Canadian giving, Part 3

By Todd Cohen

The booming oil industry and transfer of wealth between generations has fueled the creation of wealth in Calgary, home to the third-largest United Way in Canada, says Ruth Ramsden-Wood, the organization’s president.

Aiming to better tap that wealth, Calgary’s United Way over three years ago revamped a planned-giving program it had launched in 1991, and it also staffs a separate effort targeting “significant” cash gifts.

A major strategy, now in its 11th year, focuses on “connecting people and their families to our communities,” Ramsden-Wood says.

Known as “Days of Caring,” the effort puts volunteers and their families to work for local charities and, by last October, it already had eclipsed the number of projects at which volunteers worked in all of 2004.

“We’re realizing that that is helping people become aware of what the issues are, what it takes to turn those around, and that’s it’s not about what one agency does,” Ramdsen-Wood says.

Most of people who participate in the program already make significant gifts to the annual United Way campaign, which aimed to raise $40 million last year, she says, and they want to do “something larger.”
Also retooling its planned giving program has been the Canadian Red Cross, one of many charities that embraced planned giving in the 1990s but retreated when they found they needed immediate cash, not deferred gifts, says Marie Lizotte, national director for fund development.

But as bequests made as a result of those early efforts now are beginning to be realized, she says, a growing number of charities are reinvesting in their planned-giving programs.

The Red Cross, which on average receives $6 million a year in planned gifts, now fields a planned-giving staff equivalent to 10 full-time employees, with roughly one in each of Canada’s 10 provinces.

“Planned giving is very much a face-to-face relationship,” she says.

The Canadian Cancer Society, which also employs planned-giving staff in each of its 10 divisions, realizes roughly $30 million a year nationally from planned gifts.

Because major gifts are not a big source of support, and it counts instead on grass-roots support, the Cancer Society focuses on building relationships with donors for planned gifts, says Catherine Sherrard, group director for marketing and development in the organization’s Toronto-based national office.

The goal, she says, is “helping the person understand how important it is to the organization to have a constant flow of cash from the bequest to do the research to make cancer a chronic disease,” rather than a terminal disease.

Other stories in the series:

Part 1: Canada gears for $1 trillion transfer.
Part 2: Philanthropy booming in Canada.
Part 4: Foundations growing in Canada.
Part 5: Financial-services firms in Canada target philanthropy. 
Part 6: Nonprofits in Canada shifting focus to donors.

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