Making Connections with Grantmaking Foundations: Lessons Learned in Regina

Blog, Western Hub

Welcome to the community of grantmaking foundations in Regina! Queen city is relatively small with just over 230,000 residents. It is also home to 25 grantmaking foundations, defined as those that have transferred a grant to a registered charity at least once since 2010. We sat down with representatives from nine grantmaking foundations, and here are 5 lessons learned.

Small Community Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Tight-knit

With a relatively small pool of actors in a tight-knit community, we expected to see a closely connected grantmaking foundation sector. Not surprisingly, foundations in Regina have deep connections to the communities and organizations they fund. As an example, the United Way of Regina is working with more than 160 communities to improve educational outcomes of Regina’s children through the “Grade-Level Reading” campaign. What was surprising is that, these foundations lack a connection to each other! The foundations we met with, described having little knowledge about the work other foundations do and few occasions for joint collaborative initiatives.

One Size Does Not Fit All

There are multiple reasons why these foundations represent a relatively un-networked system of grantmakers. As is the case across Canada, these foundations are diverse not only in size, areas of operation and funding streams, but also in how they conduct themselves and in visions they follow. But what they do have in common is that they are all working to make an impact in the same community on various intersecting issues.

Networking is Key

Despite their structural and operational differences, most see potential benefits in connecting with other local grantmakers. For those that fundraise – connecting with other foundations is a chance to meet funders with more money or find partners who share the same vision for making an impact. It can also mean sharing expertise and learning best practices from others in their sector in order to improve their own performances.

Data is Not on the Mind (or is it?)

Our main incentive for consulting with foundations in Regina was to inform them about the largely unexplored datasets available and the types of questions it might help to answer about the Canadian foundation sector. We found that most foundations do not often directly engage with data as they are rightly focused on their daily work. But does this mean that data and research cannot be used to inform their practice?

Data = Insights into Practice

Though some foundations produce reports and data about their grantmaking, this practice of shared learning is the exception rather than the rule. Associational groups have produced reports using a variety of data, such as Vital Signs community sourced data or the PFC-Imagine Canada joint report that uses data gathered from various CRA tax reporting forms to talk about giving trends among foundations. Academics have also played a part in dissecting the sector, but to this day, their use of the wealth of quantitative information available in CRA forms has been limited.

In consulting with foundations in Regina, we understand that most foundations do not have the time or resources to wade through such large databases, but as part of LaboMTL’s SSHRC Partnership Development Program, we want to do it on your behalf! The CRA’s T3010 data, for example, includes valuable information on foundation operations, fundraising activities, and foundation grant-giving that could help answer a range of important questions, such as:

  1. As governments are tightening their budgets and foundations step in to support charities as non-governmental providers of public services, what program areas do foundations choose to fund, and what areas are in need of funding?
  2. How do foundation grants affect fundraising activities of charitable organisations?
  3. Does investing in your staff result in better foundation operations?

How can answers to these questions help inform the practice of foundations? Tell us if one question is more pertinent than the others.

Tweet us @LaboMTL with your thoughts on these questions, and subscribe to our e-newsletter to keep up to date.

We are excited to continue engaging with foundations. Anyone wishing to be part of this dialogue we encourage to contact us directly at iryna.khovrenkov@uregina.ca or lgidluck@benchmarkpr.ca.