Connecting the dots: The philanthropic sector and regional development opportunities in Atlantic Canada

Par Brady Reid , Ph.D. Candidate and Atlantic Hub Coordinator
03 December 2019

Born and raised on the island of Newfoundland, I have experienced first-hand the spirit of giving that people in this region embody. In a recent interview with Arthur Bull, former chair of the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia, he stated: Rural Philanthropy Atlantic Canada

“The basic reality is that rural communities are already philanthropic places, in the broader sense of the word … if somebody’s house burns down, the community helps to rebuild it. If a kid is diagnosed with a chronic disease, within a week, there are cans on the counters in stores from people collecting money for them, or music event benefits” (Personal communication, 2019).

At home, everyone knows everyone in a small town, so if something happens in the community and someone is in need for help, the community steps up. As a child I’ve even experienced this type of generosity when fundraising for school trips or going door-to-door collecting money for organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation. One of the greatest examples that I can give in the region of philanthropy (that may not be defined as such by the Canadian Revenue Agency) would be the support for passengers on-board the airplanes that were grounded in Gander, NL, during the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York City. The attacks forced 38 passenger planes to land in Gander, with nearly 7,000 people from all over the world on-board (instantly doubling the population of the town). Without hesitation, communities within the region joined to provide food, shelter, and lines of communication for everyone during these troubling times (Antle, 2018). This story has now been transformed into a hit Broadway musical, Come From Away.

As Arthur mentioned in his interview, this philanthropic nature is not lost on others across all parts of Atlantic Canada. In 2011, Statistics Canada reported that “the Atlantic provinces and the territories had a larger share of the population living in rural areas than Central Canada or the Prairies” (Statistics Canada, 2018). Therefore, when discussing the landscape of philanthropy in Atlantic Canada, the rural dimension plays an integral role. The flourishing generosity in the mostly rural, Atlantic region of Canada has led researchers and community partners to closely assess philanthropy as a potential vehicle for community development (Gibson, Barrett, and Parmiter, 2014). Ryan Gibson, a research member within the PhiLab network, contributed to a report looking to build capacity through rural philanthropy which suggests that the community foundation model is an effective medium to promote community and regional development (Gibson et al., 2014). A community foundation is “an organization established to manage a community endowment fund, the income from which is distributed to registered charities within a community” (Gibson et al., 2014, p. 70).

Rural Philanthropy Atlantic Canada

Figure 1: Map of the Atlantic region of Canada

With a population predisposed to generous philanthropic behavior, one could assume that Atlantic Canada has the potential for some of the most effective community foundations in the country. However, as the data from Statistics Canada demonstrates in the little research that has

been done focusing on philanthropy in Atlantic Canada, the 10 community foundations established in the region (figure 1) do not manage large endowments.

Alternatively, Bruce (2012) highlights a positive example of private investment in Guysborough, NS, a rural community that has been revitalized through the contributions of one Toronto-based entrepreneur. Doug Lionais, a professor at Cape Breton University and research member with the PhiLab Atlantic Hub, considers social enterprise in Atlantic Canada as an “emerging phenomenon that makes use of a variety of approaches, [and] is rooted to a legacy of community development” (2015, p. 39). Evidently, there are other avenues that communities can explore when looking toward development, such as private investment or social enterprise. However, these approaches require outside intervention whether it be finding investors or receiving training in business operations. Development through the philanthropic sector could harness assets and wealth that are already available in the community, which Arthur Bull argues amounts to more than enough money (personal communication, 2019).

Gibson et al. (2014) further support this argument by Bull in a table constructed from data obtained from Statistics Canada in 2011 (figure 2). The four Atlantic provinces were identified as having the greatest percentage of charitable giving for people above the age of 15 in both 2007 and 2010. This charitable giving is fractured by a wide range of charities to whom people send their donations. Instead, the community foundation model would see that most donated funds are collected by the foundation in that region, and then redistributed as needed to relevant charities to meet community priorities as identified by representatives of that community or region. Across Canada, Gibson et al. (2014) note that:

Philanthropy has become an increasingly important mechanism for addressing community and regional priorities and opportunities throughout Canada … resulting in over $1 billion delivered in grants in 2006 (p. 34).  


Rural Philanthropy Atlantic Canada

Figure 2: Charitable giving rates per province

The high percentage of charitable giving rates boasted within Atlantic Canada (figure 2) is coupled with a history of generous informal giving – exemplified by the actions of Newfoundlanders during the 9/11 attacks. This is significant when applying a rural lens on community development because of the unique challenges faced by these communities. Gibson et al. (2014) recognize the context of rural Atlantic Canada as being burdened with net outmigration, thus a decreasing population and tax base, coupled with austerity measures enacted by provincial governments (cuts to rural services and programs). With increased pressure on rural communities in Atlantic Canada, Gibson et al. (2014) suggest that further research within the philanthropic sector through the community foundation model may identify pathways to sustainable and lasting community development. The challenge for researchers and practitioners is now to connect these dots to translate this high percentage of charitable giving rates in Atlantic Canada to a strong regional capacity for rural community development. Rural Philanthropy Atlantic Canada

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Antle, A. (2018, August 18). Gander’s Ripple Effect: How a Newfoundland town’s kindness

made it to Broadway. Canadian Broadcasting Centre, retrieved from:


Bruce, A. (2012, October 24). Breathing new life into old town. Atlantic Business, retrieved


Gibson, R., Barrett, J., and Parmiter, S. (2013). Philanthropy as a Vehicle for Regional

Development. Harris Centre Memorial University. Retrieved from:

Lionais, D. (2015). Social Enterprise in Atlantic Canada. Canadian Journal of Nonprofit and

Social Economy Research, 6(1), p. 25-41.

Statistics Canada. (2018). Canada goes rural. Retrieved from the Statistics Canada website: