The year of adjusting to the new normal and organizational shifts is almost over. 2022 is just about over and it’s time to start thinking about the future that is 2023. Join your host Douglas Nelson and his special guest Alex Wilson as they reflect back on some of The Discovery Group’s 2022 achievements. Also, get a snippet of what’s in store in philanthropy for 2023.
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Happy Holidays And Year End With The Discovery Group
We’ve got a special quick-hit holiday episode for you here to wrap up 2022 as you get ready for the break. We want to end this year as we started this season by bringing in my colleague Alex Wilson to talk through what we’ve seen over the last year and what we’re looking forward to in the year ahead. Welcome, Alex.
Thank you. Happy holidays, Doug. Can you believe we’re already here at the end of the year?
Happy holidays to you too. No, I can’t believe that 2022 is almost over. My list of to-dos on my board is still pretty long, but I’m confident we’ll get there and the calendar will take care of it if my working doesn’t.
It has been a busy year here at The Discovery Group and across the social profit sector. I want us to dive into some of the growth we’ve seen, but before we do that, let’s talk a little bit about the sector. What are some of the changes that you’ve seen over this past year regarding our clients and the broader social profit sector?
I remember as we started 2022, the first cautious ideas were coming out about what are we going to do post-pandemic and whether COVID is with us now or forever. We’re out of it in terms of the world opening up again. Our organizations have done that too. Both clients in the broader sector, we’ve seen organizations try to get back to normal, recreate normal, and amplify what they were doing during the pandemic.
Organizations that went to ground during the pandemic and were a little quieter retreated from their organizational purpose and found it difficult to get back up and get moving again. Their donors haven’t responded as well. On the brighter side of that, the organizations that did a great job of communicating over the previous two years found their donors very responsive. We’ve seen some of the greatest acts of philanthropy, large and small, across the country over 2022. Communities come together to support small initiatives around them.
Very significant nine-figure gifts are happening all across the country. What’s been impressive is the number of organizations that have seen their boards operational during the pandemic for reasons of either transition or responding to what was happening around them, moving back to that governance level and setting ambitious courses for their organizations at the appropriate level. CEOs and executive directors have been having to stand up in a new way leading their teams in hybrid models and through new strategic planning and the what now questions that we’ve had to answer over the course of the last year.
As someone who gets to observe it and work shoulder to shoulder with many organizations, leaders, and boards, it’s been inspiring to see the new kinds of questions that people are asking and the new people who are asking those questions with the transitions in leadership. I’m ending 2022 grateful for all that we’ve been able to be a part of through our Discovery Group, but for the brilliant women and men and all people who were involved in the social profit sector in Canada. As a group in our sector, we do some amazing work, and it is a pleasure to be a part of it.
Over the course of the past year, we saw and we’ve spoken about this within our office, which is the explosion of mega campaigns. We have UBC’s $3 million forward campaign, for example. The University of Toronto also has a $4 billion campaign going on, and there are several more within the sector. What are your thoughts on these historic, ambitious campaigns?
I love to see large organizations or any type of organization stretching beyond and changing the game when it comes to philanthropy. We’ve seen some very significant campaigns launch. You mentioned the $3 billion UBC campaign, $4 billion at the University of Toronto, and $500 million for the BC Cancer Foundation and many hundred-plus million-dollar campaigns across Western Canada. We’ve seen some successfully come to a conclusion with the Calgary Health Foundation and their pediatric neonatal unit.
It calls on our donors and donors across the country to think about their giving and the role of these organizations in a different way. What will be interesting to see is there’s been a flood of campaigns that pent up demand for these campaigns that didn’t launch during the pandemic. It’ll be interesting to see how they choose to engage donors. It’s going to come down to storytelling and the credibility of the organization’s asking for these very large gifts that it’s going to take to be successful with these goals. I think we’re going to learn a lot. Organizations are going to learn how to connect with donors in a new way and how to define the role of philanthropy in a bigger, broader way.
The most challenging thing any organization faces when they do these historic, ambitious campaigns, whatever it would mean in their universe, is that the large gifts often are about transforming how organizations are structured, how they operate, do their work, and pursue their organizational purpose. In order to seek these transformational gifts, organizations must first be willing to transform.In order for organizations to transform how they operate, they must first be willing to transform. Click To Tweet
That’s going to be a challenge for a number of the large campaigns we’ve seen, not the universities that we’ve mentioned necessarily, but several others that are going to be asking their donors to give in a different way. Donors are maybe asking them to behave in a different way. I think it’s going to be great. A few years down the road, we’ll know whether all of these campaigns will be successful. Right out of the gate, we’re going to learn the ones doing a great job of connecting the role of philanthropy to their organizational purpose and hitting it out of the park.
Looking back on the last year, we’ve mentioned that there have been several historic campaigns. Have you seen specific examples of good fundraising that impressed you over the past year that stood out to you?
It’s not always the big campaigns that tell the best stories. We had the chance to work with the Early Childhood Learning Center at Caplan University. It was a $5 million campaign shared by Derek and Carlota Lee. It was one of the most beautiful textbook campaigns I’ve ever seen, raising significant money for an institution that hadn’t gone out into a large campaign in its history. Working with great volunteers, doing the work and raising the money in less than a year to build that new facility was great to see.
We’ve also seen our friends at the Chinese Canadian Museum launch a museum and an ambitious campaign. The early returns from donors have been outstanding as an organization that’s meeting a community need4. It’s something that seems obvious that we would have in Canada or at least in British Columbia. This is the first one.
It’s been great work to see the volunteers step forward and the community respond as it has. There are lots of great stories of individual donors finding philanthropy or a way to express their commitment to the community through philanthropy, both large-size gifts. There is a $33.8 million gift to UBC and VGH Hospital Foundation for multiple sclerosis research. It’s an unnamed donor, and I’m sure when that announcement came out, everybody was trying to figure out exactly who that was. It’s some moments of great inspiration and fundraising. Despite what may be on the cover of The Globe and Mail, I am incredibly optimistic about the role of philanthropy and the opportunity for philanthropy in this entire social profit sector as we move into 2023.
Let’s jump ahead into 2023. What are some trends that you are expecting to see in the sector?
There are three that come to mind immediately. The first is that we will continue to see a very significant shift in the senior levels of leadership in organizations across the social profit sector. There will continue to be a significant change in who are the people at the senior leadership table and who these people will be. The leadership is going to be more diverse, full of new ideas about how to organize around organizational purpose, how to engage communities, and how to engage more of our communities in the work of our sector. I’m excited to see what creativity comes to the fore over 2023 and well beyond. We are going to see both a generational and a social demographic shift in who’s leading in our sector. I’m all for it.
I think we’re going to see new structures in our sector and organizations connecting with donors and the community in ways that we haven’t been able to imagine before. I’ve touched on this. Donors will give more in 2023 than they gave in 2022, which was more than they gave in 2021. They’re going to give to causes that offer solutions and promise hope for a stronger community, regardless of what community or how you define community. Donors will continue to reward ambition.
Ambition and an abundant mindset will be rewarded by the organizations that can put that positive face forward, show that philanthropy results, and change for the better are going to be the organizations that will be successful in 2023. Finally, boards are going to continue to find it difficult to recruit the caliber of individuals that they need. This is something that, Alex, we’ve seen with our clients across the country, the challenge of recruiting new board members and keeping board members engaged in the work of our sector. As a collective, we need to spend a lot more time thinking about how to make being on a board that invigorates and energizes force in people’s lives that want to give back.
The way boards operate is going to need to change in a lot of organizations. Rather than receiving reports and looking at PowerPoint slides, organizations will need to be clear on how boards connect to the purpose of the organization. They need to be deliberate in connecting what’s being talked about around the board table to the ultimate purpose of the organization.
Stop using PowerPoint in your board meetings. We’ve seen enough of it over the pandemic. If you’re not governing through Zoom anymore and you’re in person, give yourselves and your board members a break. Do as many meetings as possible or as much as the meeting as possible without PowerPoint. Better conversations, better engagement, better board members, better recruitment. No PowerPoint. How’s that, Alex?
PowerPoint, we’re not doing that. Is that what you’re saying?
Not for our board meetings. It has a role. Try not to do it in your board meeting.
Now I’m going to make you uncomfortable, Doug. The Discovery Group has had a very impressive year. We’ve grown both in terms of our client portfolio as well as the team members. I want to know what you are most proud of that we’ve accomplished in 2022.
I’m so proud of the work that our clients have been able to do in their communities. Something we talk about every day, every week when we get together as a team, is that we get to do this work. We don’t have to but we get to do this work. That get-to mentality is sincere. We get to sit with the smartest, most dedicated kids in class, people taking on the most important and significant causes in their communities, across the country, and around the world. Our role is to help them achieve those exceptional outcomes that they’re seeking for themselves, their organizations and their communities.
That’s what I’m proud of. I am proud of the team that we’ve been able to build here at The Discovery Group. It started from the premise that this work could be pleasant and we could enjoy one another’s company and do excellent work for our clients, but it’s grown to be much more than that. The ideas, that commitment, and the advice that we’re able to give the work we’re able to do for our clients are positively impacted by the fact that we’ve got a great group of people doing exceptional work on a daily basis.
I can echo that sentiment. We have amazing clients and a team. I feel very fortunate to be part of this group. Let’s jump into what’s next for The Discovery Group. What do we have going on for 2023?
I’ll take the words out of your mouth, Alex, and say, if people haven’t seen it, we’ve got a new website. It looks great. More importantly is that we’re going to continue to work with organizations at those moments of inflection, whether something good or bad may have happened in their organizations or they’re striving to do something different.
They realize they need to make a significant change, undertake significant growth, or look at how their boards are working. We are going to have the opportunity to continue to work with them. There’ll probably be more of us at the end of 2023 than at the end of 2022. It’s not about getting bigger. It’s about being able to work with clients who are doing exceptional work. It is a privilege. I hope that the show continues to grow when people continue to tune in. I’ll tell you, I learned so much from the guests that we have on and the conversations we have about how to get to the real meat of what they’re thinking and what drives them as we’re planning those episodes. I’m proud of what we’re able to share. The learning that we’re able to share in the profile.
We’re able to put on some special people doing some great work in our sector. I’m looking forward to more episodes. I think it’s going to be a great year for our group. Much more importantly, it’s going to be an exceptional year for our sector and the work that people do. I’m thrilled that we all get to be a part of it.
Happy holidays to everyone in The Discovery Group community. We’re going to be taking a break from the show over the holidays. Please join us back for the first week of January 2023. We have a very impressive lineup of guests. I hope you have an amazing Christmas with your family.
Thanks, Alex. Thanks to everyone for reading.