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Toronto Foundation with CEO Sharon Avery

By July 7th, 2023No Comments28 min read
Home » Toronto Foundation with CEO Sharon Avery

DSP 29 | Toronto Foundation

Being in the social profit sector requires you to embrace the ever-changing needs of the community. You must be nimble in order to respond and create a bigger impact. Younger foundations have the advantage of embodying these qualities. They can navigate the present and future without the weight of history like those of older institutions. One of the new entrants as a community foundation here in Canada is the Toronto Foundation. In this episode, Douglas Nelson is joined by its CEO, Sharon Avery, to discuss how she has been challenging traditional notions of fundraising and philanthropy throughout her career. Sharon shares the changes she has implemented, particularly on the shift of their focus from assets and funds to making an impact. She also talks about seeking young philanthropists, keeping her team in a state of hustle, being focused on your vision and values, and ensuring inclusivity and representation. All of these things are an effort to keep the community foundation evolving and relevant. Tune in and discover how Sharon is championing “the new philanthropy” in her work with Toronto Foundation. Gain lessons that will help you navigate the changing needs of your community and more!

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Toronto Foundation with CEO Sharon Avery

On this episode, we have Sharon Avery. Sharon is the CEO and President of Toronto Foundation, one of Canada’s youngest and most significant community foundations. Sharon goes deep, sharing her experience as a leader, trying to bring about change for social equity in her organization and in her community.

She talks about the important steps that she and her organization took to diversify their board, their funding base, and their fund holders. She gives a masterclass and the examples and advice it takes to create lasting and meaningful change in your community and in your organization. Please enjoy my conversation with Sharon Avery.

Welcome, Sharon.


It’s a real pleasure to have you on the show. As the CEO of the Toronto Foundation, we should jump right into the understanding that many people who don’t know the Toronto Foundation, you may think it’s one of the oldest community foundations in the country. Those who know you and know your work know that it is not. What are the implications of the Toronto Foundation being one of the new entrants as a community foundation here in Canada?

There’s usually an assumption made that the community foundation that sits in the center of the universe, as they say, in the economic heart of the country and none of those things because I really will. I believe we are the economic heart of Canada, but we are not the heart of Canada or the center of the universe.

The community foundation would have been here forever. Toronto didn’t think it needed a community foundation for many years. There was a group that started up in the ’60s to start the community foundation here. It didn’t get started until 1981. That does make us one of the youngest community foundations in the country. When you work in practically investing compound interest, age matters.

Most of my big peers, like Vancouver Foundation being the biggest in the country, it’s almost 80 years old. Winnipeg Foundation is 101. We are a young organization. I will be honest, when I took this job, I was a bit nervous about that. I worried that it would hold us back. One of your previous guests, Rahul Bhardwaj, was my predecessor, and I have so much gratitude for him having stabilized this organization the decade that he was in charge.

I inherited a stable organization but a relatively small one. It was about $400 million in assets when I arrived. Now, we are about $780 million, but in community foundations, we always talk about assets. One of the most interesting parts of my journey is that stopping talking about assets was one of the first things that I did.

That’s through our work here at the show. We have had the opportunity to work with community foundations of Canada and a number of community foundations that move from talking about funds under management as though you are something of a mutual fund for the community to talking about impact.

When you think of being a relatively young entrant and a still very significant size. As a foundation, you have put as a priority looking at all your funding and your work in the community through an equity lens. Does being relatively young help with being nimble and able to adjust and be more responsive to the needs of community in your mind?

For sure. First of all, our stakeholder group, we have two big stakeholder groups that I would give Toronto Foundation a third that most community foundations don’t have. You have got your fund holders, those that have established their funds at Toronto Foundation. In our case, when I arrived, that’s a relatively small percentage of our assets under management from fund holders.

We took the opportunity to expand that group to include under 40 diverse Torontonians. What we found when I arrived is those who had established funds at Toronto Foundation were older and Whiter, and we lived here in the most diverse city in the world. Going out and finding and engaging young philanthropists with something new. I think some of my peers looked at our activity in that space and thought, “What are they doing?”

There’s a lot of work to go out and engage. Hundreds of young people in philanthropy, but we haven’t been held back by the weight of history. That group is very different from what you would see across the country. We also hold a lot of money for the government, which a lot of our peers largely avoid because they were established many years ago based on large undesignated bequests in many cases.

The money that they manage is their money almost entirely. We manage a lot of money on behalf of other charities and on behalf of the government. It keeps you honest, and not that my peers aren’t honest. They keep you honest with yourself about what power you have and don’t have. It keeps you humble, and I always say to my staff, “I want to keep us always in a state of hustle,” because we sit in a place of such great privilege.

I do not have to fundraise annually like every other charity. I have worked for and every other charity out there that we support. Especially through COVID, hasn’t that come home to roost in terms of being sensitive to the fact that because we work in a different way because our assets have accumulated over time, and we are financially stable, I never want my team to forget that is a privilege and never to take it for granted. Those things all come along with being younger because that weight of history doesn’t bear down on us. It doesn’t define our future and we can decide where we go.

DSP 29 | Toronto Foundation

Toronto Foundation: Being younger keeps the weight of history from bearing down on us. It doesn’t define our future. We can decide where we go.


It’s a powerful tool if leaders choose to use it. I want to go back to one of the phrases you shared with us that keeping yourself in a state of hustle. What does a state of hustle look like at Toronto Foundation?

In my early years here, I’m coming up on my anniversary, which I can’t even believe. In my early years here, it looked like experimentation. Our first three years together as a team, there were 23 of us on the Toronto Foundation staff. For the previous decade, the organization had spent a lot of time stabilizing and getting its work repetitive, similar, and stable.

When I arrived, it was ready to go to the next level. I always say Rahul passed the baton to me to take and evolve the organization to the next place. It needed experimentation. We experimented with everything. We tried new ways of doing research. We tackled different kinds of research, like social capital, which we can talk about later. I think you will find it very interesting.

We joined the Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Movement worldwide and created a cohort of 115 young philanthropists going on a learning journey about philanthropy together and redefining philanthropy for themselves and the community. That’s what it looked like. We started trying all kinds of new things, all kinds of new face-to-face events and activities that allowed us to engage very differently.

The last thing I would say that hustle looks like for us is we got very centered. Often community foundations will take a role in a community, almost urban planner and almost community builder. I came in and I said to the team, “I think we are philanthropy builders. Our specialty should be philanthropy.”

We have colleagues at the United Way and Civic Action and other fabulous organizations that should be experts on the issues at large. We should be experts in philanthropy. We narrowed our focus to creating a city of informed and engaged philanthropists accelerating meaningful change for all. That helped us set a very different course. We were looking for ways to be relevant this time, because a community foundation that looks the same as it did several years ago when society doesn’t look anything like it did several years ago. We all need to evolve and that’s what evolution looks like for us.

A community foundation that looks the same as it did 50 years ago will not be relevant. We all need to evolve. Click To Tweet

What a great trajectory you are describing there of experimentation and learning and being open to finding a role. One of the things that you emphasize there, and I want to underline it for our readers, is the freedom that comes from a tight focus on what you represent in the community, that we are going to help educate, train, and encourage philanthropy and philanthropists in Toronto.

It gives you the freedom to do a lot of things with that group and to experiment a lot. What we see in some instances, not community foundations across our social profit sector, organizations trying to serve everyone or be add value to anyone who comes through the door, may come through the door, or may come to the website. How are you working with your leadership team? Do you keep that focus on a day-to-day or quarterly basis to make sure that the scope creep doesn’t have you doing urban planning for the city of Toronto by the end of this year or something?

I lucked out. Let me start there. Again, I inherited a fantastic team that was ready for change. One of my leaders, Julia Howell, is a brilliant communications talent. She’s massive community development, granting work in her life, and a lot of brand work. She and I were clear that the first thing we wanted to change at Toronto Foundation was the vision statement.

The vision statement, I think they should change every decade or so. Mission statements should always be the same, but vision statements can change. That’s where we started. It’s one-on-one, but not everybody takes it as seriously as we did. That’s when we went from a vision statement that was largely about making Toronto the best place to work, play, and live, which we didn’t feel with the size of the organization we were was a true vision statement for us.

Maybe in a hundred years, we could affect that scale of change in our city to a vision statement that was highly focused. That’s what I quoted you was our vision statement. City of informed and engaged philanthropists, accelerating meaningful change for all. We had to work with our board to understand that shift. They bought in quite quickly when they understood that this meant deep focus and that our definition of who was the philanthropist in this vision statement could be anybody. Philanthropy needs everybody. That it was a very inclusive vision statement from both who is a philanthropist and meaningful change for all.

That’s where we started. We added values. Our values are brave and thoughtful action, humility in our relationship. I think that sometimes big institutions like ours can be accused of arrogance and throwing our weight around. Humility needed to be pulled out and put front center to the staff, board, and stakeholders to say, “We are going to come into this with humility.” Recognizing that we are not this country’s oldest and biggest community foundation would be a starting place.

There are others doing amazing things that we could learn from. That was a key value, and then public trust above all, is our third value. That’s obviously a core to any community foundation that could use that value. For us, it was recognizing that privilege that we have to serve others in philanthropy involves deep public trust.

The privilege that we have to serve others in philanthropy involves deep public trust. Click To Tweet

We started with vision and values. It’s not rocket science, but what we did is we put it up on the walls. We talked about it incessantly. We put performance review measures around it. We put it up in front of the board every chance we get and try to live that vision and those values constantly. When we got into strategic planning, it became a point where we said, “Does this forward this vision? If it doesn’t forward the vision, we stop doing it.” Easy as that. That’s where focus can be useful.

In our sector, one of the challenges a lot of organizations get into is they don’t have a way to say no to things. We can always say yes to more or different or mission or vision-aligned or adjacent projects, but it can be hard to say no. Being focused on your vision and your values is a great way to make sure you don’t fall too far off the path.

Can I give another example? For certain, the other thing that happens with big institutional leaders is they often get invited to speak to beyond panels too. What I found in my early years was that I was constantly being invited to speak on specific city issues. My feeling is our philanthropists care about things beyond the city.

We have umbilical cords from Toronto to 120 to 170 countries worldwide. People care about things that aren’t in Toronto. I started turning down those opportunities, explaining that if they are going to do a panel on philanthropy, count me in, but if they were going to do it an urban issue, let me recommend one of our grantees.

Started having a running list of fabulous, often racialized leaders who don’t get invited the way a White woman like me gets invited very regularly to things. Recommending them to speak on key issues, whether it was gender-related, equity-related, or poverty-related, that would better position than myself.

I want to share a story with our readers which summarizes a great example of what you shared there. When my colleague Alex Wilson, our Director of Communications, reached out to invite you on the show, you responded immediately with the list of potential guests that you felt we should talk to first. The list is made up of historically marginalized, underrepresented leaders.

We have had some great conversations or some episodes have come out before yours and some are come coming out after. It’s been helpful. A great conversation to learn about those organizations and those leaders. When it’s very much in our sector and society, people are talking about creating a more inclusive and diverse environment when you walk the walk. What do you see as the opportunity for leaders to become true advocates for underrepresented people and racialized people? What do you see as the blind spots for meaningful change?

I have so many of my own to rally with over the last few years. I think that intentionality is everything. Maybe that’s a theme for my leadership style, like focus and intentionality. I get frustrated in this sector sometimes when there’s a lot of talking and not a lot of action. I often have practical examples. What I would say are the two things that have changed for me here in terms of inclusive work beyond the obvious hire a DEI firm and do the work, which is all very important.

You got to do your own work and you got to commit your own time. Also, I have dedicated a lot of energy to transforming our board, and I don’t take full credit for it. I had a phenomenal chair and I have a phenomenal chair, but my past chair was very committed to change a White man for the record. That work is started with calling it out.

I’m surprised at how hesitant folks are to even identify themselves as White verbally or talking about White folks or racialized folks. Getting comfortable with being direct about it and then setting goals. For the first time in many years of Toronto Foundation history, which you now know as young. We have our first woman chair. We have a woman vice-chair. We have our first 50/50 male-female ratio on the board for the last years, and we are 57% racialized.

We haven’t hit all of our diversity goals yet, but we are making enormous progress. My colleague Andrew Chunilall who you have probably spoken to at some point. He pointed out to me, “You have four Black board members. That’s more than any other community foundation in the country.” I hadn’t thought about it like that, and I say that and I shouldn’t necessarily quote Andrew, although I don’t think he will mind. Just to say, that’s the type of talking we need to get comfortable with. I have whiteness as an ethnic profile for myself. I grew up in a small town and very homogeneous upbringing, and I didn’t know that. I have my own set of quirk and we got to get comfortable. That’s number one.

Number two for me is consciously mentoring young women in particular of color. Although I’m mentoring a young man as well. Taking the time out of my life to do that work and not given advice but sponsoring. One of my mentees is now one of my bosses. She’s a board member at foundation and is no longer my mentee. Now she’s a dear friend.

Finding opportunities to help use my position in a powerful way. Don’t think for a second I didn’t spend the last years asking myself if I should leave this job and make way for a woman of color. Toronto Foundation had an amazing man of color running this place for years before me. It’s not a post. It’s not one of the community foundations that hasn’t yet got a leader of color in power.

I have been asking my peers who are women of color and their comment is, “We need you to keep talking like this and we need you to be making way for others in other ways,” but I still wrestle with the question of whether I should even sit in this position, particularly in this city. For certain, just like I gave you a list of great women to speak to, I have a list of great racialized women to take over for me when I leave. I have my list that I can’t wait to hand over to the board when the time comes.

For our readers, she’s not holding up the list, so it’s not like we are getting a sneak preview of it. Don’t call or email. We don’t have the list. One of the things that jump out at me in listening to you talking about that, there are so many opportunities, particularly in the community foundation movement, to represent what is best for our communities. Where we have been, where we are going, and the work we need to do to make where we are going as good as it possibly could be.

We have seen everything from across the sector, not just in community foundations. Seeing everything from organizations, thinking a little bit about these topics that you raise and deciding, “Maybe we will opt out. Maybe we won’t do anything because we don’t want it to look like we are doing anything that’s a token effort. Let’s do nothing.” Having facilitated a couple of those conversations like, “That’s not one of the options. That’s not on the test. You can’t do that.”

It’s a choice. Doing nothing is a choice.

It says something very different than what they are thinking it means, but much more often, what we see. I’m sure you see this in your work and in your travels as well. Organizations with the intention to do the right thing. Starting down the path, encountering resistance, and then stopping. Not because they don’t want to move forward but because they simply don’t know how. Have there been times in your journey at Toronto Foundation where you have thought, “I don’t know what this next step is going to be,” and then how did you keep going?

There are so many. It is such a fascinating time. The unique nature of a community foundation is that we could get involved in any issue because we can grant any issue. We tend to get pulled in so many directions because of the nature of it. We call it cause agnostic, but I’m not agenda agnostic. Does that make sense?

That is a sharp statement if you unpack it, but yes, it does make sense.

Going back to your question about the benefits of being a young foundation. I’m not a young woman, but I’m a young foundation, and there is this myth in community foundations that you are supposed to be neutral. I remember joining and thinking, but we do vital signs. For example, in my first year, I’m looking at the vital signs report and it tells me that is our biggest annual. It was a biannual report on the quality of life and community. The one data point that stepped out at me because I’d come from UNICEF after eight years at UNICEF was that child poverty in Toronto had been at 25% for 20 years.

DSP 29 | Toronto Foundation

Toronto Foundation: It is a myth that community foundations are supposed to be neutral.


The team had given me the report. I was literally launching it three weeks after I started. It was trial by fire. They said, “What would you want to talk about? You are the CEO now. What do you want to talk about?” I’m looking at this report, I said, “I’d like to talk about child poverty.” Then they came back and I said, “No. We are neutral.”

If we are going to talk about something negative, then we also have to highlight something positive about the city. I said, “Why?” “That’s why community foundations are neutral.” That’s not what we are going to be. We are going to be credible in putting out a quality-of-life study. The quality of life for 30% of our population sucks and it does. That’s the technical term. We can’t be neutral because we are here to speak up about these issues.

I think that for me, in the last few years, with the very appropriate social justice revolution that’s going on, as a leader, it’s brought in so many tensions into situations that involve the sector, equity issues, and inclusivity issues. It doesn’t match well with philanthropic sector that is largely White, high-powered and money-driven in a society that’s become incredibly unequal. All that to say, it’s the hardest it’s ever been in the last few years as a White woman learning for herself, her blind spots, how to navigate when to step in and when not to step in.

There was a major announcement that took place in Canada for the Black philanthropic endowment. Wonderfully went to the foundation for Black communities, an incredible organization. Awkwardly in a good way for Toronto Foundation, the Black opportunity fund also applied for that endowment, and their fund sits at Toronto Foundation.

Navigating the relations within the sector, wanting to support the Black community holistically, but being seen as taking aside in this competition. I have a whole discussion to have with the government about why you would do it that way, but it was difficult. In the crux of it, when I was spinning and I almost spun out of control, I called up my Black board members and I met with each of them and I asked their advice and they grounded me. “Stay out of this. This is not a place for a White woman running a philanthropic institution to have to say anything. Shut up. Not your place.”

That was so powerful on every level that I could have those conversations that I felt comfortable calling each of them and saying, “I need your help. I’m not sure what to do. This is outside my zone. I feel I have overstepped. I think I’m making a mess. How do I write this?” That’s what it looks like. That’s why starting with my board in terms of ensuring representation is there. I got incredible counsel from that group.

As a lesson for other leaders who are reading, you share that story. There’s an element of confession as a part of that story that you are sharing, but also how you came to ground and found your way through that, exhibiting the humility. You were talking about earlier for your organization and realizing, “I don’t have a place here. I don’t have a voice here,” and knowing when to step back.

We are seeing that in the very best of our sector more often and nowhere perhaps more than around the concept of trust-based philanthropy, which has been something that we have talked about in the sector. There are some great examples of trust-based philanthropy across the community foundation movement in Canada.

I’m still surprised whenever I hear some resistance to it. What if they went and bought a boat with the money? First of all, who’s they? Secondly, that’s not how this works. As an organization that has been at the forefront of advocating for and funding trust-based philanthropy, what do you think are the main obstacles for this reaching a broader audience or seeing more funding going being awarded through trust-based philanthropy?

For us, one of the stats I’m often quoting is that 66%, the latest statistics from Canada helps give a report with 66% of all donation revenue in this country’s country goes to the top 1% of charities. You talk about focus. One of the focus areas for us as a community foundation that doesn’t have a ton of discretionary granting of our own fund holders give away $20 million or $30 million a year, but we give away $1 million a year.

That’s another element of being young. It’s usually reversed for most of my peers. The power of only having $1 million is that you are giving it away in smaller amounts and you can prove to people that trust-based philanthropy works and you can experiment. We have been experimenting with non-qualified giving for a few years. No surprise to you.

DSP 29 | Toronto Foundation

Toronto Foundation: The power of only having a million dollars is that you’re giving it away in smaller amounts and you can prove to people that trust-based philanthropy works and you can experiment.


We have been experimenting with things like video-based submissions and verbal submissions. A neat pilot last time with our social capital research. The second time, we have done a major social capital report on Toronto. Social capital being basically the fabric of our relationships with each other with our institutions, communities, neighbors, family, and friends.

We did a massive study with seventeen funding partners of Torontonian relationships two years since the last one, which was prior to the pandemic, and then this one this 2023, and we did a grant stream out of it. The way we did the grant stream was the most fun we have had in a long time with granting, which was we took the pool of money and we handed it. We chose ten totally different grassroots organizations. That 66% to 1%. We focus on small to medium-sized grassroots community-based organizations for funding.

We gave it to ten of them. We identified all doing neat social capital work, totally different from each other, and we told them to split it up amongst themselves. We did it in such a way that we facilitated a five-hour workshop with all of them to get to know each other, to trust each other, and learn what was complimentary.

What they said at the end was, “Can we do that again? We don’t even care about the money. Could you convene that group again because we never met any of those leaders before?” You would know this well. We all get so siloed. I hang out with my community foundation peers and my private foundation peers, but I don’t hang around with my hospital CEO peers, university CEOs, or the United Way CEOs. We all silo ourselves.

They loved the capital that was built in relationships, trust, and partnership that came out of that day because each of them was asked. That was the other element. We asked each of them to bring a non-financial contribution to the group. I have free office space. We can run outdoor facilitated employed team-building workshops or whatever that looks like. They each brought something to the middle and shared it with the group that most needed that support.

That’s what it can look like. Our board has gotten used to basically rubber stamping these grants but being more interested in the process itself. You build up the trust and you build up the precedent. No one can say to me, “That won’t work,” because we tried it and it worked great. Let me tell you five stories from that day.

I think of it so much of the act of giving. The act of philanthropy is about joy and dignity on behalf of the donor. Whatever their motivation, overwhelmingly positive human motivations for giving. There are some exceptions. The person is elevated, the donor, their family, their company, and however they break it out is elevated in their own feelings and often how the community views them, and there’s joy in that.

Much of the act of giving, the act of philanthropy, is about joy and dignity on behalf of the donor. Click To Tweet

One of the things that I see as the opportunity for trust-based philanthropy is a way to amplify that dignity and amplify that joy. You talk to organizations who have perceived these trust-based grants. It is true across the sector and it’s true across Canada. The money is important and what mattered was that it felt like the funder was on our side.

They were sitting on the same side of the table. They saw the world through our lens and through our eyes and it was incredibly empowering. That dignity and joy that comes with giving is amplified in the receiver in trust-based philanthropy in a way that is so special. It’s the greatest opportunity that we have as a sector to change that 66 to 1 ratio or 66% of the giving going to 1% of the organizations. If we care about community development and communities we serve, this is the path forward. Your organization has done such a tremendous job in paving that path for others.

I would take it one step further. The dignity and joy that donors feel in giving it, that our sector leaders deserve to feel that dignity and joy in receiving it. Sometimes happens is all the dignity and joy is on one side and all of the, “There’s so much work to do. I have got to do all this reporting. I got to do all these metrics. I got to do all this impact, this measurement.” That doesn’t come with trust-based in the same way.

It allows the sector leaders and their teams to experience dignity in the receiving of because sometimes the dignity of the giving that we prioritize. I am the first one to admit I made this mistake of prioritizing the donor over the sector leader. It comes out of 25 years of fundraising for big institutions, but it is one of my blind spots when you look at equity inclusion, especially when you look at the fact that the money and power on the donor side are still primarily White.

You look at the sector leadership has a lot more racialized folks in power. The dynamic there shows up. When you prioritize the donor over the sector leader and you don’t equalize that playing field, and I have been guilty of doing this for years. That’s one of my biggest lessons here. I created a whole campaign for women to engage in the community and I didn’t create an equal playing field. We had to rebuild that campaign in the middle of it in order to fix my blind spots in the creation of it in the first place.

What a journey that was and what an amazing learning experience and how complex and hard that was too, but important to build out trust. The campaign was called the Trust Collective. I feel personally responsible for eroding some of that trust at the beginning of the journey. My team stepped right in and we renovated the whole thing and it ended last fall with women, like 89% of the women saying they do it all over again.

That self-awareness or willingness to be wrong as a leader in some of these difficult issues is essential for leaders of significant institutions or leaders at any level of organizations in our sector. I feel like we could turn this into an Andrew Huberman or a Tim Ferriss-length three-hour conversation. I enjoy listening to you share, jumping in, and spurring you along. As we come to the end of our time, I want to ask you a question that is a favorite of mine to ask leaders who are doing great things in our sector, which is, what are you looking forward to?

I mentioned off the top that I have a new chief operating officer starting on May 1st, 2023. I’m so excited. We had a wonderful COO for the last several years who retired at the end of December 2022. My new COO is coming out of international development. He was born and raised in Toronto but has spent the last years living in 7 or 8 different countries working for one of the big NGOs. I am so excited about him joining the organization and all that he’s going to bring to this.

For me, the next level for Toronto Foundation is we are going to live our vision. It is to connect the global to the local in a bigger way when I look at climate and conflict worldwide. When I look at the umbilical cords of Torontonians around the world, I don’t think we will truly be a relevant community foundation for this city if we don’t acknowledge the bigger picture.

Practically speaking, Rashid is going to bring this wonderful new perspective to the organization and help go to the next level. Those are the things I’m excited about for us as we develop. Let me squeeze one more in. It will be, “Where does social capital go from here?” The social capital report is core to every charity to everybody.

One of the questions is, if you were in the hospital, how many people do you have to call to come to pick you up? The horrifying stat in Toronto alone is that 300,000 Torontonians say they have no one they could call. What is that? We did a national sample. I’d love to see that become a national report. I’d love to see us doing it regularly. COVID has taught us that being separated isn’t good for our health, whether that’s mental health, the health of the community, families or institutions. Those are the two things that I’m excited about looking ahead to.

I appreciate you making time to be on the show and sharing a bit of your journey and some great lessons for leaders who are on a similar path. Thank you.


Important Links


About Sharon Avery

DSP 29 | Toronto FoundationEntrepreneurial and innovative, Sharon Avery has been challenging traditional notions of fundraising and philanthropy throughout her twenty-three-year career.

As President & CEO of Toronto Foundation, Sharon has championed “the new philanthropy,” an inclusive, participatory, and power-shifting approach to charitable giving and grant-making. With Sharon at the helm, Toronto Foundation has become a gathering place for diverse new philanthropists, community organizations and grassroots leaders to embark on learning journeys and build partnerships to more effectively fight inequality in the city.

Under her leadership the Foundation has introduced programs, such as Vision 2020 and Vision Next, aimed at mobilizing next generation philanthropists; the Trust Collective, focused on investing in women and girls; and harnessing the potential of social impact investing. Sharon played an instrumental role in helping secure $300 million in government funding to support global gender equality through the Equality Fund, an innovative multi-sector partnership between the non-profit sector, philanthropists and investors.

Armed with a broadcasting degree Sharon found her real calling in the charitable sector and has held senior roles at UNICEF, SickKids Foundation, Save the Children Canada and Tim Horton Children’s Foundation.