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Social Profit Sector Perspectives On Change And Innovation with Paul Nazareth

By July 8th, 2023No Comments26 min read
Home » Social Profit Sector Perspectives On Change And Innovation with Paul Nazareth

DSP 23 | Change In Social Profit


As the world offers more means for people to help, the social profit sector has come to adapt to it. Paul Nazareth, the Vice President of Education and Development for the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, opens up the doors to take us into the perspectives on change and innovation in social profit. With the rise of crowdfunding, the sector has undeniably been feeling the weight of competition. Instead of complaining about it, Paul took this as an opportunity to understand and learn from. He talks a little bit about what he is seeing in the marketplace, how important it is for organizations to have that sense of the big picture, and how donors could make gifts of a lifetime. On the leadership side, Paul shares where leaders can find new ideas or inspiration.

Listen to the podcast here:

Social Profit Sector Perspectives On Change And Innovation with Paul Nazareth

It’s a time for people to sit back and think about the work that they do, the family that they love and the lives that they’re leading. I thought it would be great to have the most connected person in philanthropy, Paul Nazareth. He’s the Vice President of Education and Development for the Canadian Association of Gift Planners and truly the great connector in our sector. Welcome to the show, Paul.

Thank you so much.

It is great to have you here. I want to start with the hard-hitting question. Paul, what is Netwalking?

Netwalking is something I’ve been doing for a little under a decade and came to me from one of the globe’s most recognized thinkers, a woman by the name of Nilofer Merchant. She had a TED Talk called Sitting is the New Smoking. At the time, I was working in a cubicle in a bank as a philanthropic adviser working in donor-advised funds and realizing, “That’s it, I’ve got to get moving.” Right from then, I started holding walking meetings. I’ve been spending how many years sitting in coffee shops. I held a public Netwalking event. I do it once a summer and invite a good group of about 30 to 50 people out. It’s a walking workshop. It’s very structured and guided that allows for creativity and collision between adjacent industries. I try to get entrepreneurs, philanthropy professionals but also strategic thinkers out to this to help people think outside of the conference box.

Tell me a story about one of the conversations you’ve had at a previous Netwalking event.

What I’m proud of now after doing this for almost a decade is what’s happened since is people are having ideas together. I’ve got a couple of people who started a business together, people who started programs together. That collision of ideas and helping people to get unstuck, helping people to look at solving problems in a different way. One of the things I enjoy is helping people articulate their problems, goals and dreams. We don’t think out loud enough. Journaling and all that stuff is a challenge for a lot of people. When I get them into a physical space to do it and make no mistake, the fresh air, the movement, the walking is a big part of this. Our association, the Gift Planning Association has been holding a course in Banff, Alberta for many years. There is this concept of digesting knowledge in fresh air. The brain didn’t grow just to think. It grew to facilitate movement, and movement and thinking are tied together.

The opportunity for people who wouldn’t otherwise have a conversation to come together is such an important element of doing that deep thinking, that strategic work. One of the reasons we started doing this show was we wanted to have conversations with leaders to talk about things that they don’t normally talk about with their boards, they don’t talk about with their management teams. It sounds like you’ve created something that crosses several sectors there to facilitate those conversations that wouldn’t happen.

The organizations that recognize that staying still is moving backwards are those who take risks. Click To Tweet

That’s the plan.

In your role, you travel across the country and meet with hundreds and hundreds of great people working in the social profit sector. Over the last couple of years, what are some of the things that as a sector you’ve done very well?

Especially in an age where you’re hearing about all these social innovations and the government investing in social finance and the growth of B-corporations. The challenge with a lot of these things is that what the charitable sector, the social pockets community does, a lot of it will never be sexy, community housing, helping the vulnerable and the needy. Helping the people at the bottom is something that our sector does well. We’re getting better at it in my opinion in a lot of ways. There are this fire and this desire to be of service and a lot of the fancy places where people want to innovate. I sit down with a lot of people who want to transition industries all the time. I explained to them the workload and the challenges and the pay. A lot of them say, “No, I’m not willing to be committed to that.” Our sector continues to be effective at least in this way of having progress, being passionate and refining our purpose.

That’s a very powerful message to be sending out. Those people that are looking to make a transition, what are the characteristics of professionals who do that successfully, make that jump either from the public service or from the private sector into the social profit world?

I meet with dozens of these people a year. I’m passionate about helping the ones who are not going to fit. You can’t reconcile very often the pace of change, the speed of progress that they desire and that they work with, especially entrepreneurs. Whereas in the charitable sector, because of funding and funders cycles, because of the age of some of our organizations, the bureaucracy in place, either governance or even tax, it’s a slower pace. Some of them struggle with that. That cyclical pace of the sector, they struggle with that as well. This is one of the things we struggle with. We are a community of scarcity very often. There isn’t that risk and reward. There isn’t even that appetite often for risk.

There are a lot of things working against people who want to transition, but there are the ones who stick. I worked for an amazing professional who came to CanadaHelps, one of Canada’s largest online charities. She transitioned from being the CEO of an online eCommerce dating site, Lavalife, to running CanadaHelps. She has led successful skill. She came in and the organization was a little under $60 million and in 2020 we’ll hit over $200 million. She has an incredibly powerful focused skill. There’s a need for people to transition and bring that strategy, that experience but they still have to figure out how to adapt a bit to that humility, a bit to that collaboration versus competition mindset of the charitable setting.

DSP 23 | Change In Social Profit

The Abundant Not-for-Profit

There are two things in there that I want to jump on and dig into. One, you started talking about scarcity. That’s one of my favorite topics in the sector more than the other side of that coin, which is abundance. We see in our work that the discovery group is a lot of organizations that have found themselves either in a funding crisis or a leadership challenge. Scarcity is the defining element of their culture and of their approach to solving their problem. In organizations like CAGP and the conference communities that you build, what role did they play in helping reduce scarcity or move organizations closer to abundance?

If there’s anything that for me and even in my work I’m dedicated to, it’s about that shift from scarcity to abundance. We’re based in Vancouver. Our colleagues at The Vantage Point even produced a book called The Abundant Not-for-Profit. It’s helping people to shift that mindset of scarcity from everything to funding, access, donors, community and capacity to understanding that because we are very strong in the “why,” we need to feel the “how.” The charitable sector is laser-focused and winning on the “why,” but we’re losing when it comes to the “how.” It’s bringing capacity to scale. CAGP, the Gift Planning Association exists to diversify revenue. We bring together everybody who makes that possible, not just charities but advisers in law, tax, insurance and accounting.

I was talking to an insurance professional who has helped several charities in understanding about diversifying income through their Social Security and life insurance. One of the things that he shows them and we are now looking to get Canadian data on from people like Penelope Burk, sickness research that shows that when charities help donors diversify their giving, the giving doesn’t go down, it goes up. I spent a few years in a bank working in donor-advised funds and foundations and I know the money is there. The donors don’t have a scarcity mindset. We are dealing with the largest amount of Canadians with the least amount of kids, the largest amount of capital changing hands. The capacity is there. We just have to own that abundance.

Owning that abundance, that should be the title of your book. The other thing that you mentioned there that I would be interested in your perspective on was competition. When we get called into work with a board that’s doing strategic planning or preparing for CEO succession, inevitably one or more board members will say, “We need to understand who our competition is? What’s our environmental scan? Who are we up against?” We work hard to say competition as a mindset is quite problematic in the sector. How do you manage that tension between competition, which I often think the board members are meaning performance excellence? How do we measure ourselves as to how we’re doing our “how?” They’re not asking how are we doing in terms of market share necessarily, but wanting to make sure that the performance is there. How do you talk about the competition? How do you see it in the sector?

One of the challenges is the very concept of a board of a charity, which means you’re bringing in people who you hope brings that experience, that common sense. The experience is often from the corporate world, that capitalism world. The competitive language comes in, when in fact we know that in the charitable sector, our power is in collaboration. Reaching out to our charities’ lateral peers and lifting each other, leveraging each other’s strengths and weaknesses, be it funding, funders, fundraising, mission, capacity, operational. It’s the charities that are now banding together inside of a cause structure are the ones that are winning. They are the ones who are smart enough even to reach out to adjacent industries. What’s the ecosystem of our cause? What are the problems we’re trying to solve? There’s power. I just don’t have a place in my life for competition. I know that collaboration is what brings power.

That is a message that I may use those words the next time I’m talking to a board that ask that question. There is a strength in the sector that you talk about the opportunity for collaboration. Paul, what drives you nuts about the sector?

Part of it is our organization, the work that we do about strategic giving and gifts of assets, etc. I’ve been a fundraiser for many years. I’ve seen the transformation of how not just a wealthy person, but a middle-class Canadian understanding the tax benefits and able to give more. They said these words to me, “This feels like winning the lottery. I can give more as a regular person and I’ve never given a few hundred in my entire life.” There’s this resistance of the charitable sector always to diversify, to amplify our impact by understanding how we not only fundraise but think about money and how we do what we do. That’s the hardest thing. I’m obsessed with the difference between the “why” and the “how.” Everybody tells me, “We’re losing to crowdfunding.” That’s great. What are we doing about it? How do we understand the moving parts? We’ve got to dig deeper into the things that we’re concerned about, not just losing sleep.

You mentioned crowdfunding there. That is something that a lot of organizations, particularly social service organizations, United Ways all across the country, across North America are dealing with and are seeing as a threat to their traditional donor base. What do you make of crowdfunding? What are you seeing in the marketplace?

Polite elephants are the ones that are likely to roll over and destroy you. Click To Tweet

I don’t spend time wringing my hands saying, “We’re losing.” I ask, “Why are we losing?” Crowdfunding has translated now into a billion-dollar industry. The largest GoFundMe was purchased by PayPal, a billion-dollar organization. We have to ask ourselves, “What are the mechanics? What are the moving parts? What is it that’s appealing to donors? What is it that is undercutting the traditional charitable landscape and taking it apart?” You’ve got things like the technology that these platforms use. They use very high levels and seamless technology that’s integrated into phones, digital media, all of it. The charitable sector rejects the advancement of technology and it’s unbelievable. My time in CanadaHelps was such a challenge in that way. The other part is the concept of storytelling and narrative. The organizations are wanting to keep doing what they’re doing. They are more tied to their logos and their brand identity than they are about the language of solving problems. Crowdfunding is an addictive concept: problem, one life, one solution and I did that. We’re not giving people those kinds of opportunities easily in the charitable sector.

Are there organizations that are doing it particularly well or integrating crowdfunding into their revenue roadmap, the other streams of revenue?

Funny enough, this is where my joy and my time with CanadaHelps is working with small, scrappy charities. There are a lot of them across this country. By small, I’m talking more about medium-sized organizations. The smallest out there, they’re volunteer-run, etc. They’re lost in special event and doing what they’re doing that’s under $50,000-plus. The charities between $500,000 and $2 million out there who are scrappy, who are using storytelling, who are testing technology, that are taking risks, they’re exciting to hang around because they’re the entrepreneurs of our sector. They are gaining a lot of ground. It’s the biggest organizations that are the big sinking ships that are worried about losing market share. Some of them are pushing the envelope, the Kids Help Phones of the world and SickKids, etc. I enjoy spending times with the ones that are saying, “Let’s take a risk.” They’re the ones getting the biggest risks.

What are the characteristics of those organizations that are taking those risks? Crowdfunding, start there, but even more broadly. What types of organizations? What’s driving those organizations that are taking those risks?

The organizations that recognize that staying still is moving backwards. They’re seeing, “Where’s our revenue now? What’s the split between government funding, donor dollars? For our donor dollars, what’s the breakdown in our diversity, our demographics? Where do we need to grow and how do we do that?” It’s the people mapping out where a lot of our fundraising leaders are. The Blakelys of the world or talking to donor journey. The ones that are unpacking not just procedure but process and tying it to purpose are the ones that are going farther faster.

That’s a very helpful perspective there. Are there issues in the sector that you see that have an air of mystery or act as a polite elephant in the conference rooms and the board rooms and the day-to-day of our organizations?

DSP 23 | Change In Social Profit

Decolonizing Wealth: Indigenous Wisdom to Heal Divides and Restore Balance

Indeed, those are the things that hurt because they’re dangerous. Polite elephants are the ones that are likely to roll over and destroy you. As Trudeau once said, “It’s the crowdfunding piece that we have to stop complaining about and dig deeper to understand.” It’s also truly and this is one of the challenges of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners. We have let our focus on tax and tactics allow people to think of plan giving and different types of asset giving as some sorcery, as there’s a chemistry to it all, when in fact we broke this with the growth of cash given to online, to credit cards, etc. We have to integrate assets into that as well. All the silos and the language planned in August, you’ve got to break it down. It’s all giving. In 2019, Canadians hold more of their assets in their wealth, in assets, not cash. Any organization that needs to have revenue growth needs to be looking at a full diversification of their revenue.

How much of that air of mystery or sorcery has been the professionals themselves wanting to protect the special status that they have as the experts in that area?

We have looked inwards and recognized that ceiling. I’ve got a talk out there. It’s a bit of a TED format. We have a talk called the FRANK Talks named after our spiritual founder, Frank Minton, who helped found our organization. My whole concept was unpacking that and that we as fundraisers sometimes hold on to the concept of strategy as the outcome, whereas we have to bring clarity. How does fundraising work? Why does it work? How does an organization bring revenue? Where do we need to grow and where do we need to go by demographics and diversity? We need clarity or we’re not going to make it.

Building on what you’re saying there about clarity, one of my observations about the sector over the last couple of years has been a real effort to allow organizations and the professionals in those organizations to focus on the big picture of philanthropy in our society. How important is it for organizations and for individual professionals to have that sense of the big picture for the sector and the direction that society is moving?

In my role with the Gift Planning Association, I’m in a bit of a leadership position. For many years, I’ve been very much a tactical fundraiser. Fundraisers, finance, a lot of people even in marketing, we tend to look only two feet in front of us. Because a lot of us are tied in that scarcity mindset and focus on executing strategy, we haven’t allowed ourselves to think of the big picture. I’m thinking deeply and being torn apart by this growth of the reconciliation and what’s called the Decolonization of Philanthropy movement led by the author, Edgar Villanueva, an indigenous professional from the United States. He came here to Canada and was speaking at the Community Foundations Conference. His book on decolonizing philanthropy, on unpacking the way we have done things for a century-plus, it could destroy major giving if we stop and we’re not good at stopping to think. I have to say I’m afraid. Machines don’t stop. We don’t stop the car on the side of the highway and take it apart. This is going to be a tough one. It’s social justice. It’s the future of how philanthropy could work. It’s going to be a tough process.

For those that might be more interested in that, give us a quick summary of Villanueva’s argument.

The concept of the colonization, how it has manifested itself that those of us who are trying to solve certain social problems are having to go cap in hand to the people who have created wealth by exploring those social problems. A perfect metaphor out there is the ones about how the multi-billionaires came forward as part of the Notre Dame tragedy. They pledged hundreds of millions of dollars and to date, very little of that money has come forward. Meanwhile, their network has increased by hundreds of millions. There’s a whole inequality here and it’s a system that we have built on top of our fundraising. The poor asking the wealthy who have a vested interest in the poor staying poor and then funding Band-Aid solutions. Those Band-Aid solutions will not allow society to be healed. That philanthropy might even be playing a detrimental part in social cohesion. There’s a lot to unpack there. A lot of us have to look at how our organizations function. What do we even represent? That’s what he taught to unpack one’s DNA.

In your experience, you have the opportunity to talk to a lot of organizations and a lot of professionals. When you think of those organizations talking to donors, what advice do you give and what perspective do you share about how to talk to donors about gifts of assets and making gifts of a lifetime?

Band-Aid solutions won't allow society to be healed. Click To Tweet

The gift of assets is pretty much a “how.” The “how” is near the end of the conversation. We need to get better at starting these conversations and listening to donors to where they want to go. How a donor has been given to you for many years? Why did they give it to you for so long? What is their vision of your organization? Not the other way around. We’re so good at spouting our mission, vision and values, instead of asking them, “What is the problem that you’re engaged with us to solve?” In doing so, they will talk to you about capacity. The gifts of assets are simply the way to make their vision a reality. Our colleague who is the head of the American Planned Giving Association said, “We turn to planned giving when our donors’ vision is larger than their current assets. They plan and together we plan. We make powerful things happen.”

In your own experience as a fundraiser, is there a story that comes to mind when you think about that concept?

It’s a bit of a funny one that I often tell in my speaking engagements, but it means a lot to me. I had an individual when I was a very young fundraiser. As always, you started an organization and often discover that nobody is visiting donors. We had an individual giving six-figures and had an opportunity to visit him and say, “Let me drop off your tax receipt and if anything, talk to you about why you get to this organization.” I went to see him and he didn’t have a lot of time to talk but he said, “You’re here, let me write your check for the six-figures.” He’s writing the check and the person was giggling. He’s a big man and I always tell people it’s not the most comfortable feeling to see a big main giggle. I didn’t think of anything. I’m a young fundraiser. I didn’t have a lot of confidence in that social networking way.

I came back the next year and the person said, “I’m going to write the check again.” He’s outright laughing. I said, “I’ve got to ask you, what’s going on?” He said, “I’m buying an Audi.” I said, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.” He said, “Last year, I bought a Jacuzzi.” I said, “I am not following you.” He said, “Next year, I’m buying a boat.” I said, “I don’t understand.” He said, “I’m buying it with your money.” I said, “Now you’ve got my attention.” He said, “Did you know that my spouse and I sat down with our financial advisor and looked at all the charitable giving that we do. We told him about the plans that we had to do good things. We ascertained that we could give your organization $250,000 a year, but you keep asking for $100,000, so I write that $100,000 check.”

The very fact that it opened my eyes to what was possible I said, “Why didn’t you even tell me that?” In this particular case, I was representing a faith-based organization. He said, “I know that if I don’t start giving at my capacity, it’s going to get a lot hotter than a Jacuzzi.” It showed me that there’s a lot of capacity there. I suspected it as fundraising. When I became an advisor, I saw the capacity of the donors. We have the largest amount of Canadians with the least amount of children or heirs who are sitting on top of properties. Everybody can see this, but it’s there and nobody wants to ask. We have this inherent fear of asking. I’ve got to say, I’ve had a career of being a very lazy fundraiser. I don’t do a huge amount of asking. I just asked the donors what they care about. They paint the picture and the charity is the canvas. They say, “What is it going to take to make this a reality?” We let them know and nine times out of ten, they’ve got the capacity or we make that your cap.

One of the big fears that a lot of major gift and plan giving, all fundraisers have is knowing what’s the right amount to ask for. That fear of asking for too much. In my own experience, my favorite story is asking someone for a gift of $5 million. The person laughed, but not for the same reason your donor laughed. He said, “Douglas, you honor us too much to think that we could make a gift of that size,” and with a big smile on his face. If you’re listening and you’re talking about a cause that matters to donors, they’re willing to have that conversation. They’re willing to handle some of the discomforts that they have and you have or I’m talking about money if it’s service.

We’re both over thinking that a lot. That’s the challenge too is they don’t know that we don’t have the same capacity of seeing a wealth management firm to do wealth indicator studies and all of that thing. Some big charities do but in the end, we have the blessing of a relationship. If we build that relationship, we will be in the conversation. We’ve got to stop and listen and let them the right to ask for us. In the end, they will disclose everything, what’s their capacity, what’s their willingness, what’s their timeline. It’s the person that can guide the conversation that will truly get the most and empower the donor to do those.

DSP 23 | Change In Social Profit

Change In Social Profit: If there’s anything that we need in this world, it is a greater level of dialogue and trust.


That is a very important lesson. Thank you for sharing that and underlining it for us. You mentioned you’re relatively new in the leadership role. Where do you find new ideas or inspiration as a leader?

I look outwards. I’m a voracious reader and often look to that world of leadership across the board and look out where to opt into that space. I’m mentored by a number of different CEOs and leaders both in the charity world but also in the for-profit sector. I try to keep an open mind to networking and connecting to learn as much as I can and be that sail to catch the wind of where things are going. That’s a big part of it. It’s interesting when you were talking about what do we need in the sector. One of the books that struck was by our former Governor-General, David Johnston. He wrote a book called Trust. If there’s anything that we need in this world, it is a greater level of dialogue and trust and the outlines for everybody, including the charitable sector. He is the President of a university for a couple of decades and headed up several charities including Rideau Hall. He talks about authenticity but also power. For us, we’ve got to remember the transactional power of trust. That’s a helpful one for people that are trying to build deeper donor relationships and connections with the community and charitable colleagues.

One of the things I loved about that book was how the stories that he shares speak to the inherent philanthropic intent of people to build community, to participate in the community. Often our institutions, when they’re not acting with authenticity, get in the way of what is a normal instinct which is to give, to support, to contribute. He offers a bit of a prescription for us to get out of our own way and the social profit sector.

That’s a great book for a lot of people to take a look. It’s one of those that can be almost a cure to what ails us.

You mentioned you have mentors, but where do you look when you have questions that you’re struggling with either as a leader or as a professional?

I have a lot of young professionals grow the way that they network and build mentors because I struggled with it so much in my early career. Along the way, I pulled a concept from a couple of people called Creating a Personal Board of Directors. Much like a charity needs a board of directors where we as leaders as individuals need a board and just like a board, we need to cover those different bases. What are the considerations of human resources, legal, risk management, marketing, capacity building, revenue generation, all of it? I try to maintain a regular list of mentors in each of those different areas and facets on the right side of leadership. Every few years, much like a regular board, I turned the board over. Every time I experienced an evolution, the board needs to go upmarket as well. It’s been a wonderful concept for about a decade in that space.

I imagine you having a conversation with someone about their term limit being up.

Sometimes we think that everybody's going to stay with us for life, but like real relationships, things evolve. Click To Tweet

Not quite. It’s never that explicit. I’ve got the Excel spreadsheet, but also even to release them. Sometimes we think that everybody’s going to stay with us for life but like real relationships, things evolve. We all have a time and place to be together and there’s a natural time and place to start and finish.

Paul, if someone were starting their first job in leadership in the social profit sector, what’s the advice you would give them for how to approach either their first day or their first 30 days?

As always, I live in libraries and I turned to books. One of the greatest out there is The First 90 Days. We have great helpful piece for people, but very often we try to figure out the strategy and do the push when in fact listening will always be one of the greatest things. We live in a time of incredible listening power with the tool of social and digital media. You can get out there to things like LinkedIn, even Twitter and Instagram to follow the greatest leaders in the social profit community. Every time you people put out a podcast, I follow the podcast to interview all the resources that they have on there. You can create a powerful listening post in every facet of leadership and be mentored by all of these people. Whether they know it or not, if they’re kind enough to be putting out content and teach. We’re living in a golden age of mentoring and leadership.

That’s a great place to leave our discussion and a great note to end with. I do want to come back to the one thing you said that I hope everyone takes some time to reflect on. You’re talking about the difference between collaboration and competition. The phrase you said is collaboration is not a default strategy. It is our strength. It is our power. For those of us in the sector, board members, leaders, team members, donors, keeping that collaboration as a power in mind is a great tool for recharging.

People often tell us to put those elbows up but if we lock arms, we’re unbreakable.

Paul, thank you so much for being on the Discovery Pod.

Thanks so much for having me.

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About Paul Nazareth

DSP 23 | Change In Social ProfitPaul Nazareth is a leader in Canada’s philanthropic sector with over 19 years’ experience. Vice President, Education & Development at the Canadian Association of Gift Planners, he was most recently was VP at the charity CanadaHelps. Paul has been a philanthropic advisor with Scotia Wealth, spent over a decade with charities like the University of Toronto and the 230 Churches of the Catholic Church of Greater Toronto.

He is on the board of several Ontario charities, is Chair of the advisory committee at the Humber College postgraduate fundraising program, on the advisory committee of the Carleton Masters in Nonprofit Leadership program, a speaker in every Province with the Association of Fundraising Professionals, a national faculty instructor with CAGP and the Knowledge Bureau as well as tax and advisor communities like Advocis, CPA Canada and Estate Planning Councils.

Paul writes on philanthropy for a variety of publications as well as appearing on national television to speak about creating a personal legacy through charity. Paul has been featured in the Globe & Mail and Forbes on the topic of personal branding and continues to teach networking strategy to social and for-profit leaders.