FUEL Vancouver

“You know the only reason they’re being so nice to you is because the word ‘Foundation’ is on your lanyard, right?”

This devastating blow to my ego was delivered by a rather cynical leader from another foundation at a post-conference social event I was attending, weeks after I joined Community Foundations of Canada.

So it’s not my charm, good humour or wit, I thought to myself as I made my way through the conversations and canapés. Over the course of the evening and several more enthusiastic introductions, I began to notice the philanthropic pheromones permeating the room, with funders attracting the attention and affection of those who were seeking funding for various projects and initiatives.

As I reflect on that (and other like experiences), it’s become clear to me that the cynical foundation leader and the overly friendly grantseekers at that cocktail party are relics of the old “buy and sell” model of philanthropy – where funders buy impact from organizations (or more accurately,’projects’) who sell them outcomes and outputs that neatly fit into the grantmaker’s priority areas.

When you think about it, it’s all a little cynical and cyclical isn’t it? I (the funder) tell you (the grantee) what I think I want to buy (My funder friends say that youth programs are so hot right now!) so you, and all of your other friends pitch me ideas for amazing youth projects. Oh how the market is crowded and clamouring for youth projects I think to myself as I decide which one of the programs (usually the one with the slickest pitch or best-written proposal) gets my money, leaving the rest of you starving outside.

OK OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea. The legacy model is very transactional. The funder pays the grantee to produce outcomes and controls the purse strings, the grantee reports back and delivers the goods.

But what if we made a fundamental shift from the buy and sell model to a build and share model instead? One where funders, governments, community organizations and citizens actually pooled their collective assets (time, talent and treasure) in the pursuit of social change? One where data, research, successes and failures are shared and are added to a growing pool of community knowledge?

This is just one of the fundamental shifts that the Community Knowledge Exchange is exploring. As an emerging platform for collective social change, CKX seeks to catalyze fundamental shifts in how institutions, individuals and communities build and share community knowledge in the pursuit of social change.

While CKX has emerged from re-thinking the role of the Foundation, FUEL has emerged from re-thinking the role of the Entrepreneur. Both initiatives catalyze and align people, ideas and resources. They don’t accomplish things alone but instead enable network effects and build social movements.

My hope is that CKX and FUEL chart a new path forward, from their Eastern and Western Canadian perspectives, and together represent the values we choose to live and work by.