve realized that creating meaningful, authentic belonging starts far closer in than we initially thought. It begins in our own individual lives, families, teams and organizations. We must acknowledge how our own privilege can and has tripped us up in a pursuit of true belonging.
We also realized that it’s time to state, unequivocally, that leading inclusively is no longer a “nice to have” but indeed, a “must have.”
Our earlier version of belonging perhaps didn’t push the boundaries quite as firmly as we now see is necessary. To that end, we’re refreshing the purpose and doubling down on it.
We’ve got to find ways to leverage our unique strengths and work across sectors to address systemic issues.
We’ve got to find ways to hold each other accountable and to support true innovation when we see it. We must open ourselves up to greater listening and allyship.
We must take principled stands when it’s called for, and step aside to support and amplify others when it’s not our place to lead.
CEO of Community Foundations of Canada