Paul has spent 18 years in the philanthropic sector. As Vice President of Community Engagement with CanadaHelps, Paul’s team connects Canadians to their most beloved causes as they help over 18,000 charities tell their stories and fundraiser online.
Paul has been a philanthropic advisor with the Scotiabank Group and spent over a decade with charities like the University of Toronto and the Catholic Church of Greater Toronto. He teaches fundraising with the postgraduate fundraising program at Georgian College, is Chair of the Advisory Committee at the Humber College postgraduate fundraising program, an instructor with the Canadian Association of Gift Planners and he is a regular speaker at professional advisor gatherings across Canada. In 2016 he won the CAGP “Friend” Fellowship award, recognising the top planned giving professionals in Canada.
How does your organization ensure that your employees are providing services that meet or exceed the expectations of your stakeholders?
In my role with CanadaHelps, we support over 18,000 charities, mostly small to medium sized ones across Canada. And I visit hundreds of these charities coast to coast on a weekly basis - so I have a unique perspective on how “place and space” have a direct effect on a charity’s effectiveness and the employees who work for them.
How do you see charities promoting work/life balance?
Many of our charities realize that in today’s fight for talent, in programs, management and in my world of fundraising, location and facilities matter to employees. In all communities, urban, suburban and rural - commute is king or killer to acquiring and keeping talent.
What differentiates the the employee experience at charities and not-for-profits in 2018?
One of the new challenges for charities today is differentiating their internal work experience. Cause was the end-all and be-all for founding organizations and as they scale, culture matters more and more. This is a great struggle for organizations moving from founder to small scale and from small to medium scale.
How important is employee engagement and how do you measure it?
Most charities that I spend time with are thinking more deeply about employee engagement but when we go to sector gatherings like the Ontario NonProfit Network and look at operations through the lens of bodies like Imagine Canada, we don’t see tracking or measurement yet. It’s exciting to see that this type of progressive strategy leaders think about sector health more and more.
How do charities and non profits you visit ensure they have a highly engaged team?
The highest engaged teams that I have visited display the following characteristics: they have moved beyond old school style annual reviews and they still have performance management but are now more flexible and favour more frequent check-ins and feedback models. It is a huge myth and rumour that “millennials”, and we have to realize that they themselves have multiple cohorts in this generation, require obsessive feedback and guidance. When I speak with managers at charities, and many of us are deeply engaged with each other to track trends and serve our teams, they realized that flexibility and feedback is vital to all generations. People want to do more, do it collaboratively and do it faster - and real-time engagement is key to this.
At Colliers, we strive for a culture of collaboration built under four key pillars: Expertise, Service, Community and Fun. How important is culture and collaboration within your organization?
For the very small charities I visit, many of which are run entirely by volunteers, collaboration is the difference between the charity existing or not. It has been so exciting to see these volunteers, many of who come from not just a community of care but actual corporate environments, bring more technical and organizational skills to the collaboration of running a small charity. They use tools like web portals, products like Slack or Google Drives that are secure (it used to be that Excel spreadsheets were emailed around forever). When it comes to the active, well-staffed, medium-sized organizations like the federated teams of Habitat for Humanity, United Way, Canadian Mental Health Associations and the hundreds of Food Banks we work with; culture is paramount. It has been a fascinating and humbling education for my team to observe how these organizations used cause, collaboration and culture to build and scale. The charities who are effective think this way too: expertise and skill are part of the new-school success of doing good where before it was just about people “doing their best on what could be scraped together”. When I look at the almost revolutions being led at groups like Community Foundations through their “Vital Signs”, it is an inspiration to see a sector scale in its ability, agility and impact.
Culture is often described as what happens when the boss isn’t around. How would you describe workplace culture in small charities and nonprofits across Canada?
For me, it is lack of culture that erodes an organization when it scales. I get to observe many small charities as we help them raise more funds and those funds create possibility. But if scale is just a HOW, there isn’t focus. Culture is keeping the WHY embedded in a charity’s HOW - teams that grasp this are the ones I see thriving, not just surviving.
Does your physical space promote collaboration?
It pains me when I visit charities in strip malls, industrial districts and crammed into tiny spaces. I have worked for some larger charities myself as a fundraiser in the past and I often call charity staff “the people under the stairs” because at so many charities that’s where admin is housed. This may be controversial but I see so many University and Hospital Advancement teams housed off site because it’s cheaper - this is your revenue development team, they are responsible for inspiring your donors and to have them disconnected from your mission, from what inspires I have always felt wasn’t great. When I visit our charities where the staff are engaged in the mission, Ronald McDonald Houses, Hospices, Children’s care and camps - wow, I’m inspired and I watch the staff collaborate, and innovate as a result.
Within what areas in your non-profit organization are you experiencing major change? Why?
CanadaHelps exists because of the birth of the internet revolutionizing fundraising. Today we ourselves have been through massive change to adapt to what the web looks like today, as mobile is how Canadians live and it is increasingly how Canadians give. In visiting hundreds of small charities we see they are not using the internet as a tool effectively for their mission or revenue development. Same goes for engaged sustainable offices: I teach fundraising with Georgian College and am on the Advisory Council at Humber College and I witness young professionals wanting to be engaged and see a charity live the values it espouses. Having space that is healthy and connected is a big part of this.
How do charities and nonprofits ideally go about creating or forcing change in their own shops?
I have asked dozens of Executive Directors this very question - how do you encourage and lead change? When they are having to lead change at charities who are as old as Canada, this is not an easy culture shift. The leaders who live the culture they preach, who work with staff to listen as much as they teach and who follow the values of their cause (environmental charities moving into LEED spaces, poverty charities going green with food and housing, education charities trying to innovate how they engage employee benefits of transit and travel) are the ones I see making the most positive internal change.
From a funding perspective, how do you see organizations position themselves in a crowded non-profit market?
Supporting 18,000 charities in a market of over 86,000 in Canada, it is vital to help our partners clearly communicate why they are different and worthy of funds. It’s important to share that being transparent and accountable in 2018 is table stakes, it’s what you have to do and I am very proud to see that the Canada Revenue Agency Charities Division is working hard at it. The next step is to take a moment (or in today’s always busy society make a moment) to think about changing your narrative from what your charity does to what problem your charity is solving. This is a critical shift for small charities to think about: having a logo that the public recognizes won’t mean donations or funding in 2018 or beyond.
How is your organization’s brand and image perceived by both funders and the general community?
We are going through a generational shift. The “Silent” generation of 80+ will instantly connect with “brands” like the Salvation Army; Boomers who are 60+ will instantly recognize a “brand” like the United Way; and Millennials will instantly connect with a movement like Movember. But they all are innovating to be relevant today; the Salvation Army is so smart at rejuvenating their relevance as local community collaborators creating real life impact for people in need, the United Way is evolving past its corporate giving roots and fundraising focus to being hyper engaged with how professionals do good in our century, and charities like Movember that were so popular as a movement but need to translate to a fundraising strategy are evolving into better revenue generators who are open to innovation past just traditional “donations”.
How important is your brand to a charity or nonprofit? What do you want people to think of when they hear an organization’s name or see the logo?
Brand is life when it comes to fundraising. We engage thousands of charities coast to coast and we try to help them clearly communicate quickly: who we are, what we do, how you can partner with us to make change. In a mobile world, this needs to be done in milliseconds. And brand is how this is often done.
What do charities and nonprofits want employees and clients to think when they walk into a space?
I have the privilege of walking into many charity offices as a stranger, with fresh eyes, several hundred times a year. The charities where I see a strong first impression they make on a visitor are the ones which have their office reflect their brand. Polished but poor is fine, dumpy and dirty is not. Positive examples are how tiny Food Banks are so well run, that spotless but efficient activity and physical premises make a big impression on funders, donors and even me as a visitor. But to be honest, it’s the space that teaches their mission, that moves the heart as much as informs the head. The charity who is most successful is the charity who succeeds most in converting a visitor into a donor. That and making it easy to give, which is usually why I’m there.
How important is the use of the web to promoting a charity’s vision? How about social media?
If you don’t have a reputable and clear website in 2018, donors, funders and partners are suspicious whether you are legitimate. It’s key. Social media is more about what voice and communication strategy you want to have. From visiting so many small charities I know it’s impossible to do everything but when we look at scrappy teams, like “Souls Harbour Mission” in Halifax Nova Scotia, wow. They punch SO far above their weight class with social media, web and email marketing it is astounding. We learn from THEM at CanadaHelps.
What keeps you up at night and/or what is your biggest fear?
CanadaHelps was founded by three computer engineer teenagers in 2000 who realized the internet would change the world. It has. Today’s CanadaHelps team worries that small charities are getting left behind, and they are. 80% of donations go to 2% of charities and guess who are the ones using technology the most and the best? The bigger ones who can afford it, of course. We exist and we are fired up about using all technology to empower charities to raise what they need to keep doing their vital work. But it’s a battle today. Many small organizations just won’t survive a decade more if they are focused on scarcity rather than abundance.
Discuss the importance of personally leaving a legacy at your organization?
For me personally, the charities that I am leaving a bequest to are tied to my very DNA. My faith, my community, my purpose - I have a tattoo of a charity’s logo on my arm. Donors give bequests and legacy gifts not because they are inspired or they “care”, they do it because the charity’s story is part of their biography.
Who is your most important stakeholder and why?
My team at CanadaHelps lives through our charity partners, 18,000 across Canada. We now have team members in British Columbia and Alberta. We live and die by how our charities use us and need us. It’s what moved our founders and what drives us.
Who is your inspiration and why?
My personal inspiration is the staff of charities. I know them, thousands of them, they have taught and mentored me my entire career for 18 years. They are so dedicated, I often say that we burn out because charity staff so often use their blood as fuel for the cause. These days I’m inspired by peers who are leading the call for self-care and balance in our work. You can’t do good if you flame out, wise words from a mentor of mine.
Describe the role, importance, and opportunities for improvement with your Board of Directors?
I visit hundreds of boards in my role with CanadaHelps as part of our mission, as a charity not a company, to lead, teach and share knowledge of what we’ve learned after 18 years and almost 900 million in donations. Their role in leadership is critical, especially in 2018 to help a charity to be bold and take risks. If you want results no one else has achieved, you need to do things no one else has been willing to do and try. Boards create and support a culture of abundance.
How do you counteract intermittent funding cycles?
Diversification is key. Charities are still too over leveraged on special events. As much as we at CanadaHelps have evolved our platform to include this feature, we are trying to help charities to get better at fundraising not just through direct mail (still very vital) but also email marketing, social media and even more importantly through major gifts like securities (which we have seen a HUGE increase in last year) and planned giving too.