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Top 9 charity stories of 2019

publication date: Dec 19, 2019
author/source: Ann Rosenfield

This year was a big year for the charity sector. Thanks to the work of Anand Giridharadas, the controversy around the Sackler family donations, and the focus on possible sector reform, charities and giving were much in the news. Here are the top stories of 2019.

Me Too 

Canada has taken a consistent leadership role in shining a light on abuse in the charity sector. The research done by Association of Fundraising Professionals in November 2018 that showed 25% of women fundraisers had been harassed or assaulted at work has led to ongoing work that seems to be growing, not diminishing. Canadians have been an important part of this leadership work. Founding leader of the Women's Impact Initiative (WII) included Helen Choi who is the chair of the Support and Guidance Workgroup and co-chair of the Education Workgroup for this important initiative. Past AFP President Andrea McManus, of Calgary, was also involved. Canadian Liz Leclair, whose article for the CBC on her own experience currently chairs the WII.

Senate recommendations on nonprofit sector

In June, the Special Senate committee tabled its report examining the impact of federal and provincial laws and policies governing charities, nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other similar groups; and examining the impact of the voluntary sector in Canada. With no major progress on these recommendations in the most recent throne speech, Imagine Canada has taken an important lead in advocating for action. Imagine's Home in Government effort is well worth supporting. 

Who gives and who decides

Among consistent reports about declines in giving, a new conversation about ethics and giving. Many major arts organizations either declined, or removed naming, for gifts from the Sackler family. The Sacklers, owners of the drug company that makes Oxycontin, were widely viewed as pariahs. Just as that issue had died down, word came of multiple gifts to MIT from disgraced financier and convicted pedophile, Jeffrey Epstein.

Importantly, past work in ethics has tended to focus on whether a gift violates the mission of the particular charity. In these cases, a new and broader, definition appears to be taking hold in the public.

Women in the charity workforce 

Important research by the Ontario Nonprofit Network on Decent Work for Women highlighted the particular inequities experienced by women in nonprofits. ONN notes that 80% of the employees in the sector are women. Of particular concern is that  racialized and immigrant women and women with disabilities, experience even more unequal outcomes.  

BC bans insurance gifts

In a bit of a head scratching moment, the BCFSA, the regulator of the Insurance Act, has decided that promoting life insurance as a gift to charity is illegal. Stay in touch with us here at Hilborn as well as sector champions, CAGP, for more on this turn of events.


There were several stories and issues that were consistently under-reported in 2019. It's my hope that these key issues will get more, needed attention in the upcoming year.

White privilege

Look around at most sector meetings, conferences as well as on charity websites. While Canada grows more diverse, our sector does not. This is creating a situation because the mainstream sector is becoming less relevant as well as missing opportunities to learn new, and better, ways to serve. AFP has done some important work in this area but it is time for more sector champions to raise this issue and make change.

Indigenous issues 

Remember the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the 94 recommendations? 2020 will mark the five year anniversary of the release of those recommendations. Many of those recommendations can be undertaken by you as an individual and by charities. Not sure where to start? The Circle is an excellent organization with many resources including "The Philanthropic Community's Declaration of Action." Let's look back next year and say that 2020 was a turning point in more attention on this issue.

Role of religion in the sector

The charity sector has an uneasy relationship with religion. In an effort to remain publicly neutral, many charity employees don't talk about religion. However, research by Statistics Canada consistently shows that giving, volunteering, and regular worship are closely intertwined behaviours. With the steady decline in worship attendance, it is worth noting that there has been a documented, corresponding decline in giving and volunteerism rates. Whatever your faith tradition, this connection between religion and public engagement needs to be noticed and monitored.

Everyone except ON, BC, AB

With two strong sector groups, Ontario (ONN) and Alberta (CCVO) have the lion's share of attention. but what about PEI? Quebec? Nunavut? And all the other provinces and territories? It would be great to see similar, sector-wide regional groups who can represent the unique interests and needs of the many parts of Canada not currently supported by a local group.

Issues to watch for in 2020

Just as society at large has an increased interest in mental health, mental wellness has suddenly become a hot button issue in the sector. Shocking reports out of the UK about Amnesty International's work culture were very concerning. AFP did a recent webinar on the topic of mental health. This feels like the start of an overdue, and important, conversation in the sector. Like the other awareness efforts, let's work to make sure awareness includes action.

What do you think? What issues did I miss? What deserves more attention? Add your comments below.

Ann Rosenfield is the very opinionated editor of Hilborn Charity eNews as well as a front-line working fundraiser.


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