Toronto Foundation, one of Canada’s largest community foundations, has developed a model for strategic philanthropy. This involves directing support from donors and cross-sector partners to areas of concern on the basis of an annual report card called Toronto’s Vital Signs® Report, first published in 2001.
The report identifies quality of life issues for Toronto’s residents. Organized around ten broad issue areas, it is compiled from a range of statistics and studies from sources such as government agencies, non-profits and academic institutions. Many of the studies reflect the lived experiences of Torontonians. The report often includes the results of interviews and polling and other ways of relaying the subjective views of residents on their quality of life, in addition to research based on a wide array of more objective data sources, such as the City of Toronto and Statistics Canada. A cast of hundreds also work with the foundation to produce the report, including researchers and an advisory group. The information is an important story about Toronto, shared with Toronto.
‘The report and its 300+ indicators guide donors and stakeholders who want to direct their resources to areas of greatest need.’
The report and its 300+ indicators guide donors and stakeholders who want to direct their resources to areas of greatest need, and inform the foundation’s collaborative work with cross-sector partners. They also inspire civic engagement and provide focus for public debate. But what really sets the foundation’s approach apart is its use of the report for its Community Knowledge Centre (CKC) and Vital Toronto Fund. These are just two examples of how the foundation has turned data into action.
Toronto Foundation developed the CKC, with the support of IBM, as the place for Torontonians to see and participate in transformational change in their city. With one mouse click, users can have access to the profile of more than 260 community organizations that are providing solutions to one or more issues highlighted in Toronto’s Vital Signs® Report. Fundholders at the foundation and the general public can access this resource to learn about innovative giving opportunities. Each CKC profile features vignettes from individuals whose lives have been positively affected by the community organization.
The Vital Toronto Fund is where the foundation’s mission of connecting philanthropy to community needs and opportunities comes to life. This powerful tool for strategic philanthropy is an endowment built by a community of fundholders, donors and corporate stakeholders. The fund supports three grant streams at the foundation and enables it to invest in the very best ideas, people and programmes.
‘In effect, we are leveraging all of our financial capital, knowledge capital and social capital towards building a better city,’ says Rahul K Bhardwaj, Toronto Foundation’s president and CEO. All of these elements combined are essential to our model of strategic philanthropy. We call it the “Art of Wise Giving”.’
The Vital Signs Report has now taken root around the world. It has become a national programme of Community Foundations of Canada. In 2014, it was modelled by 27 other community foundations across Canada, 11 in Great Britain and six in other countries, including Brazil.
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Lead image: credit to Donald Gislason.