Tag Archives: social investing

FacebookImage-HolyCowI can’t tell you how good I feel, but I’ll tell you why.  Today I purchased a community bond from the Centre for Social Innovation. The traditional return is modest but the risk is low and the social impact is huge. CSI is raising $4.3 million to purchase an additional building to meet the needs of its expanding membership of social innovators and entrepreneurs. It is raising the money through the sale of community bonds, something they did successfully before, with the bonds secured through the property. Within a few weeks 84 investors have contributed $1.8M.

So there’s a lot to feel good about by supporting this award winning organization that is generating social good in new and sustainable models. There’s good in knowing that your money is being used well for a few years and then will be returned.

But what takes the feel good to an inexpressible level, is when you click “send” to confirm your purchase and within 30 seconds you get a call from the Director of Culture of CSI personally and genuinely thanking you for your support.


IMG_7600-rI’ve had lots of events this week with a common thread. In my capacity as the chair of the Community Engagement initiative for the University of Toronto Alumni Association (UTAA) along with a great team of volunteers and partners we held an event called UTAA Connected @ the Centre for Social Innovation.

It brought together about 100 UofT alumni to learn about the social innovation movement. For the 80 volunteers or want-to-be volunteers it was a chance to learn about the Centre and 14 (mostly) member organizations which do social good.

Our promise to the presenting organizations was to introduce them to potential volunteers who could contribute in professional or strategic ways. Our promise to the attendees was to introduce them to new ideas, interesting organizations and opportunities to give back in meaningful ways. And aside from under estimating how much food social innovators can consume, our surveys showed we did well.

If you have an idea – seek out these spaces, places and communities.
If you want to give back and have a business skill set – seek out these spaces, places and communities.

Two days later I was at an OCAD pitch competition and was surprised to see many of the same people that I had seen at my event. Of the 19 organizations pitching for mentorship or funding, about 3 were members of the Centre for Social Innovation.

What was interesting is how startups social or otherwise fluidly move between the constructs of shared workspaces, mentor programs, incubators of various organizations as their companies move through life stages. As their organizations evolve, they need to be around different resources. As they become clear about their goals, they want to be in a community of people doing similar things. It’s an interesting phenomenon to observe.

Never before has there been such a resource-rich time to be entrepreneurial with so many opportunities, some funded by governments and many supported by successful folks that are looking to both give back and revitalize their careers by being involved with young or new entrepreneurs.


This is the mission of the Canada Post Community Foundation. Bet you didn’t know our postal service had a foundation. I didn’t know until I posted a package today and was asked if I wanted to contribute to children’s charities. It was such a generic ask compared to what is normally presented at retail, and the young clerk and I had an interesting chat about positioning and where Santa letters fit in.

I got home and did some digging. Turns out that is the online home for the foundation. The current President and CEO of Canada Post, Deepak Chopra (not the famous one), is listed as one of the 4 trustees of the Foundation with the VP Government Relations/Policy, VP Communications/Public Affairs and one outsider as the remaining trustees. The site refers to the former Canada Post Foundation for Mental Illness & Mental Health, which was established in April 2008. So I guess with new management comes a new direction.

Information on the site is thin, news item (there is only one) is undated, but funding is covered enough to let folks apply. They take applications in February and support these areas:
• create lasting change for children
• programming supporting healthy children
• building safe, kid-friendly communities
• services for children and youth with special needs and their families

It’s interesting that they specifically do not support sports teams but do support a variety of school projects. Also no operational or admin funding, fundraising activities, research, faith based groups or conferences.

Looking at the financials, the $2million fund comes mostly (75%) from retail sales (stamps) and 15% from employees. The recent grant recipients are online and they’ve done a pretty good job of providing information on those, although links to the organizations might be useful. Looks like grants range from about $5k to $65k, with many of them receiving $65k.

Canada Post is not the only enterprise to have its own foundation for giving. Within organizations there’s often an overlap between United Way campaigns, departmental or employee driven fundraising and the organization’s central foundation with employees being squeezed in middle. As a consumer, being asked at retail to support an organization’s charity drive is not uncommon, but I think Canada Post has some catching up to do in refining the message and raising awareness that they’re in it for the kids.

The Elizabeth Settlement is one of 8 Métis settlements in Alberta, and part of a larger community of Métis in Canada. The Métis are one of 3 groups of Aboriginal people of Canada which also includes First Nations and Inuit.

First, let’s look at the location. This settlement is 32km south of Cold Lake Alberta, about 4 hours east of Edmonton, near the Saskatchewan border. It’s flat prairie land with big open skies and lots of mother nature.

Flying into Edmonton over the North Saskatchewan River

Flat land, endless roads

Big sky country, fantastic sunsets

The settlement itself is home to about 1,000 people on 25,641 hectares. The community has a elementary school, new nursery school, a community hall that also has a health centre attached and there are administrative offices. These are the buildings we saw and there may be more. They have a lot of facilities but what they have a shortage of is housing. Only 130 homes for the 1,000 people and it’s a growing population.

Health services offered by the onsite nurse

Grade 1 teacher using the Smart board

Keeping the culture in education

We got just a taste of the Métis culture and history while we were there. Métis are people of mixed heritage, First Nations and European. On the Elizabeth settlement strong French roots are felt as evidenced by surnames: Desjarlias, Lepine-Tremblay and Lagimodiere. In fact, the word “Métis” is a French word translated as “half breed.” But it’s clear that the people are of various ancestries.

What they have in common is a fairly recent sense of belonging. Talk to some of the older members and they’ll describe their family struggles being squatters, neither First Nations nor “white,” being called “road allowance people.” It was only in 1982 that the existing Aboriginal and Treaty rights of the Aboriginal peoples in Canada were recognized and affirmed and there was an explicit recognition of the Métis as one of the three distinct Aboriginal peoples.

EMS council members and our liaise

Lunch in the community hall

Pictured are the formation meeting members

While the land is beautiful and the community is strong and family oriented, some of the challenges are openly talked about. Education is an issue. The elementary school is well equipped and the kids are engaged but high school is an issue and the drop out rate is high.

Equal to education is the issue of housing and one solution may be the Habitat model of home ownership. Economic development and sustainability is an issue as the federal funding agreement ended a few years ago and the Métis must become self supporting. The oil and gas industry is a huge employer but not only a tempting alternative to school, a single source of employment. What will happen if the boom ends? The green shoots of entrepreneurship have started but need to be fostered. Some are looking to better monetize the land and its raw materials. And then there are the typical issues many communities face of nutrition, addictions and teen pregnancies.

A campaign to support Aboriginal women

The village does indeed raise the children

Happy girls

During our week, we built not only houses but bridges to this community. Vice Chair of Council, Chris Desjarlias, in his closing remarks made it clear that this was not only a potential housing model for his community but for all Aboriginal groups.

So as our volunteer team returns home, may the teams within the community and outside continue to work together to build these houses and a healthy future for families.

For more info:

My week as a bannock warrior

Our part of the build is done and I’m in the car with 5 others on our way from Cold Lake to Edmonton, a 4 hour drive. It’s a good time to reflect on the week.  This was my first Habitat for Humanity build so there are certainly learnings from that.  More importantly, our team was the first to build on this site and this is the first Habitat build for Métis families on a settlement in Alberta. Which makes this a a special case for learnings.

It’s volun-travel

Traveling with a team for a global build is different from volunteering for a local Habitat build in your town. You travel with a group for a number of days rather than sign up for a day at a time. This Global Village build is more like a group tour traveling and sharing common experiences. The main common experience is the building of a home.

It’s team work, guided by a professional and coordinated by a team leader. It is also a shared cultural experience. In our case we had a chance to talk with many of the community leaders. We visited schools, the health centre, and community centre. We attended their rodeo. And we experienced even more hospitality as they cooked lunch for us each day. Good food it was too.

Like adventure travel, people are in it for many reasons but what is common between these two activities is the quest for learning and personal challenge. In this trip, there are both these elements in the build and the cultural exchange.

First team in; first build for Métis in Alberta

Habitat global trips are available around the world. Many are established centers where Habitat has been building for a while so unknowns are few. This trip was a unique opportunity as ours was the first team of volunteers for this build. And this build is the first time Habitat has built in this type of community. If it works it may become a model for housing for such communities. There are a lot of interested parties watching this from the Habitat side (Global, Canada, Edmonton), the Métis communities as well as other aboriginal groups such as the First Nations.

Home ownership is new

Culturally this is a big shift. The Métis live in a community on communal land. Home ownership is a new concept. Taking full responsibility for your home rather than being supported by community services is a new idea. How community services are affected is still to be determined. And while they do have families who meet the standard Habitat selection criteria, it is not common and those in real need of housing will probably not meet those criteria. How to identify and select the families that should get these houses needs to be carefully considered and done so collaboratively.

There is no doubt however of the need for housing. This build is on the Elizabeth Settlement, one of the 8 Métis communities in Alberta, where there are roughly 1,000 people and 130 homes. We heard of 3 families living in a single house with one bathroom. The 8 homes in this initial build is a drop in the bucket but as the start of something, its far more significant.

Why I am a bannock warrior

First what is bannock? It’s a quick bread made from flour, water, and egg. It can be baked, fried, deep fried, stuffed and shaped. Add oil if you bake it. Depending on the recipe and treatment it can taste like a biscuit or a beignet or donut.

Of our kitchen team at the settlement, Robert was the bannock master letting us explore the many uses of bannock: burger bun, chili bowl, sandwich bun, deep fried with goulash and as pizza dough. Delicious in each application we eagerly awaited lunch where we consumed far too much bannock and even took leftovers back for snacks. We feted Robert for his talent and in turn we were given the title of bannock warriors.

At first glance it looks like Imagine Canada has done a good job of putting a standards program in place for charities and nonprofits.

This kind of accountability and transparency has been a long time coming it should be no surprise for those in the sector.

The standards cover

  1. Board Governance
  2. Financial Accountability & Transparency
  3. Ethical Fundraising
  4. Staff Management
  5. Volunteer Involvement

They are tiered depending on size of organization with modest fees for accreditation. The standards and the process are all available on the website and from my cursory look, the standards are written in plain language for ease of understanding.

To my delight, the standards are rooted in a strategic framework.

Vision: A Canada where well-run and well-respected charities and nonprofits make a positive contribution within communities across the country and around the world.

Mission: To build excellence within Canada’s charities and nonprofits through common standards of practice and to strengthen confidence in the sector.


1. Help Canadian charities and nonprofits improve their practices in five foundational areas: board governance, financial accountability, fundraising, staff management, and volunteer involvement.

2.Increase the transparency of charities and nonprofits in these foundational areas.

3.Recognize organizations that meet the standards.

4.Strengthen public confidence in individual charitable and nonprofit organizations and the sector as a whole.

They’ve been through testing on some very recognizable nonprofit organizations and with the strength of positioning of Imagine Canada, this is a movement that can not be ignored.

Good reference material for any nonproft

Beyond an accreditation program, this material is free guidance on how to structure or run a solid nonprofit. It  is a set of best practices presented in an easy-to-read 16 page PDF. So if you are running a nonprofit take advantage of this great resource. And if you’re thinking of supporting a nonprofit, these standards give you a good checklist for an evaluation.

I’ve been keeping busy with my volunteer work and will add a post for that, but today I can truly say I was inspired and my commitment to meaningful volunteerism was reignited.

I was asked to sit in on a special presentation supporting University of Toronto’s Boundless campaign. It’s a campaign that puts the stories of UofT’s great faculty, students and alumni forward to showcase their contributions and make the case that they are worthy of your support.

With the launch of Boundless: The Campaign for the University of Toronto, we are celebrating this tradition of leadership, community and generosity.

Instead of an executive recounting facts and figures, we were treated to 4 of the many scholars and educators at UofT that are making a difference in the field of public health. Representing a cross section of study areas and expertise, their perspective ran from innovative business models, to frugal medical equipment in Africa, to working in our far north, and integrating student health right into UofT itself.

Many of the stories were inspiring, the photo’s either breathtaking or tragic. To see their minds in action as they passionately shared their work was a privilege.

It inspired me to think about the great partnerships of philanthropy and innovation that happen when a person passionate about their vision meets a person who is equally passionate and commits to make it happen.

So can we take the concepts of eco-tourism or volun-tourism, and create experiential journeys for potential partners (donors) where they can be a part of innovation when and where it happens? Exclusive opportunities to see the needs, travel with the experts, be a part of the conversation and invited to make their own contribution.

Talk about Boundless Opportunity!

The fastest growing way to give

I thought having a charitable foundation was the domain only of the super rich but not any more. It happens to the be the fastest growing method of giving and I suspect it’s going to skyrocket in popularity as the economy recovers, portfolios go positive and boomers once again focus on their next phase.

So yes, a totally self-directed foundation is still out of reach for many of us but individual or family foundations (sometimes called donor-advised funds) are now a packaged offering available through financial services firms. A similar offering is also available through many foundations. Start it up with $10k-$25k depending on the program.

See examples:

Your name is on the foundation, you can direct where the proceeds go, you may select how the funds are invested and the perk on top of all the good feeling you get is that there’s a big tax deduction that comes with the investment.

Get the kids involved

Some families are using it as a way to involve kids in the giving process. It’s a family fund and the family decides together where proceeds go.

When you’re ready to think about this you’ll know it

When you’ve taken care of yourself, your partner, and your kids, and there will be a time when that happens, if there’s a little extra leftover then maybe it’s time to think about setting up your own foundation. It will add structure to your giving and even leave a legacy that continues to give even when you’re gone.

I “retired” June 1, 2008 a little early by most folks standards but then I’ve never been one to follow the rule book. After a year as the Entrepreneur in Residence at Laurier University and with time to travel, reconnect with friend and explore concepts I found my new direction and started blogging about it in the fall of 2009.

Realigned and rewriting the rules for volunteerism

I am now fully “realigned” in my new life, balancing my role as a Strategic Volunteer and adding that work-life balance with an equal amount of time devoted to fun. It takes a lot of work to do this.

To stay fully engaged as a strategic volunteer demands constant focus on my next opportunity while I fully relish the work on my plate. Being a strategic volunteer, a role that people intuitively understand but which doesn’t really exist, means I am once again rewriting the rules and forging new ground.

My purpose is clear – find meaningful ways to use my time and skills as a social investment and to set a path so that my cohort, retiring boomers, will have an easier time doing the same.

In 2010 I achieved some great milestones but I could have done so much more:

  • I helped a great foundation win its just reward, acknowledgement as the Outstanding Foundation of the Year
  • I helped set a strategic framework for both a small non profit and the alumni organization within my university
  • I completed a marketing study and target profiles to help a major non profit reach boomer volunteers
  • I continued to mentor students and budding entrepreneurs
  • I helped in small ways by stuffing envelopes, working the soup kitchen, and setting up an art show
  • And I used my blog to bring attention to great organizations and ideas

One skilled, focused strategic volunteer available for free

2011 has just begun and I am crystal clear on what I want to do – maximize my social investment by working with non-profits that can leverage my skills to boost their performance AND expand volunteerism models to provide opportunities for others like me that can do way more than stuff envelopes.

Let’s talk about what I can do for you – imcindyrp [at]

I agree with the Globe and Mail’s caption of “Good Idea: Warehousing good intentions.”

Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (Canada) has shopping carted giving. They’ve put all the supplies they need, urgent ones highlighted, onto a shopping type website where you can make a contribution big or small. $30 will buy a cholera treatment for one patient in Haiti or spend $18,750 and buy a full kit. $60 for a 5% share of a diesel generator or spend $1,200 and buy the whole unit. $90 buys a doctor for a day, $3,780 buys a 6 week mission.

The MSF Warehouse contains real items that Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) uses in its field projects. When you purchase an item, you are making a contribution that supports MSF’s medical humanitarian aid work in general, and not just the purchase of that product. Your donation will be used where the need is greatest.

Complete with Twitter and Facebook integration, lots of pictures, stories, gift ideas this website is a great reinterpretation of giving. And just in time for the holidays.

It’s a great cause, and a brilliant use of web technology. Kudos to MSF Canada!

“Médecins Sans Frontières was established in 1971 by a small group of doctors and journalists. They were determined to find a way to respond rapidly and effectively to public health emergencies, with complete independence from political, economic and religious influences.”

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