What role do Women have in Grantmaking Philanthropy in Canada and Quebec?

02 April 2017

This question was raised by PhiLab after March 8th, 2017, a day that celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women of yesterday, today and tomorrow. In this context, PhiLab is doing just that: honoring women in philanthropy. Two women from the world of philanthropy, both with very different profiles, generously awarded us time for interviews in order to share their opinions and their feminine approach; Ms. Hilary Pearson, President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada and Ms. Danielle Poulin, Founder of Cameo Consulting and expert consultant in philanthropic management.

How do these two individuals from the sector see women’s place, from yesterday to today, as well as their future prospects in institutional philanthropy? That is to say, what are their roles and functions in society within donor foundations? As Jean-Marc Fontan specifies in his post “The Return of Canada, M. Trudeau?”, the term granting foundations refers to private or community organizations that invest the proceeds of endowments in projects primarily implemented by civil society charities.

A Brief yet Necessary Refocus on the Future

Charity is nothing new. For centuries people have been encouraged to give to those in need. The contemporary concept of charity and charitable organizations in many countries, including Canada, can be dated to over 400 years ago. In the Charitable Uses Act, four categories of charities were identified: poverty alleviation, the advancement of education, the advancement of religion, and a practical, all-purpose category ‘various purposes which benefit the community ‘. These categories are still valid and are used and referred to in the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) criteria[i]. In addition, the number of registered Canadian charities increased from 58,000 in 1992 to approximately 86,000 in 2013, as did donations with a total of $ 8.3 billion for 2013, a 69% increase from 2003[ii]. Women are no stranger to this story. Their role has undergone real non-linear transformations in Canada, as well as in Quebec. When we look at the history of philanthropy in Quebec, we are struck by the importance of volunteering. H. Pearson referred to the voluntary sector as a genuine pool of women volunteers, while stressing the importance of differentiating between the sector’s professionals and its volunteers. Indeed, for a long time, charities were run by men while women only intervened on a voluntary basis. This tradition can be traced back to the place held and the role played by nuns. Their work in hospitals, schools and community organizations has long influenced the role of women in philanthropy. Danielle Poulin speaks of this period in the following terms: “I always say that at this moment in history we could see the pure and tough character of charity, organized and structured by the church, where the rich let their money flow down to the poor to buy their ticket to heaven, for a feeling of well-being, or to clear themselves of guilt.” Later, in the 1960s, women continued to invest their time, but this right/duty (?) was no longer reserved exclusively for nuns. The state appropriated important historical roles of charity in areas such as social services, education and health. “Women were involved in an operational context, while men were in charge of decision-making. It was a time,” explains D. Poulin, “where in most charities, women rolled up their sleeves and volunteered.” While Mr. is working, Mrs. volunteers and acts as a caregiver. According to D. Poulin, it is at this precise moment that women will be confronted with major family problems and this, without the status of nuns who are giving back to the community. Wealthy families will decide to get together to provide solutions to these problems: foundations appear.

Trade Unions or Philanthropy?

The philanthropic sector has evolved along with society, without it being a starting point for change. Danielle Poulin and Hilary Pearson agree that the advancement of women’s place in society is not a challenge brought on by the world of philanthropy. Hilary Pearson: “It is certainly the unions that have allowed women to get out of the prevailing structure. The role of women leaders in unions has been very important; maybe not in the rest of Canada, but certainly in Quebec. In the 1960s, women did not want to be volunteers, because immediately they were less important, more amateur. There was this perception of amateurism or of practicing a hobby while the husband was at work. Women have not climbed the ladder thanks to the philanthropic sector; that’s not where the battle was fought.” It is thus in Quebec, in 1961 that we see Marie-Claire Kirkland-Casgrain become the first female member of the National Assembly and Lise Payette elected under the Parti Québécois banner in 1976. The latter began her career in the United Steelworkers of America union. A group of researchers (1978)[iii] observes that the decade 1950-1960 is a transitional period towards the general acceptance of women’s work, and this despite the emergence of opposing groups. Naturally, the commitment and work of the feminist leaders of the trade union, political and legal worlds have helped to ruffle some feathers in the philanthropic sector. Thus, they began organizing around women’s causes assuming that aid for women would have great consequences for society as a whole. “International development organizations like Plan or Oxfam talk a lot about the development of women and girls. This is a pivotal issue. If we can help women and girls, we can have a much greater effect in the community than if we helped men, or if we ignored women,” argues Hilary Pearson. Danielle Poulin wonders and worries about the impact of such efforts and the decision to hold a symbolic day such as March 8th, “For 23 years we have seen pseudo slippages, such as the questioning of the opportunity to hold a Women’s Day, something we didn’t hear 10 years ago. When I hear a minister say she is not a feminist and then take it back, it’s shocking. We are at a kind of crossroads where we have made enough progress thanks to trade unionism to justify a re-examination.” However, inequalities, as in many other sectors, are still present. Danielle Poulin justifies it partially in this way: “We are in a one-on-one negotiating context, without union representation. We do not have a framework that will help us reduce disparities! On the contrary, they can be amplified, because women see another vocation, the ‘good cause’ factor, and thus tend to accept lower wages than their colleagues.

But what is your Real Job?

Anyone who works in the social sector has necessarily been confronted with the question of the legitimacy of their profession. ‘But seriously, what do you do to earn your living?’ Is this phenomenon disappearing thanks to the training programs in the sector? The trend seems to be heading in that direction. Women are on university benches aspiring to higher education. According to D. Poulin, “It is a role that has evolved a lot because we went for educated people, professionals. There was a circle of women and many of them were looking for meaning in their work. We are several women to have made the leap in the 2000s.” Mrs. Pearson agrees that volunteer work must also be taken seriously (sic.). As an unpaid member of three boards of directors for a variety of causes, she stresses the importance of the responsibilities demanded by the sector, “even if it’s unpaid work, it doesn’t mean it’s just a pastime.” Fieldwork is enriching for anybody working in the social sector. Is it also the case for business professionals? Indeed, these sideline activities are similarly an asset for them. “I think that if you’re a lawyer, accountant or engineer, you’re always learning a lot by being on the board of a community organization. Both parties are advantaged by the relationship.” Henry Mintzberg, a professor at McGill, is also embarking on this path, believing that a well-functioning society is comparable to a three-legged chair in search of its balance with business, public and social sector. The social sector, renamed the “plural sector” to introduce the idea of ​​diversity, proposes real objectives with always more responsibilities and financial compensation that is no longer (or less) insulting to professionals. Hilary Pearson insists that “you won’t be a millionaire in the social sector, that isn’t what motivates people. However, you can be compensated in a fair and just way, which is something that both men and women have in common.” Danielle Poulin is confident in her position in the for-profit sector at the service of philanthropy and encourages women in this sector to do the same: “It is not because I am for-profit that there is no larger goal, and it is not because I am a woman in philanthropy that I will be content with charging $40 an hour for my service. Everything is out in the open, nothing is hidden. (…) I subscribe to the generosity and pleasure of my clients. Never did an invoice get sent out unless the customer was absolutely happy to pay it. It’s not because you are in this sector that it is wrong to make a decent living, a concept my male colleagues have never had a problem with.” Women are gaining ground in the sector, but certain questions remain unanswered. “When I look at the sector I know best,” explains Ms. Pearson, “that of private foundations, I still see a lot of men who are CEOs. As in all sectors of society, we can ask the question: why such a difference? The same answers always come up. Women are in charge of the children and decide to work part-time to care for the family.” H. Pearson adds that “They did not have the mentors or the support that would allow them to gain the necessary experience to reach CEO positions.” Are women involved in philanthropy? Yes! Are there large numbers of women volunteers? Yes, the current disparity is certainly due to the weight of tradition. We are left to question the potential evolution in the next generations.

What about Youth, What do They Think?

According to the US study The Millenial Impact, 20 to 32-year-olds are transforming the face of philanthropy. They might have less money, but they seem invested in one or more causes rather than being attached to specific organizations. Generation Squeeze even brings up a change in the concept of giving; young people participate in fundraising efforts, communicate and are engaged in networks about a cause. Hilary Pearson reaches the same conclusion “More informed and more connected than ever, the generation of ‘millennials’ proposes a new way of getting involved. They participate without first thinking of ​​volunteering. If you commit yourself, you commit yourself, whatever label people attach to it! The idea that the charitable sector is one that should be less considered than the others from a financial perspective because people have to do charitable acts is no longer completely true.” Danielle Poulin, for her part, highlights the current differences due to the generation of ‘baby boomers’ in high positions, while seeing an improvement for the women of the ‘generation X’: “In these high positions it is important to have people with large networks. They are looking for people who have great careers of 30 or 40 years in the making. There are fewer women in the generation currently at that age. It is not a question of imposing women’s place; it is a question of arriving at a fair representation of what we are as humans and as a community.” She also adds that to balance the current roles “we also want men in operational roles and women in governance. (…) Jean Charest did it at the provincial level!

Is Philanthropic Action Gendered?

In Canada, there are organizations such as universities, colleges or hospitals that collect the vast majority of the money. The question is why? If women were the ‘majors gifts’, would the profile of donations be different? ” H. Pearson.

If we look at the United States, we learn that 43% of legacies of over $ 1.5 million belong to women[iv]. What about Canada? It would appear that Canada is in a comparable situation. In 2013, AFP found that the total value of assets held by women in Canada was $ 3.2 trillion. That same year, TD also identified approximately 350,000 Canadian women with the financial resources and the desire to make significant donations to charitable organizations. Another dizzying figure? It is estimated that between 2012 and 2022, $ 896 billion will flow between generations in Canada, and of that, about $ 600 billion will go to women, as wives or daughters[v]. It is therefore legitimate to wonder what the general profile of philanthropy would look like if women were the decision-makers. With regard to how women act in philanthropy, some of the key characteristics serve as generalizations: for many women, giving is a collaborative act in which they seek the exchange of values ​​and know-how. In terms of recognition, Danielle Poulin and Hilary Pearson talk about current differences between men and women. “Do we give money to a university to have a building in our name? The Jean Coutu School of Pharmacy, for example. Are women going to pursue this form of recognition? I don’t think so. In the end, there is very little research on the matter, or at least, I do not know of any,” Pearson wonders. Mrs. Poulin observed differences in the perception of work, “How many women who leave their job as leaders in the sector are replaced by men who earn a lot more than they did? Some even negotiate tasteless advantages! (…) Women accept lower wages, even though we are at a turning point. They carry these stakes on their shoulders, and they are enormous! During my 30 years in the sector, I have only seen one man suffer a burnout, but I have seen several female colleagues make themselves sick. Neither men nor women should get sick working in a sector that aims to make the world better.

The World Changes … and Sometimes for the Better![vi]

Conference season is approaching. Topics presented will address the major challenges of the 21st century. PhiLab holds its international conference on April 20th in Montreal and is no exception to the rule. This conference is a continuation of the recent advances of COP 21, which clearly highlight the complexity of the issues and diversity of the challenges ahead. What role do women have in the face of these major challenges that will be at the heart of philanthropic actions? According to H. Pearson, we must first consider how philanthropy confronts these issues. “Private foundations could play a bigger role in Canada. (…) The first thing we need is families who think very broadly. This is quite unusual, as the majority of families who create foundations are not equipped to do so. They always act in the context of charity. It is a very respectable feeling; we need those kinds of contributions. Second, there is a lot of pressure on foundations and donors because of the number of organizations in the sector. There are thus choices to be made in order to have a catalytic effect that goes beyond simply improving a situation. Finally, it is important to collaborate. If a foundation has the ambition to change the system, we have to work together.” The idea that is being pushed forward is that the monopoly of good ideas has no gender and that the best solutions place great emphasis on collaboration and complementarity between actors in the sector. D. Poulin is more concerned about the exclusion generated to respond to these challenges, which would run counter to philanthropy. “Whatever the challenge ahead, there will be people involved and some will be put aside to move faster. Among the greatest victims of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, etc., the effects are borne more by women.” Philanthropy knows this all too well and supports many programs reserved for women and girls. However, it is necessary to differentiate between philanthropic and political action, Mrs. Poulin insists on this point: “Philanthropy is not political; there is a legal impediment. Instead, associations play this role. Mr. Harper used this right for associations to represent themselves. We do not give to an organization that offers tax receipts for them to criticize the government. That dollar should not be used for political representation, it must be used concretely to support the poor and certainly not by bringing them in to discuss! Once we have delved into this issue, we can see the challenge it poses for women to sit down at the table and bring their own contributions. “The distinction is the inclusion of all stakeholders, beneficiaries, victims, and so on,” says Danielle Poulin, speaking of the importance of the distinction to move from charity to philanthropy. “In the same way as in companies, users are on the front line. They know what works and what doesn’t!” Hilary Pearson may see a recent change that offers hope, “If we involve women in the big challenges, we will involve the whole community. Using my case as an example, I am a woman CEO of an organization and I work with female colleagues, do we think about our effort and our contribution from a female perspective? No, I do not think so. I am not acting in that light, but I certainly make a feminine contribution. It is one that promotes networking or working as a community. It may be a feminine perspective, or it may be a perspective that young men and women will end up adopting together. I firmly believe that this generation of millennials will make this perspective a human perspective. They are going to think of ‘who does what?’ instead of ‘what am I going to do?’ This may be more optimistic than realistic vision, but who knows? When I see young people today I have a lot of optimism. Humanity has tools that it has never had before. If we can survive Donald Trump, we will have great opportunities to solve these problems.

For further information
  • McCarthy, Kathleen D. (Editor), Lady Bountiful Revisited: Women, Philanthropy, and Power. New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers University Press, 1990.
  • Yolande Cohen . Femmes philanthropes. Catholiques, protestantes et juives dans les organisations caritatives au Québec (1880-1945), Les Presses de l’Université de Montréal, Montréal,2010, 253 p.
  • Arlene Kaplan Daniels, Invisible careers : women civic leaders from the volunteer world, Chicago : University of Chicago Press, 1988.
  • Le bulletin de l’observatoire du PhiLab mars 2017
Notes de bas de page
  • [i] http://www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/chrts/menu-fra.html
  • ii Liste des organismes de bienfaisance. L’Agence du revenu du Canada. Prélevé en juin 2014.
  • iii “Le mouvement des femmes au Québec”, 1978, collectif, revue Politique aujourd’hui, Paris, no 7-8, 1978, pp. 165 à 178
  • iv IRS, 2004, Personal Wealth 2004.
  • v Du temps, de la générosité, du talent: Les femmes canadiennes et la philanthropie, Rapport TD, 2013
  • vi Hilary Pearson, durant l’entretien au mois de mars 2017