From Charity to Change: a discussion for the ages

Canadian foundations and endowments are increasingly called upon to not only provide financial support to charitable causes but to lead broader change on issues that impact our shared environment.

This is the thesis that Hilary M. Pearson, author of the book, “From Charity to Change,” presented to a dynamic group of donors, executives, board members, and other experts from the nonprofit world who gathered at the Cumberland Foundations Circle event held on Wednesday, November 29, 2023.

Ms. Pearson spoke from deep personal experience. As the founding President of Philanthropic Foundations Canada, she has collaborated with many of Canada’s largest private charitable foundations over the past 20 years. In 2018, she was appointed as a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to the field of philanthropy. From 2019 to 2023, she advised the federal Minister of Revenue as co-chair of the Advisory Committee on the Charitable Sector.


Facing the challenges of our time


Following welcome remarks from Cumberland partner, Alex von Schroeter, Ms. Pearson sat down for a fireside chat with Cumberland President and CEO, Charlie Sims.

She offered a striking portrait of how today’s organizations are acting with purpose on some of the most pressing social and economic challenges of our time: climate change, the future of cities, education and the evolving workforce, housing, and the urgent need to repair and build new relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

She drew not only on her own experience but also on interviews that she conducted with over thirty foundation leaders from across Canada in the course of writing her book during the COVID pandemic. Through their stories, she was able to trace how the practices of foundations have changed over the past two decades in response to a rapidly evolving society. 

At a time when private giving can seem under pressure from both public policy and public perception, Ms. Pearson made a compelling case for the unique value that grantmaking foundations create in our philanthropic ecosystem. She set out a persuasive argument that Canadian philanthropists have both an opportunity and a duty to partner with stakeholders to help protect the natural environment, enhance social and racial inclusion at home, and strengthen public health and democratic institutions abroad.

Over a 45-minute conversation, topics ranged from how Ms. Pearson sees foundations responding to calls for greater transparency, where she sees philanthropic innovation taking place, how foundations are partnering with institutional players and with one another, why some are choosing to ‘spend down’ their assets, what a younger generation of leaders will mean for philanthropy, and much more – all of it punctuated with insights and anecdotes that brought her unique perspectives to life.

The conversation was followed by a lively Q&A and reception that was no doubt animated by the inspiring ideas that were presented about some of the most important issues of our age, and how Canadian philanthropists can continue to lead the way.


Join our Circle


Those who steward charitable assets in Canada face a unique set of responsibilities and challenges. Cumberland Foundations Circle was created to help families, foundations, professionals, and experts come together in a dynamic set of discussions to share their knowledge and experiences. To learn more or join the guestlist for a future event, please send us a line here.

Cumberland Foundations Circle brings charitable sector together

On a Tuesday afternoon in June, donors, executives, board members, and experts from the charitable sector came together to make connections and share their experiences at the inaugural Cumberland Foundations Circle event.

At Cumberland, we’ve been involved in helping foundations and endowments manage their investment assets for many years. However, one comment that frequently arises is that there is a need for greater peer support for and information exchange within those in the nonprofit space. We created the Cumberland Foundations Circle as a way to encourage more community, collaboration and support that brings real value.

Great speakers and friendly networking

Around two dozen invitees gathered at noon for a light lunch before our President and CEO, Charlie Sims, took the podium to officially kick things off. Charlie’s remarks addressed the value that philanthropy creates for society, some of the key challenges facing the sector, and the impact of these challenges on the investment decisions facing boards and investment committees today.

Charlie then introduced Brad Offman, founder of Spire Philanthropy, who took a deep dive into the current trends shaping the landscape for Canadian foundations. Brad provided insight on issues such as the higher disbursements quota, changes to donees, evolving donor sources and attitudes, increasing scrutiny around how charities are being evaluated, and new offerings coming to market for those who wish to become donors.

Next to present was John Poulter, CFA, Portfolio Manager at Cumberland Investment Counsel and founding partner at Cumberland Partners Ltd.. John presented proprietary research on how foundations and endowments can expect to achieve the recently increased 5%+ minimum annual disbursement while remaining conservative in their investment policies and still continuing to grow their assets. His findings provide some focus and new direction to charities who may be grappling with this issue.

Finally, Charlie sat down with Bruce Lawson, currently Special Advisor to The Counselling Foundation of Canada and formerly its long time President, for a fireside chat on how focus and collaboration create value in the philanthropic sector. During this candid discussion and subsequent Q&A, Bruce shared a multitude of insights and personal experiences that he has gained as a member of a prominent philanthropic family and a true innovator in the not-for-profit space. He reviewed a few of the ways in which the Foundation has made strong impact including recent funding projects to indigenous communities in Canada.

After the speakers wrapped up, the event continued onto our third floor patio overlooking Yorkville Ave. Most of the attendees stayed to enjoy a cool drink, continue the conversation, and make what we hope will be lasting connections with one another.

Join us next time

If you are involved in the stewardship of charitable assets, whether as part of a public-facing organization or a private foundation, the Cumberland Foundations Circle is a place where you can connect with like-minded individuals.

If you would like to learn more, or join the guest list for a future event, please send us a line here.