Wanted: Big picture thinkers in a ‘right now’ worldMonday, January 27th, 2014 | Ian Bird
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A recent article in the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business stated that ‘forever is out of fashion’ – a pithy way of saying that individuals and organizations who are interested in making a real difference are no longer focused on the long-term and, more specifically, perpetuity.
Forever, may be out of fashion for some, but it’s certainly alive and well at the 191 community foundations across Canada, where donors of all means are quietly building a nest egg for their communities to the tune of $3.3 billion, and growing. It’s a fascinating double standard that Canadian investors are constantly encouraged to take the long view, to consider their long-term plan. Why should investors in community be any different?
In fact, one of the largest foundations in Canada, Vancouver Foundation, has been around for 70 years precisely because its first donor, a savvy secretary named Alice MacKay, insisted that her $1,000 donation be invested in perpetuity. She recognized she could give $1,000 and have it spent and gone, or she could invest $1,000 and have it give forever. It’s incredible to think that Alice’s gift is still giving to B.C. charities seven decades later.
It’s startlingly simplistic to make good giving an ‘either/or’ situation. Sometimes immediate giving is the answer – take for instance The Calgary Foundation’s flood rebuilding fundestablished this year. The fund responded to the urgent need in Calgary communities. But it didn’t stop there – along with reacting to critical needs, the foundation’s endowment also allows it to play a role in the longer term planning that Calgary needs to avoid similar catastrophes.
The Globe article also talks about inefficiencies, but what’s more efficient in capital markets than pooling funds for greater growth and earnings? That’s exactly what long-term investing allows you to do.
Because community foundations now have access to a significant pool of community-based capital, we’re also able to lead change within the philanthropic sector when it comes to ‘impact investing’. We’re putting our invested dollars to work in new ways – such as micro loans, and mission-related investments, to name a few – making sure every dollar is working even harder for communities.
And we have barely touched on what thinking about the long-term – or forever – means for building better communities. When we look at the crumbling infrastructure in some of our major urban centres, or tackling complex issues like poverty, we see the impact of short term thinking. In our ‘right now’ world there’s clearly still plenty of room, and plenty of need, for big picture thinking.
Now, it’s your turn. Tell us what taking a long term view has meant in your community. What have you been able to accomplish that couldn’t have happened using a short-term lens? We’d love to hear your stories of big picture thinking in a ‘right now’ world– and about the donors who share that view.