Community Foundations in Canada: A century of making communities stronger, more resilient and sustainable

Par Lynn Gidluck , Chercheure et Co-directrice Hub de l'Ouest
18 juillet 2021

This Editorial introduces the Special Edition: Representation of Community Foundations in Canadian Philanthropy

Community Foundations in Canada

One hundred years ago, Canada’s first community foundation was established in Winnipeg. William and Elizabeth Forbes Alloway saw the disparity between the rich and the poor in their home community and felt a responsibility to give back. They searched for a model that could strengthen their community and help build capacity for citizens to address complex community problems. They discovered a new model in Cleveland – a community trust. In this model an endowment is set up and is controlled by people who know the changing needs of their community. The Alloways made an initial investment of $100,000, setting up the Winnipeg Community Foundation in 1921.

Today more than 90% of Canadian communities have access to a community foundation. At the national level, they are supported by the Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), founded in 1992 to create a national network to connect and support community foundations that were previously working independently. In the less than two decades since CFC came on the scene, the network of community foundations in Canada has grown from 42 to 191. With combined assets of more than $6.2 billion, the network of community foundations has put hundreds of millions of dollars into Canadian communities. For more on the fascinating history of the community foundation movement in Canada check out this video.

To learn about some of the most common misconceptions about community foundations, you might want to grab yourself a coffee and take a few minutes to listen to the first episode of the PhiLab podcast, hosted by communications student Gabriel Huet. This series will explore the complex world of Canadian philanthropy by interviewing and showcasing the lived experience of multiple actors in the sector. In this episode Gabriel has a conversation with the CEOs of the Winnipeg, Saskatoon and Calgary Community Foundations. Skye Bridges from Winnipeg, Carm Michalenko from Saskatoon and Eva Friesen from Calgary also reflect on the key learnings from the pandemic and the importance of the Vital Signs initiative in providing them with data and local community knowledge to measure the vitality of a community and support action towards improving collective quality of life.

Vital Signs was first launched in Toronto in 2006 and has now spread to over a hundred communities in Canada and around the world. The reports offer insights across more than 70 indicators of quality of life at the community level. By connecting community knowledge and local data, Vital Signs empowers networks of organizations to set shared community priorities and drive citizen engagement. For more information about how Canadian Community Foundations are using Vital Signs for social change, take a few minutes to watch this Vital Signs 101 webinar or read this article by Phillips, Bird, Carlton and Rose (2016).

Since 2017, community foundations have begun to align their national data sets with Agenda 2030, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals so that the data collected on communities can be compared to international data. To learn more about the work Community Foundations Canada is doing with the SDGs, take a quick read of PhiLab’s Ontario Hub Co-Director Dr. Manuel Litalien’s conversation with CFC CEO Andrew Chunilall or if you have a bit more time watch this video produced by CFC about why the SDGs matter.

Effort taken by Canada’s community foundations to understand their community needs better than any other organization or individual in it were recognized by the federal government when it chose the CFC, together with United Way Canada and the Red Cross, as the vehicles to distribute support funds to those in greatest need during the pandemic. As a network, 176 community foundations supported almost 5,000 projects across the country supported by the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund.

We hope you enjoy reading this special issue, led by the Western Hub, on the important work that community foundations and other organizations in the philanthropic sector are doing.

By Lynn Gidluck, Researcher and Co-director of PhiLab’s Western Hub