1:1 with Barbara Grantham
Over the course of 2019, Nicole Nakoneshny, KCI’s Lead, Knowledge + Insights, is going one-on-one with the members of our Philanthropic Trends Advisory Board to talk about the future of fundraising and philanthropy and explore What’s Next for Canada’s charitable sector.
KCI’S “WHAT’S NEXT?” INTERVIEW SERIES – BARBARA GRANTHAM
Barbara has 30 years of experience as a successful senior executive and consultant in the non-profit and philanthropic sectors across BC and nationally. Prior to her current role, she held executive positions with the Vancouver Foundation, Streetohome Foundation, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Association. Barbara also has extensive experience as a senior consultant, excelling in strategic planning, organizational assessment, project management, board governance, financial sustainability, and public policy issues.
Barbara is a proud member of the Board of Directors of YMCA of Greater Vancouver, the largest ‘on the ground’ social service organization in BC as well as Jack.org, a national organization working to revolutionize mental health. Barbara holds a BA degree in Political Studies from Queen’s University, and a Master’s degree in Public Policy and Public Administration from Carleton University. She lives in Vancouver with her family and their loyal golden lab Rosie.
Nicole: When it comes to fundraising, what would you say is trending? And what’s timeless?
Barbara: There are certain fundamentals that haven’t changed – we have to ask, it’s still about relationships, it’s still about listening to donors and seeking to understand what they want to achieve…and then determining what kind of change we can effect together. Successful fundraising has never been about what we want; rather it’s about what donors want to achieve and how our priorities can help achieve their philanthropic agendas.
What has changed is some of the mechanics we use to do that. For instance, how we communicate with donors is dramatically changing. How we use the power of data and analytics to better understand our business, patterns across donor groups, and make informed decisions is also something very new.
Another thing that is changing is the norms and expectations around accountability. Donors used to be more passive, but now they want to be kept in the loop with project updates on an ongoing basis. They want the same kind of accountability as any other investor in any other proposition.
I also find that how we talk about our impact is also much different now, and it’s fascinating. We used to talk about how much money we raised, which was the mark of our success, credibility and investment worthiness. Now, we need to talk about the difference we made and what we made possible.
Nicole: Why do you think this is now the case? What’s changed in the psyche of donors that makes this type of accountability and conversation a requirement?
Barbara: I’d say we’re here for a few reasons – because donors are more sophisticated, there’s more competition, and the regulatory environment is more rigorous. In addition, as the post war donors who were the business leaders and pioneers of philanthropy are passing the torch to the next generation, we’re dealing with a new group of donors who have different philosophies, perspectives and expectations. And so I believe that these new norms are reflective of a different and evolving culture of giving.
Nicole: Tell us about the environment here in BC? What are the biggest opportunities for charities when it comes to fundraising in BC today? What are the biggest challenges?
Barbara: I think there are two main driving forces; shifting economic influencers and the changing face of individual wealth in the province.
When it comes to the economy, we’ve seen a decline in the relative influence of the former powerhouse natural resources sectors (i.e. mining, oil and gas, forestry) and the rise of knowledge and service industries, including the high tech sector. And in terms of individual wealth, the number one driver is the large number of immigrants into the province, and in our case, from Asia in particular.
Successful fundraising has never been about what we want; rather it’s about what donors want to achieve and how our priorities can help achieve their philanthropic agendas.
Nicole: How do you find that these changes play out in terms of how you raise money?
Barbara: With fewer head offices here in Vancouver, it means that we are increasingly focused on individual giving. As in other parts of the country, giving from individuals has always been important for fundraising success in BC, but I would say it’s even more accentuated now.
These changes also mean that when we look at whom we are involving as volunteers on our boards and in other fundraising capacities we need to “go where the money is”. They mean that the outreach we have in different communities is more diverse than ever…and that the importance of the outreach, and as a result, our commitment to it, has increased.
Nicole: Tell me more about that commitment to outreach to diverse communities. I know you have had tremendous success raising money from newer Canadians. What has been the key to your success and what advice would you have?
Barbara: First thing I would say is diversity means just that; different communities are different, and one size really doesn’t fit all. For example, people from different parts of China (the mainland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, etc.) all behave differently and have various philanthropic practices. We also have a large Filipino community and they approach giving differently. On top of that, we continue to have legacy communities that resulted from post WWII immigration, and their approach is particular as well. So, we really do need to have a variety of different strategies, approaches and outreach to ensure resonance.
When I started 7 years ago, if you couldn’t speak English, the Foundation couldn’t communicate with you. So we hired one person to get us started in building inroads into the Chinese community, added two more shortly thereafter…and onward from there. Now we have a complete Chinese media engagement strategy, including a youth leadership team of high school and university students who do events. We’ve engaged young Chinese professionals, and built relationships with Chinese physicians. We can do an entire event in Mandarin, Cantonese, or both. Virtually every team has at least one member who is Chinese.
So, my biggest piece of advice would be that you cannot play at it – you have to be committed to it. And on top of that commitment, it takes time, patience and investment. You won’t see returns overnight.
Nicole: When it comes to your conversations with major donors from diverse communities, how would you characterize them? Are they similar to any major donor conversation?
Barbara: In the vast majority of ways, yes. In my experience, I have found potential major donors who are newer to Canada are curious about this new place. Fundamentally they want to feel like they belong, and philanthropy is one of the pathways through which they achieve this.
Nicole: We keep hearing about the impending wealth transfer, now predicted to be upwards of $1 trillion over the next decade. What should organizations be doing to be ready?
Barbara: My best advice would simply be to just start. Start with your board, ask your board members to make a planned gift. Ask them to each host something with five friends to share info about making a planned gift. Even if you’re just a small charity, there are steps you can take. Find 50-100 of your best prospects based on giving, age and stage in life, find a financial planner, lawyer and /or accountant and ask them to come in and do a two hour session with these donors about the benefits and mechanic of making a planned gift.
I feel that part of my job is to educate and illuminate – we raise this much annually and it takes this much investment a year to do that. We are responsible with our costs but we are also unapologetic about them.
Nicole: I’m curious to hear your thoughts on how volunteer engagement has evolved over the years? How do you engage volunteers in your work?
Barbara: Volunteers today want to know very clearly the scope of work their roles entail – their task(s), the value proposition of their involvement and, particularly in the case of a cabinet, the term of their involvement. They tend to want it finite and definable.
In terms of getting the best and most out of our relationships with volunteers, I would say the key is to focus on the “why” of what both we and our organizations do. Being able to cultivate a passion for the cause is one of the best motivators for a volunteer. And then it’s being clear about what you’re asking of your volunteer, and if they can deliver. Then, you must actively support them in undertaking their tasks. These are the three key fundamentals I believe in working effectively with volunteers.
When it comes to boards and governance, the good news is that I believe the quality of governance has leapt forward, in terms of recruitment, decision making, CEO management, and succession planning. We still have work to do for sure, and we must constantly strive to improve and get better but we’ve made significant strides in this area of our work with volunteers.
Nicole: One of the biggest challenges hospitals have when raising money is raising unrestricted donations. I was struck by your Angel Campaign. Tell me about that as well as the other ways you have found success raising unrestricted funds.
Barbara: We are primarily a major gifts shop so it can be very tough when it comes to raising unrestricted dollars and so we do rely significantly on the annual fund.
Angels is our holiday campaign that we begin just after Remembrance Day. It’s our largest annual campaign explicitly for undesignated revenue. We have long done a tree display where donors could honour an Angel in their life, but over the past few years, we’ve begun to add a significant virtual component to the campaign virtual, so it now has a huge social media component. For instance, we now encourage donors to put photo of their “angel” onto their Instagram account. We’re doing that with all the social media platforms and so have embedded tons of fun and online amplification into the campaign. We also build Giving Tuesday into the campaign now. On that day, one of our board members gift matches as an incentive.
When it comes to funding our administration costs, we do apply levy to our major gifts, a practice that is rooted in the philosophy that all donors should support those costs. We make that equity principle part of our message to major gift donors. We’re very comfortable with our revenue model and our costs, something that helps too. I feel that part of my job is to educate and illuminate – we raise this much annually and it takes this much investment a year to do that. We are responsible with our costs but we are also unapologetic about them.
Nicole: What are the things that you believe should be on every charity’s agenda right now as it relates to their fundraising?
Barbara: You need to know your 80/20. Focus on where the money is, and, like Wayne Gretzky, where the money is going to be. Then allocate your resources accordingly – 80% on the now, and 20% on the next. One of the newer tools we have in our toolkit to do this is data analytics. Even basic data can give you a huge lift and insight. And finally, understand who your next generation of donors is going to be, and start pivoting your organization to be ready for them.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I get inspired by the people around me every day, particularly the medical staff at the Hospital.
Who (e.g. company, sector) outside of the NFP sector do you think has done a great job of dealing with the disruption they have faced?
I think how the mining industry is using and approaching artificial intelligence is really fascinating.
What was your first experience with “charity” – either giving or receiving?
My mom was a really active community volunteer. She was a single parent, worked part time, and raised me and my brother. She was active in the Junior League, typed braille, and answered the phone at the crisis centre. She truly inspired my love for both this work and our sector.
How did you become a fundraiser? What was your first fundraising job?
As was the case with many in my generation, I kind of became a fundraiser by accident! I graduated with my Master of Public Policy and found myself working with United Way on the community investment side of the house. The leadership saw some good potential in me and suggested a secondment to the fundraising department to round out my experience…to which I said “But I’m not a fundraiser!” Funnily enough, I still don’t see myself as a fundraiser. I see myself more as a sector leader who looks for opportunities to parlay abilities and passion for good public policy into fruition.
Best piece of advice you ever received?
The same leader who encouraged me to take the secondment to the fundraising department then later encouraged me to take on an Executive Director maternity leave. I told him that I wasn’t ready, and that I’m not an ED. He argued that I was, and told me why. At that time, he also urged me to “never turn down an opportunity”. I took that advice to heart.
Best piece of advice you wish you had received?
While this may sound like an oxymoron, don’t be afraid to be fearless. We live in a pretty risk-averse culture, and so it can too often be too easy to take the well-trod path.