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On Saturday, I returned from the national conference of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners in Victoria, BC.

The format for the conference always includes plenary speakers at meals. 

This year, I reflected quite a bit on those speakers - both those we heard from in 2012 and those who spoke in previous years.

I realized that there is a common thread here: for the most part, they are individuals who have had the opportunity to follow their dream of creating their own charitable foundation focussed on an area of need very close to them personally. 

Mary Tidlund of The Mary A. Tidlund Foundation in Alberta spoke of her journey from adopted child to oil executive to philanthropist working to alleviate poverty for children around the world.


We also heard from Warren Te Brugge of My Arms Wide Open who began as a young industrialist in South Africa and created a foundation in support of breaking down prejudice to improve life for Africans.

But what does it all really mean for the rest of us? The thousands of fundraising and philanthropic planning professionals who work every day in support of donors and world-changing missions?

We're absolutely passionate about our causes, but deep down, what would your mission be if you could create your own foundation the way these speakers have done?

The work we do for charities and the gifts that we and our donors make are bringing the dreams of their founders to reality - these are the dreams of those first individuals who believed cancer could be cured, that education, water, healthcare, security should be for all people, those who first dreamt of public libraries, museums and galleries.

But they are rarely our own personal, original expression of philanthropy in the way that Mary and Warren and many others have expressed their personal and  unique dreams for a better world. 


They* say that when opportunity comes, it's important to prepare in advance so that you're ready to say YES...

So, what if the impossible (or maybe even possible) happened and you had a chance to start your own foundation tomorrow? 
(Would anyone have thought Mary Tidlund could do it?)

What would your unique mission be?

*I'm told that the "they" in this partcular case is actually Neil Galliaford from Stephen Thomas, a Toronto fundraising consultancy.

Ask Better?

This time, it's not about asking others but asking yourself. Really, really, what would you care enough about to turn around and use the "lottery" money for? Once you know this in your heart, you will be ready to move when lightening strikes - it might be a chance to work with an existing foundation that fits your mission perfectly, it might be a chance to start your own foundation. But know deep down what it is you would change if you had the chance - otherwise, the experience of deep, motivating passion felt by the person whose mission you serve will always remain a mystery to you.

Give Smarter?

Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations are not just for big wallets anymore. Most mid to large-size charities, community foundations or institutionally-sponsored donor-advised funds will allow you to start a named endowment fund and the entry level is not outside the reach of most middle-income North Americans. Your will is your next most powerful chance to make your own personal mission known. Consider your giving, then consolidate to see if you can at least begin to realize your own vision for good.

What do you think? What would your mission be?
4/23/2012 02:23:16 pm

Dear Christina,

Thanks for talking about our REAL motivation. Fundraising Mercenaries. It's true. We jump from job to job every 12-18 months, most of us.

So, what IS our real motivation? I was having dinner with a fundraiser friend last night and we were discussing the common thread in all of her different nonprofit volunteer and paid roles, and it was gender and social justice. That's what she's REALLY passionate about.

And it struck a chord in me. And I'm really glad you asked, "Well, if you had a lot of money, what would YOUR foundation be about?"

I think, for me, it would be a foundation to help people self-actualize, to learn how to think and act independently. I think that would make a healthier society than the one we have now.

What about you?


Christina Attard
4/24/2012 12:18:35 am

Hi Mazarine,

Thanks for such a great comment.

Absolutely, I've worked for universities for most of my career - decided at a young age after reading Helen Keller's story that I HAD to go to school, no matter what. Having received bursaries myself and then dontated to those funds, that mission felt close to my heart. But, I can't take credit for being the first person to decide that education for all without financial boundaries was a worthy cause.

Today, I work at a religious organization that has been a part of my life since my infancy, so the mission and the work that is done here is absolutely something that I'm passionate about and connected to very personally. But again, I support the vision of our founders in terms of how we reach out to the community.

However, there is one cause that I'm realizing is very close to my heart and I'm preparing and opening myself up for that so that when/if I ever have the chance, that's what I'll be ready to move into. Part of that process is becoming ready to even share that personal vision with the world - not quite there yet - but I think it's important for all those involved in the "doing good" industry to think about what our personal vocation to the world is, whether it be inside an existing organization or in a new vision, like those who we hear from at conferences have chosen to pursue.


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