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Community Foundations Of Canada With Andrew Chunilall

By July 8th, 2023No Comments21 min read
Home » Community Foundations Of Canada With Andrew Chunilall

There are many ways through which an individual or organization can measure the impact of philanthropy on the lives of the people it purports to affect. But at the end of the day, sometimes, what really matters most is that the change exists and is happening at the moment, and continues to happen. Andrew Chunilall is the Chief Executive Officer of Community Foundations of Canada, which focuses on creating system-level change on the issues that matter to Canadians. Douglas Nelson interviews Andrew about how foundations can create big changes in society. Make a big change in society today!

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Community Foundations Of Canada With Andrew Chunilall

Our guest on the show is Andrew Chunilall. He’s the Chief Executive Officer of the Community Foundations of Canada. Welcome, Andrew.

Thank you, Douglas. I’m glad to be part of the show.

For our few readers that may not know what the Community Foundations of Canada Organization is, can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you guys do?

There’s a global network of Community Foundations across the world, almost 2,000 institutions globally. There are 191 community foundations in Canada and those community foundations cover almost 90% of the Canadian population. The oldest community foundation, the first one in Canada was in Winnipeg. The Winnipeg Foundation is coming up on its Centennial celebration. That represents 100 years of the Canadian Community Foundation Movement. Each community foundation is independently led and governed by the community. The real benefit and value of that are that each community has the ability to decide what its priorities are. Developed very local expertise, knowledge, and able to connect philanthropy to the issues that matter most to each one of those communities. It’s a network that’s proliferated significantly. When the Community Foundations of Canada was established, there were less than 30 community foundations in Canada. We’ve grown that number by six times. It’s a very robust and strong network of philanthropic institutions.

You’ve been in your role as the CEO for many years. What are the changes that you’ve seen and what are the issues that are new now that weren’t the case or weren’t being dealt with when you became CEO?

Philanthropy and community organizations have changed the way Canada has changed. Click To Tweet

Philanthropy and community organizations have changed lock in step in much the same way that Canada has changed. The demographics of the country as everybody knows are shifting in dramatic ways. We are an aged country that has a significant impact on health care, long-term care and any type of service that’s directed to older people. We have a smaller proportion of our population that’s working and that creates a strain and an extra burden on the government. Philanthropy plays an important role in partnering and trying to alleviate a lot of those pressures but we also see a country that’s diversifying dramatically. Our birth rate is 1.7. The replacement rate is 2.1. The only portion of the Canadian population that has a high birth rate as in the indigenous population. It sits under five. When you combine that with an aged population, we are at risk of population decline, which means we are heavily reliant on immigration to have population neutrality. With an investment in immigration and we continue to the diverse multicultural plural society. One of the challenges of philanthropy is shifting into that diversity and engaging all Canadians in making community decisions and democratizing philanthropy.

In the role that you have and being able to see how 191 different community foundations are dealing with those issues, what are some of the best practices that you’re seeing in terms of recognizing the changing demographics and diversity of the Canadian population?

We have a lot of work to do but community foundations are deeply vested in diversifying. I would say radically diversifying their boards and their teams. Community Foundations of Canada has taken much effort to engage in the reconciliation process in Canada with indigenous and non-indigenous people. We are seeing that more and more boards who have representation from indigenous communities are seeking to have a gender balance on their teams and boards. Reaching out to those communities where philanthropy traditionally hasn’t reached out to. Ensuring those marginalized communities and younger generations are being represented within the community decision-making process. Once you have that level of diversity and inclusion, you tend to get optimal results in how you exercise philanthropy and advance social outcomes in those communities.

I would certainly echo that the organizations that we work across the country that do reflect the diversity in age, ethnicity and gender. Those organizations are the ones that are having the most dynamic, interesting conversations about the role of philanthropy and the role of mission-based organizations. The ones that have not yet gone down that path or have failed to do so tend to be stuck in a different place. The conversations they’re having are a little stale. In a lot of ways, the revenue reflects that. On the podcast, we’ve had a number of CEOs of community foundations across the country. One of the things that come to the fore in all of their conversations is how incredibly rooted in their local community organizations are. It’s not only in the name, but it’s often in the way that they operate on a day-to-day basis and all of their granting and their conversation with donors. From a national perspective, how do you pull that diversity of local experience together into a coherent whole or a place where people could share best practices?

We refer to our community foundations as a network and as a movement. We do so because we recognize that although these institutions, as you say, are deeply-rooted in local, there’s a role to play when we bring them all together and how we can act regionally, provincially and across Canada. Issues like I mentioned with reconciliation but in addition to that, climate change and the welcoming of newcomers and setting a new pathway and a vision for Canadians across the country in terms of how we look at city building or investments in rural and small midsize communities across the country all require a collective effort. We’ve got many good examples of how that’s happened in the past. A number of years ago, you’ll recall that Canada welcomed well over 30,000 refugees from Syria. The Community Foundation Network came together.

We identified where those refugees were going and then help direct resources and leverage and social capital into those communities to provide for the rapid and healthy integration of those Syrian refugees into all communities. That was a coordinated effort across our network where people were sharing best practices, reaching out to one another, staying connected and developing a lot of intelligence around how we can welcome newcomers and provide job training education and a feeling of belonging. A lot of these folks were uprooted because of war resettlement in a new country, a different culture, language is extremely traumatic and challenging. Having those community foundations working together was critical.

One of my observations about the Community Foundation Movement has been that you get these great organizations who are dedicated professionals leading them and working in them with great boards. They’re often fairly anonymous in their community in terms of the profile that they have. Is that inherent in the movement you think that humility or understated way of being or is that an opportunity for these organizations to tell their story in a louder voice?

It’s an interesting pattern that you’ve identified. I think there is a tremendous amount of humility. I also think that Community Foundations understand the importance of collaboration in the community and their role in collaborating although we see ourselves as leaders in the community, we’re careful not to crowd out other leaders as well. Oftentimes, you’ll find us behind the scenes very influential and very active, but we like to see that those that are doing the important work on the ground or being profiled and recognized for what they’re doing. That’s part of our culture and our brand. We fundamentally believe that the true leaders in the community, those people that are working in front lines and within those agencies are the ones that need to be out front and center.

It must be the attention that happens around at least 191 board tables, but that would be often being one of the larger organizations in a community or among the larger organizations. A number of the CEOs that I’ve spoken with say, “We’re not a fundraising organization.” Yet in terms of receipt of dollars, they’re one of the often one of the largest in their community. How do leaders in the movement balance that? What is the approach to balancing that need to receive those funds to continue to do the good work without being viewed as competing with other operational charities?

The Community Foundations have a very specific business model. They’re engaging and developing relationships with a specific type of philanthropy and donor. For the most part, there aren’t a lot of other available options for those donors other than a community foundation or establishing a private foundation on their own or going to a financial institution and engaging in commercial gift funds. It’s a very narrow field. We don’t believe that that takes away in any way from what others are doing. As you know, our business model is predicated on supporting other charities, non-profits and communities and helping them in whatever way possible. We see that a very strong and vibrant charitable sector in any community is key to that particular community’s resilience and ability to advance the outcomes that they want to see improve.

Community foundations are the holders of significant amounts of financial capital. Click To Tweet

What we’ve seen in the donors that we’ve worked with is that people who are often donors, they have a fund at the community foundations and are actively involved in other organizations as well during their life. They may choose to leave their estate to the community foundation so that that can continue on in perpetuity. The donors don’t seem to see it as a choice between one or the other because they’re often selecting both. In my experience in the United States working in a hospital there and reading the headlines that Fidelity was the largest charity in the world. The growth of these commercial gift funds or donor-advised funds that are offered through financial institutions has become a part of the conversation here in Canada. What are you hearing from Community Foundations about how they’re managing those conversations with prospective donors when donors are choosing between commercial DAF and a fund with the community foundations?

It is the difference between wanting to have a transactional relationship with your philanthropy and that’s where commercial gift funds do an excellent job. They’re quite efficient at the transactional level whereas a community foundation will offer their transactional plus the relational. It has its ability to take the donor into some very specific issues in a local community. You could look at a small community, you could look at Whistler, BC, West Vancouver, or Grand Prairie. We have institutions, community foundations in those communities that have diverse boards, exceptional leadership and a ton of knowledge that’s been created and accumulated over many years.

When a donor comes in and is seeking advice on where they want to have an impact, that community foundation is bringing all that to bear in the decision-making process and in the advisor process. If we’re talking about Fidelity, I don’t know that Fidelity has people on the ground in Whistler, in Grand Prairie or in West Vancouver developing knowledge, experience and social capital that will help their customers. It’s more of a centralized process that sends money out. The process that we run as more bottoms up, it’s decentralized, it’s about knowledge, social capital and relationships.

Would you like to see community foundations doing more to promote that local expertise and their ability to convene groups around particular issues that they’re doing?

I can appreciate there’s a perception that we’re not advocating or our voice is not loud enough in that particular niche that we operate in or our value proposition. I would argue the contrary. I think we are doing a lot. We don’t run big campaigns and you won’t see commercials or billboards. Our people are actively involved in conversations every day. We’re talking about the value of community foundations. We’re developing those relationships primarily through professional advisors. These would be financial advisors, accountants, lawyers and insurance professionals. All of those people have some level of knowledge and understanding of the community foundation and then are able to help and assist their own clients and philanthropy. We receive much inbound professional advisers and bringing in new donors and new partners to the community foundation platform.

When you bring your 191 community foundations together or some subset of them, you mentioned the issues around diversity and demographics. Are there other issues in philanthropy that are coming to the fore right now that they have different foundations that are taking different approaches on?

There’s so much happening around philanthropy. We’re in this time where philanthropy is being looked at with a critical point of view. A lot of the issues that we’re grappling with in Canada and throughout the world are consequences of this proliferation of inequality. There a lot of discussion around capitalism and whether the version of capitalism that has brought us here that has created a tremendous amount of wealth and prosperity, particularly in the Western world, is that the type of capitalism that’s going to take us forward. I think where philanthropy, particularly Community Foundations are looking at, is what’s our role in understanding that? What I mean by that is Community Foundations are the holders of significant amounts of financial capital.

We talked about donors as well. Those donors and that capital is a consequence of capitalism. We’ve been reliant upon that to build our own base and to legitimize ourselves as players in the community. The extension of that is we also invest that capital in the capital markets to earn a return on investment that provides for granting in the community that provides for all sorts of leadership initiatives in the community that keeps the lights on and that pays for staff and those are good things. There is a consequence of that same capitalism that is creating some of the challenges that we’re also trying to solve on the back end. It’s an interesting paradox for us to consider. We also see that there’s a significant amount of growth, particularly from this younger generation in social enterprise. These are organizations, corporations, non-profits that have a varied bottom line that can have an environmental focus, a social focus, and a profitable focus. We see that as something that is very much on the future agenda for impact in this country and across the world.

Is there a role for community foundations in helping to grow those social enterprises? 

Community Foundations of Canada has a partnership with the federal government and has established the investment readiness fund. This is a fund we are one of five partners across the country and the holders of around $50 million collectively to help ready the field of impact practitioners across Canada for investments in social enterprises. We’re in the early stages of it. Our federal government and our sector realize the importance of this and advancing outcomes in a new way in Canada.

Foundations are a function of capitalism. Click To Tweet

It’s on the top of mind of a lot of boards and a lot of the organizations that we’re working with when we’re doing strategic planning exercises. The question of should we get into a social enterprise? I normally try to move the agenda along at that point because that’s not where you want to start that conversation at a strategic planning retreat. I think more and more organizations and boards are going to need to get their heads around what it means to have that diversified income in order to sustain services and community or deliver on the mission they have. Is there a role for the community foundation in supporting other organizations as they go down that path?

There’s a unique challenge with social enterprises and that’s their ability to raise capital. They’re caught in this unknown place, so they’re not a for-profit corporation. The ability to issue share capital, to take on debt and to seek investment is very challenging. How did these social enterprises attract capital to do the work that they want to do? On the other side of it, they’re not surely charities either. They don’t necessarily attract donors or government funding in the same way that others do. That’s another alternative to raising capital that they’re shut out of in many ways. They’re caught in between. That’s an opportunity for organizations like Community Foundations. There’s 191 of them collectively. We would hold somewhere around $6 billion of assets at the Canadian wide level. Some of that capital can be activated and invested in that market that’s looking for capital to do good. A lot of our leaders and boards are grappling with how we can make that happen in a responsible way and in a way that achieves the outcomes that we want and attracts new learnings and new possibilities about the future.

I imagine those are difficult conversations around the board because the chair of the investment committee’s mandate is to maximize the return, so there’s more money available to invest in the priorities of the foundation and the priorities of the donors. Often investing in social enterprise isn’t the way to maximize the return, at least in the short-term.

I hear maximizing returns a lot. The interesting thing about foundations is that they’re a function of capitalism. We can go back to the very first foundations in the United States, the Rockefeller, the Ford, and the Carnegie Foundations. The foundations that still exist. They were created by the most successful capitalists of the time. In doing so within our DNA, there is a bit of that mindset about maximizing return or investments and it’s part of who we are. At the same time, that’s not why we exist. We don’t exist to maximize returns, we exist to advance the outcomes that are most important to the communities in which we serve and operate. Maximizing returns can be a tool to get us there. It’s not the end game though. You can have 15% to 20% returns, but if you’re not having an impact in the community, then you’re not serving your purpose.

One of the other phrases that I know you love in this sector is funds under management. When you talk to a number of community foundations, if you get a few of those CEOs in the same room, that’s something that they talk about is, how big is the foundation? What are the funds under management? What’s your take on using funds under management as a criterion or a measure of success of a community foundation?

I have to go back to our DNA and capitalism. Funds under management are the terminology that you would use or that comes from the mutual fund industry or the investment banking industry. It’s a measure of their success. When they say funds under management, they always want to maximize their number because they’re asset aggregators. That is a key success measure for the investment world. It’s easy to conflate community foundations with an investment management focus or orientation. We are not that. We do aggregate assets, but it’s not what we’re about. We aggregate assets as a means of achieving something much greater in the community.

Some of the most impactful community foundations in this country or in the world are the ones that have much fewer assets because to make an impact, you can do a variety of other things other than grants. It comes down to engaged boards, engaged donors, engaged community people who will mobilize and bring all sorts of capital, not just financial capital around an issue and make something happen. We’re in the impact game. An impact can be achieved through a variety of ways that go well beyond financial.

One of the things that we hear a lot from boards is we need to grow, we need to get bigger. I always say, “More is not a strategy.” The more that you can focus on, the impact you want to have in maximizing that. That doesn’t mean doing it more often or more deeply for more people, it could be making sure others see the example that you’re setting and can emulate it in their own way. The chase for more fundraising dollars and more funds under management isn’t the end. It’s not the purpose. It does reflect in a lot of ways, the success of an organization and that a lot of the community who has viewed it as a place where that can be trusted with those resources. It’s that balance that I’m sure community foundations all have to face and they find themselves on one side of the scale or the other at different times.

I’m a chartered accountant by trade. When I first started working in this sector, I was struggling with the amount of attention, boards and leadership placed on financial statements in assessing the success or failure of their particular foundation or organization. The financial statements and the nonprofit sector are not a scorecard for impact. They’re an indicator for a variety of other things but they do not measure impact. Their purpose was never to measure impact. It was to measure the financial capacity and health of an organization. Oftentimes, when we use that as a measure of success, we strengthen an organization. We provide more capital and stability to that organization because we focus on those metrics. Just because you strengthen an organization, it doesn’t mean you strengthen the community. That’s where we have to develop new metrics and new scorecards and a lot of community foundations have done this including the one in Vancouver that goes beyond the traditional financial statements and tests out impact measurements in the community that shows the true nature of their investments and the type of progress they’re having.

The organizations that are most successful in that or will be most successful in that are the ones that don’t come from a place of being defensive where they say, “Don’t look at our finances. That’s not where the impact is measured. Look at us for something else.” It’s important that organizations understand that’s where how a lot of donors have been trained to understand their success and find a way to incorporate those financial measures with their community impact measures so that people can feel confident when they do leave the legacy or do make a gift to the foundations.

We’ve been trained in philanthrocapitalism and a lot of our languages, you mentioned funds under management. The way that we look at businesses is often the same way that we look at charities, foundations and non-profits. They’re two very different things and we can’t conflate them.

As we come to the end of our conversation, I want to ask you to give advice to two completely hypothetical people that I’m going to make up right now. The first is someone who is about to join the board of a community foundation. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to give back to the community, is joining a community foundation board? What are the questions they should be asking? What are the issues they should be aware of as they take their place at the board table?

The most important question to ask is how does the community determine its priorities? What engagement conversations, data collection, trends and where you are getting your information from that informs the most pressing issues in the community? The second item which is attached to that is how is the community foundation trying to make an impact in those areas? That forms the focus of the board. That informs whether that particular individual can be passionate about getting behind the community foundation and whether that meets their specific philanthropic needs and endeavors.

The second person would be someone who’s coming in as the new CEO of a mid to large size community foundation. They’re new to the community, they’ve been hired to take this on, what should they be looking to accomplish in their first 30, 60 or 90 days?

Being out in the community, any community foundation CEO has to find the right networks and collaborations in order to have an impact. That’s maximizing the number of conversations you’re in, the number of places you’re going to 30, 60, 90 days or whatever the timeframe is. The more people, the better. You’ll find that those relationships will become an important part of how you start to have an impact over the long-term.

The final question is you’ve got 191 members of your network. Who’s your favorite?

I’ll answer the question the same way that I do it for my daughters, which is to say you’re both my second favorite. In that way, they can always compete to see who will rise to number one.

You give them something to shoot for. That works better in parenting than it does with community foundations. Andrew, thank you so much for sharing this perspective in this education in the Community Foundation Movement in Canada. Your repeated reminders and reference points to staying rooted in the community, reflecting the community and focusing on the impact of these organizations can have is a great reminder of the positive benefit that philanthropy can play in Canada and around the world.

Thank you, Douglas. I was happy to have the conversation. I appreciate the opportunity to participate.

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About Andrew Chunilall

Andrew joined Community Foundations Canada in 2013 and became CEO in 2017, following a six-year tenure as Vice-President of Finance for the London Community Foundation and his long-standing service as a finance and regulatory expert for Canada’s philanthropic milieu. Now at the head of the community foundation movement, Andrew is working closely with the Community Foundations of Canada Leadership team, Board and foundations in Canada and abroad to help the philanthropic sector transform, innovate and meet the new challenges and opportunities of the 21st century. An increasingly active public speaker, Andrew is helping raise awareness for how the philanthropic sector’s convening power, leadership and action around targets such as the Sustainable Development Goals can help Canadian communities reach their full potential.

Outside of Community Foundations of Canada, Andrew has been highly active in the nonprofit community for 15 years, serving on numerous boards including Community Living London and Art for AIDS International. In 2014, he was appointed to the Board of the Southwest Local Health Integration Network by former Minister of Health, Deb Matthews. In 2015, he was among 250 selected emerging leaders to participate in the Governor General’s Canadian Leadership Conference. He recently joined the Board of WINGS, the global network of grantmaker associations and philanthropic support organizations.

With a background in education in economics and commerce, Andrew obtained his chartered accountant designation in 2002 and began his career at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP as a manager in the Assurance and Advisory Group.