Most concepts of leadership are taken to be monolithic, without much variation in between fields. But the field of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership is one that’s unique in many ways, especially if considered side-by-side with leadership in a business or corporate setting. Susan Phillips is a Professor at Carleton University who serves as the Director of the school’s Master of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program. Douglas Nelson speaks to Susan about the distinctive and specific coverage of the program’s curriculums, especially as it relates to real-world applications. In a world that’s increasingly dependent on the support of philanthropic and nonprofit institutions, it’s important that there are proper educational opportunities for their future leaders.
Listen to the podcast here
The School Of Public Policy And Administration At Carleton University With Susan Phillips
On the show, we have a special guest, Dr. Susan Phillips. She’s a Professor at Carleton University focusing on comparative public policy for the third sector of philanthropy and not-for-profits. She’s on sabbatical in Australia. She’s the Director of the Master Philanthropy and Nonprofit Leadership program at Carleton University. Welcome.
Thank you, Douglas.
For those of us that are in the sector and have made our careers in this sector, the idea of getting to spend all of our time thinking about the media and weighty issues of philanthropy in Canada and around the world is amazing. How did you find yourself in this field? How did you pick philanthropy as the area of focus?
It is a privilege to do what I do. It’s been a journey. It’s been an evolution. I started before we had the language of a sector and we didn’t talk about philanthropy at all. I started with interest when I was an undergraduate and it started, I was in geography, urban planning and I was interested in citizen participation, how citizens engage with government. I’ve worked as an urban planner for a little bit and realized that at that time planning needed some work in terms of how it engaged with citizens. That involved a study of social movements, interest groups as we called them at the time, and then into a study of charities, nonprofits and philanthropy, which is closely linked. Because I’m in the School of Public Policy and Administration, my interest has always had an overlay of what are the policy issues? What are the public and societal issues that merge with the study of the sector?
The Master of Philanthropy and Non-For-Profit Leadership program at Carleton, you’re in your seventh year of operation. How did that program get started?
It started much earlier than that in terms of planning for it. It’s an arduous process to get a Master’s program approved. We started probably in about not 2008 or 2009 offering a week-long intensive course on the sector and tended both for our students in Public Policy & Administration and for those who wanted to take it for professional interest. I was the director of the school at the time. We related planning. I said, “If we could get twelve students, we could afford to offer this course, otherwise we’d have to cancel it.” That was something in April. We were going to do the course in May. We advertised, we had 65 students in 24 hours and we knew we were onto something. We started planning. We did a scan.
We looked at the best programs in the world, mainly in the US to see what they were doing. Along came to a group called Canada Advancing Philanthropy, which was mainly a group of development and fundraising professionals at major institutions at universities and hospitals across the country. They put out an RFP to create a Master of Philanthropy. We were already in the planning stage. We responded to that RFP, which was frankly the strangest RFP I’ve ever responded to because they had no money. What were they going to give us? They gave us credibility and ideas and they continued to work with us. It took a couple of years to get the design right and the program approved through the system. We launched in 2013 and we were full from the start and have been ever since with an amazing group of people who go through the program.
As we were getting started here, I’ve met a number of the people who’ve been through the program across Canada through my work at The Discovery Group. It is the most interesting, the most engaged people that stepped forward and said that they’ve been through that program. Has the program itself evolved with the caliber of people or the conversations that are happening in the sector?
It certainly has. I don’t think people have changed that much. There was a high caliber to start and they were an interesting mix. We intentionally focused the program as a leadership program for both those who might work in the nonprofit side running leading organizations and those who might work more on the philanthropic side knowing they’re intimately connected. A leadership program intentionally taking some younger students, but for whom we saw the leadership demonstrated already and that growth potential. I have to say it’s quite amazing what some twenty-year-olds have done these days whether I did as a twenty-year-old plus some experienced professionals. When we started with that design and that intent, people said, “It can’t be done.” You can’t mix those younger students and heads of foundations, hospital foundations, and other leaders. It is quite magical because of some of the more experienced mentor the young. The younger ones have fresh perspectives. They understand technology, the energy that they bring to that. It builds great networks and peer-to-peer learning is as important as anything else that comes from the program and the ongoing networks that they’ve established.
That’s the Master’s program. I’m interested in your work and the questions that you’re looking at in terms of the role of philanthropy in Canadian society or in Australian society as you’re there.
I’m interested in several things. I’m working on a grant from our granting council, the Social Science & Humanities Research Council, working with the team where we’ve taken the tax data, the T3010 data from 2000 to 2016. We’ve cleaned that data, set it up in a way that you can trace individual organizations, charities over time, and all 86,000 of them. We’re interested in questions such as for those who have had operational funding, their administrative costs covered, which are relatively few. The United Way and many places have continued to be that funder as of a few foundations. What difference does that make? Does it help them be more innovative? What is the basis for being more resilient as a charity than some others?
That’s one project that parts of the sector have gone through enormous ups and downs. Financially in terms of how funding has sometimes fallen out in a couple of years, particularly if it’s government funding. We’re interested in that question of resiliency and innovation. I’m also interested in philanthropy in terms of some of the role of work of foundations have two kinds. One is the community foundations in place-based work and the other are the private foundations both family and corporate. The private foundations are the most autonomous, independent institutions we have in society. They don’t have voters. They don’t have shareholders. They can take risks in a way that the government or business can. What are they doing in terms of innovation and what prompts that?
I have a lot of questions about that. Community foundations are something that we’ve worked with a lot of here at The Discovery Group. Andrew Chunilall was on the podcast and gave his view of the importance of community foundations. When it comes to private foundations, they do have the ability to be innovative and to take those risks. The question is, do they? When they’re successful, is there any learning that can be applied for other private foundations or other organizations? What do you see from your perspective?
Enormous variation, some are doing leading-edge creative work. They’re not necessarily the largest foundations and others that have been much more traditional or conservative in the sense that they give to the established, The Children’s Hospital, United Way, etc., all of which are great causes. They may not be using their full potential for leadership in their cause or their community. They’re not thinking about how they affect change or be part of the change in a positive way. My concern is that in the context of growing income inequality, those foundations, their social license is in peril. It’s under greater scrutiny if we look at what’s happening from some of the critiques in the US and scrutiny can be positive. It can also create damage in terms of if there’s a lack of response, expectations, and questions about what are the public responsibilities of private wealth. Many foundations need to be paying more attention to them.The younger ones have fresh perspectives. They understand technology, and they bring the energy to that. Click To Tweet
When those issues come to the forefront, the real risk for a lot of organizations in the sector, especially not the private foundations, is that donor’s question whether this is something they should be involved with, whether they should be putting their money into a charity. There are questions about the use of private foundations. While you and I and our readers to this show know that those things aren’t connected. For the general population, for the typical type of donor, they are connected. It’s hard for people to peel those issues apart.
I wish we could find a way to get the overhead myths and the public glide, public perceptions that low administrative to program costs mean efficiency and effectiveness. We know that’s not the case, but we need to be able to look at the impact and the work of charities in a much more sophisticated manner than we often do with greater knowledge. Many donors don’t appreciate, don’t have any deep knowledge of the sector. They give to the brands they know.
A short story, speaking to a board and one member of the board asked, “What do we say when people ask about our cost per dollar raise?” It was an innocent question of like, “What do we say?” Not, “What are we saying about this?” One of the other board members said, “The only reason people bring that up is when they are looking for an excuse not to give, don’t worry about it.” I thought, “I want to bottle this guy and take him with me everywhere I go.” Lend them out to other organizations for having to answer those questions. Those issues of scrutiny do come up for every organization. Of the 86,000 organizations you mentioned, there are probably 100,000 or so answers to that question around what does it mean? What are the operating costs? How do you look at those things? What advice would you give to a donor who wants to make sure that their gift makes a difference?
A couple of things, one is to do some homework. Part of that is the inner knowledge or the inner introspection of what matters to me? What matters to society and our environment? Where are the causes that need to be addressed? To do a bit of exploration of which organizations are working on those issues? How are they affecting change? Go to their website, read some of their material, get involved with them in some way, understand more. That will help clarify not just for an individual gift, but a philanthropic journey over time of which is always one of learning.
A lot of organizations deal with that through questions that come from their boards because the board members want to be able to answer that question well to colleagues or friends or family who is asking about supporting the organization. It is one of our inabilities as a sector to develop a uniform response to that. It does a great disservice. The organizations that can be higher up on the greasy pole and say, “Our costs are $0.11, not $0.12,” do a disservice to the whole sector in that marketing. From the board perspective, what issues do you think board members should be looking at in terms of not cost per dollar raise as a measure of effectiveness but what’s an appropriate amount?
That’s the wrong question because it will depend on the organization. If you’re building a database, if you’re starting in doing something innovative in your programming, you’re going to have more upfront costs that will decline over time. The broader questions are around how do we enhance the results of our work? How do we do things more effectively? That answer will be different for almost every organization. Sure, there are things we can learn from others but it depends on the nature of the work, how the environment is changing? Whether there are innovations out there we can adapt or whether we have to invent from the start? There is no one answer to that. There are some big risks that boards need to be looking at. One is around succession. We’re at the moment in for the sector that is quite a remarkable moment where we have a big demographic change. We have technological change and opportunity. Financial changes both with an intergenerational transfer of wealth that may happen but also with concerns about income inequality, all the expectations that are creating. There are a lot of big issues out there. One of them, if we look at the demographics, is around leadership succession, both for the board and for the staff. We know from work, for example, that the Ontario Nonprofit Network has done among others that most charities don’t have a succession plan and they haven’t built a pipeline for younger talent.
They’re working up into a career leadership role. The predictions for the exit of the Boomers like me managed to delay that a bit because we kept working longer than some were anticipated, but still, it’s going to happen with significant retirements. How do we bring along a younger group? How do we think about what succession means? How do we make it attractive for board members to be willing to make those commitments? One of the things that seem to be happening is with Millennials who by 2025 will be 75% of the workforce. Their interest in the sector, but many have been leaving, at least those are US figures because they don’t see any opportunities. The pipeline and that progression and the engagement and meaningful work at decent compensation aren’t happening fast enough or broadly enough to keep them in the sector.
One of the things that I have observed is what we were talking about before that the operating costs or the availability of the capital to support that succession planning, to support that duplication of roles and responsibilities. To see who the talent is that can move into those senior positions is difficult for the sector and all about the largest organizations. It is going to be a time of great boom for executive search. It may not be the best of time for leadership in the sector over the next couple of years.
On the other hand, as we see through our program, there are amazing young leaders out there. They need the openings and the question of how both boards and staff engage in meaningful diversity and inclusion, which we’ve also liked behind in the sectors, is part of that planning that successful development and good governance.
This is the magic wand part of the podcast. If there was one thing that you could change about the sector, what would it be?
I’ll answer it as a public administration scholar. We need much better policy awareness of the sector and therefore think about how we can develop a better policy to enable the sector to do its best. We do not badly in some ways but this is the sector that is huge in both its economic and social impact and for which there is relatively little thinking awareness and visibility within the government. That’s more than a regulatory role. That would be the one thing I would hope for that we could be better. Public awareness and public policy awareness, that’s going to be critically important because we are going to address which we need to address some of the big systemic issues that are going to take collaboration. It’s going to take the public, the private and the nonprofit sector philanthropy all working together.
Through my experience has been if the problems at the social profit sector we’re trying to solve were simple, they would have been solved by somebody else. It does take these grand coalitions of individuals and community groups to come together to address what are the most significant issues of our times. You’re in Australia on sabbatical. When I spent a couple of years of my career in the United States, I left a role in Vancouver and went to San Francisco for a couple of years, a few years and then came back in. The question I got asked by almost every Canadian in the sector was, “How is it different?” My question to you is, how is it different?The private foundations are the most autonomous institutions we have in society. They can take risks in a way that the government can’t. Click To Tweet
I’ve been honored to spend time at the Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies at the Queensland University of Technology. It’s the same in many ways and it’s different in a few. It’s the same in the patterns of that stagnated giving concentration among the smaller, older cohort. All of the Canadian patterns are there. Part of the difference is some of the foundations are doing an interesting place-based work system trying to change systems. Even though they may be based in the urban centers to be working in rural and regional areas than can add a student. Most of our private foundations are based in Toronto and Montreal and they tend to work in Toronto and Montreal, a few in Vancouver, but generally speaking. There are a few working in the art team, but some of those regional questions and working with the first nation’s indigenous communities are different.
The big thing in Australia has been the bushfires and which are more or less over. We went from bushfire to flood quickly. It’s how you think about a community and how we respond in times of disasters and whether those are well-thought-out responses. During the bushfires, there was an enormous international outpouring, 25,000 Facebook and GoFundMe pages, many of which gave to causes out of deep generosity and compassion. They gave to organizations whose missions didn’t allow them to give to the community directly.
Some of the money is sitting there. In Canada, nonprofits have bylaws and constitutions and objects and you can’t violate those easily. In many cases, a generous public didn’t understand that. There is then some frustration about what I thought I was giving to that cause. You weren’t, you didn’t appreciate it. All of the discussion around community and health philanthropy engages in times of crisis have been elevated. It’s something we need to think about in Canada because we’re as we’ve seen non-immune.
As we come to the end of our discussion, one of the things that I’m always curious about is people who’ve spent much time thinking about the sector and being in the sector. When you look ahead, we’ve talked about some of the challenges and some of the opportunities to improve the dialogue around the sector and within the sector. What are you most optimistic about as you look ahead?
I’m optimistic about the young leaders. We need to make sure that we can keep them in the sector, but the creativity, the smarts, the commitment. I see that thoroughly throughout our program and our alum that they’re finding innovative, interesting, imaginative ways to make a difference. If we can harness that, keep them in the sector then we’ll do well.
The audience to this show, about a lot of the feedback that we get from people are young leaders who are eager to take that next step and are looking for mentorship or the opportunity to take on more leadership. Thank you, Dr. Phillips. I appreciate the time you’ve taken to be a part of this. Thank you for being on the show.
It’s my pleasure. Thank you.
- Dr. Susan Phillips
- Andrew Chunilall – past episode
About Susan Phillips
Susan Phillips is on sabbatical until December 31, 2020.
BA Honours in Geography (University of Victoria, Canada)
MA in Geography (University of Waterloo, Canada)
MA in Political Science (Carleton University, Canada)
PhD in Political Science (Carleton University, Canada)
Susan’s research focuses on public policy and regulation of philanthropy and the nonprofit sector, financing of charities and nonprofits, cross-sectoral collaboration, community foundations, and place-based philanthropy.
Philanthropy – the use of private resources for public purposes – is an important complement to the work of governments and an essential means of building inclusive, resilient communities. Nonprofits provide a wide range of services that our society depends upon; they enable citizens, as volunteers and members, to engage with each other; and they serve as advocates for social change. As many Canadians work in the nonprofit sector as in natural resources. I am driven to better understand how this diverse sector operates, the changing patterns of financing, giving and volunteering, and how public policy can better enable its work. As the public, private and nonprofit sectors collaborate and co-produce in new ways, my research seeks to examine the opportunities and challenges this creates.
Selected recent publications and funded research
The Management Context: UK, US, Australia and Canada.(in press), in Helmut Anheier and Stefan Toepler (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Nonprofit Management. London: Routledge.
Dancing with Giraffes: Why Philanthropy Matters for Public Management (2018), Canadian Public Administration, 61(2): 151-183.
On Impact: Emerging Challenges of Evaluation for Canada’s Nonprofit Sector (2018), in Keith E. Seel (ed.), The Management of Nonprofit and Charitable Organizations in Canada 3rd ed. Toronto: LexisNexis. (with Victoria Carlan).
Inputs to Outputs: Redesign of the Canadian Citizenship Regime (2018) in Mireille Paquet, Nora Nagels and Aude-Claire Fourot (eds.), Citizenship as a Regime: Canadian and International Perspectives. Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press. (with Rachel Laforest).
Routledge Companion to Philanthropy (2016) London: Routledge. (co-editor and co-author with Tobias Jung and Jenny Harrow).
Knowledge as Leadership, Belonging as Community: How Canadian Community Foundations are using Vital Signs for Social Change (2016), Foundation Review, 8(Special Issue): 65-79. (with Ian Bird, Laurel Carlton and Lee Rose).
The Changing and Challenging Environment of Nonprofit Human Services: Implications for Governance and Program Implementation (2016), Nonprofit Policy Forum, 7(1): 63-76. (with Steven Rathgeb Smith).
International Trends in Government-Nonprofit Relations: Constancy, Change and Contradictions (2016), in E. Boris and E. Steuerle (eds.) Nonprofits and Government: Collaboration and Conflict 3rd ed. Washington, DC: Urban Institute, in press. (with Mark Blumberg).
A New ‘New’ Philanthropy: From Impetus to Impact (2016), in Tobias Jung, Susan D. Phillips and Jenny Harrow (eds.), Routledge Companion to Philanthropy. London, UK: Routledge. (with Tobias Jung).
Public Policy for Philanthropy: Catching the Wave or Creating a Backwater? (2016) in Tobias Jung, Susan D. Phillips and Jenny Harrow (eds.), Routledge Companion to Philanthropy. London, UK: Routledge.(with Steven Rathgeb Smith).
Community Foundations: Agility in the Duality of Foundation and Community (2016) in Tobias Jung, Susan D. Phillips and Jenny Harrow (eds.), Routledge Companion to Philanthropy. London, UK: Routledge.(with Jenny Harrow and Tobias Jung).
A Dawn of Policy Convergence? Third Sector Policy and Regulatory Change among the ‘Anglo-Saxon’ Cluster (2014), Public Management Review, 16(8): 1141-63. (with Steven Rathgeb Smith)
Restructuring Civil Society in Canada, Muting the Politics of Redistribution (2013) in Keith G. Banting and John Myles (eds.), The Fading of Redistributive Politics: Policy Change and Policy Drift in Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Shining Light on Charities or Looking in the Wrong Place? Transparency and Co-Regulation in Canada (2013) Voluntas, 24(3): 881-905. Awarded Best Paper in the journal for 2013.
Developing a Better Understanding of Community Foundation in the UK’s Localisms (2013) Policy and Politics, 41(3): 409-27. (with Tobias Jung and Jenny Harrow)
Strategies for Enhancing the Financial Sustainability of Canada’s Charities (2018) Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant, $220,400 over four years. (PI).
Community Philanthropy: Building an International Research Partnership (2018) Carleton University International Research Partnerships Seed Grant. $10,000 (PI).
The Demand Side of Impact Investing (2011-2016) Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), Community University Research Alliance. “Responsible and Impact Investing.” $1 million over five years. (Collaborator; T. Hebb, PI). This project $25,000.
Place-based Philanthropy: The Changing Role of Community Foundations in Community Leadership (2012-2016) Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant. $116,000. (PI).
PANL 5002 – Policy and Legal Environment for Philanthropy and Civil Society
PANL 5007 – Program Evaluation for Philanthropy and Nonprofits
PANL 5010 – Capstone
PADM 5129 – Capstone
Megan Conway (Postdoc 2019-2021) The Geography of Capacity: An Analysis of Individual, Organizational and Community Needs and Resources in Three Communities in Canada. Mitacs Elevate Funding.
Jacqueline Wood (PhD Completed 2019) Regulatory Waves: Regulation and Self-Regulation of Civil Society Organizations in Kenya.
Nataliya Rylska (PhD Completed 2018) Governance in the Internal Audit Sector of the Canadian Federal Government.
Fahad Ahmed (Committee Member, in progress) Civil Society Organizations and the Radicalization of Muslim Youth..
Viviana Wu (School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Committee Member, in progress) The Promises and Challenges of Community Philanthropy: Exploring Place Dilemma, Community Leadership and Social Media Engagement for Leading Change.
Ian Bron (Committee Member, in progress) Square Peg in a Round Hole? Case Study into Institutional Factors Affecting Responses to Whistleblowing.
Katherine Occhuito,(School of Social Work, Committee Member, in progress) The Nonprofit Sector in Poverty Reduction.
Recent Editorships and Academic Offices
Co-Editor-in-Chief, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 2016-2022.
Member, Editorial Board, Public Management Review, 2010-
Recent Awards and Distinctions
Research and Career Service Recognition, Canadian Association of Programs in Public Administration (CAPPA), 2019.
Distinguished Service Award for Contribution And Leadership in Research And Practice, Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research (ANSER-ARES), 2016.
Potter Foundation Visiting Fellow, Queensland University of Technology, Australian Centre for Nonprofit Studies, Brisbane, 2016
Impact Award, Carleton University for ‘outstanding contributions that entail mobilizing one’s teaching, research, and administrative skills to play a notable role in building on institutional strengths and connections to make a difference, 2015
Visiting Fellow, School of Social Policy and Practice, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA
International Research Society for Third Sector Research (ISTR) Award for Best Paper published in Voluntas in 2013
Elected, Visiting Fellow, Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, 2010-2011, 2012
Visiting Fellow, Centre for Charitable Giving and Philanthropy, Cass Business School, City University London, 2010-2011