It takes decades of determined and unflagging work – some successes, some failures – to bring about real social change.

Canadians are generous people. In 2010, the vast majority of us – 84 per cent to be exact – collectively donated some $10.6 billion to charitable and not-for-profit organizations. Almost half the Canadian population volunteers their time, energy and expertise to charitable causes.

But sometimes, along with that generosity, we get a nasty case of tunnel vision. Because beyond our borders, those numbers tell a very different story. Only one in 10 Canadians give to organizations working internationally, and only 8 per cent of all Canadian charitable contributions goes to fighting poverty, alleviating humanitarian crises and promoting human rights in the developing world.

These numbers tell us two things. They say that Canadians are more than willing to do their part in trying to make the world a better place – and that is a good thing.

But they also tell us that Canadians aren’t looking at the big picture.

That needs to change.

To be fair, the charitable sector – of which we are a part – is partially at fault. Sixty-one per cent of Canadians only give to causes which they feel personally connected to, or in which they feel like they personally made an impact.

And charities have played to this, telling Canadians overly simple stories about how even a small donation can change the world.

This has lead to a number of troubling realities for the charitable sector. In 2010, three-quarters of Canadian donors gave less than $357 in total to charitable causes. That is less than the cost of a cup of a coffee a day.

If you were to listen to a fundraising pitch or ad, you’d believe that by giving that much, you were changing the lives of people across the world. But the world is messier than that. It takes decades of determined and unflagging work – some successes, some failures – to bring about real social change.

And if donors are truly interested in changing the world, they will have to become bolder in their investments – willing to take risks and accept failures, while standing beside the brave and resilient community leaders who drive change in incredibly complex environments.

That is the work of decades. It may even stretch beyond our lifetimes – bad news for those philanthropists who demand that they see immediate results.

But here’s the good news. Although it takes a long time, the farsighted approach – bold, accepting of risks, but uncompromising in its principles and goals – works.

In our work on ending violence against women, we see that it is the grassroots movements and organizations that are most successful in raising awareness, building community support, and pushing decision-makers toward change.

Grassroots movements aren’t built overnight. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

And if we truly believe that charitable giving is a cornerstone of Canadian values – if we are committed to justice at home and abroad – we need to put our money where our mouths are.

We want to see a bold new conversation about what charity truly means. We believe it means a commitment to change no matter how long it takes – and we believe it means supporting that change with funds, to the greatest extent possible.

In 2010, 71 per cent of Canadian donors indicated that they gave the maximum amount they could give. And that’s fine. Every little bit does help.

But this National Philanthropy Day, we urge those Canadians who can give more to do just that and lead the way, one complex cause at a time.

Jess Tomlin is executive director of the MATCH International Women’s Fund.
Marcia Cardamore is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and board member of the MATCH International Women’s Fund.


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