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A Look Ahead to 2021:  Social Impact Leaders Share Advice for Charities and Non-Profits

As we all know, the social impact sector faced significant challenges this past year. The pandemic saw a reduction in charitable giving, forcing charities and non-profits to do much more with much less. The gap between privilege and poverty widened. The WE scandal eroded trust and changed the way Canadians feel about charity. And global protests called out systemic racism and underscored an urgent need for a more just and equitable society. As we look to 2021, McMillan Vantage asked three leaders in the social impact space to share their one piece of advice for charities and non-profits. 


By Sharon Avery, CEO, Toronto Foundation

 Like many organizations we jumped in headfirst early in March to do what we could to support the crisis as it was unfolding in Toronto. We raised funds for the emergency response and convened stakeholders to mobilize around the pressing issues and needs. And we began to methodically collect data and track the impacts on the ground using an essential equity lens, to better understand who was most vulnerable and how. The Toronto Fallout Report is the result of more than 80 interviews, dozens of research citations and the perspectives of Black and Indigenous key informants working on the frontlines. It is the most comprehensive analysis of the compounding impacts of the virus in the first seven months of the pandemic in Toronto.

Not surprisingly, the findings are stark. Our experiences of COVID-19 and its myriad ripple effects are disparate to say the least, and shocking if I’m truly honest. If you’re living on low income, are not white, and you live in particular neighbourhoods in the east and northwest, you are exponentially more likely to contract COVID-19, experience job loss, rely on donations of food, and suffer from depression and anxiety, among other dire realities. Those of us with the privilege to isolate at home and to continue to earn salaries and benefits are relatively unscathed. Those living in close proximity to others, whose work requires showing up in person and taking public transit, continue to absorb the risk and face the consequences.

For charities, non-profits and grassroots leaders these divergent outcomes are no surprise. For Black, Indigenous and Persons of Colour (BIPOC) leaders they are a painful reminder of what always has been: a city where inequality dominates and whose power structures continue to perpetuate this reality.

We all know that if we fail to learn from our experiences we risk repeating them again and again. So, please read the report. If you’re like us you won’t be able to turn away from it. Knowledge is most definitely power. How we wield it is what truly matters.


By Bruce MacDonald, President & CEO, IMAGINE Canada

A June 2020 article from McKinsey & Company entitled ‘Innovation in a crisis: Why it is more critical than ever’ highlighted a key challenge for the private sector.  “More than 90 percent of executives said they expect the fallout from COVID-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years.”  And yet, “fewer than 30 percent of these same executives feel confident that they are prepared to address the changes they see coming.”

And that uncertainty is coming from the better resourced private sector.

With the all-important ‘season of giving’ now upon us, many organizational leaders are turning their attention to the challenges they will still face in 2021.  A new market research study released by Imagine Canada, working with CanadaHelps, has shown that 36% of Canadians are planning to give less this holiday season. 71% of those donating a smaller amount point to financial difficulties related to COVID as the reason. 

As the crisis continues, so does the need to continue to innovate and adapt.

The good news is that Canadian charities are already in action mode.  In a new update to its spring Sector Monitor report, Imagine Canada has found that charities continue to work hard to adapt with new approaches to fundraising and service delivery. 79% of organizations have somewhat or significantly increased innovative practices or experimentation to reach more people and carry out their mission.

In the coming months, organizations will be challenged to ensure that they seamlessly adapt and change.  From continuing to embed digital competency in the DNA of organizations, demonstrating organizational excellence to maintain trust with donors and volunteers and looking after the health and well-being of sector staff, there is much to do.


By Narinder Dhami, Managing Partner, Marigold Capital

We often think of doing good as binary – we are good or we are bad.

I see this fixed mindset in the social sector – where we don’t often question things as we are good people, with good intentions, doing good work.  

With this binary approach, are we able to get better and do better? Are we setting ourselves up to drive the greatest potential impact? Are we able to embrace criticism or feedback? Are we ensuring that our programs create no harm? Are we able to recognize blind spots and address bias?

A social scientist, Dolly Chugh states that our attachment to being good people, is getting in the way of being better people.

Our attachment to being good people in the social sector risks our ability to build back better.

Over the past year, as nearly every facet of our lives has been turned upside, the charitable and non-profit sector has seen massive disruption. The societal reckoning that kicked off in late spring with the death of George Floyd called into question every aspect of our institutions, organizations and social movements.  In 2021, we have an opportunity to tackle growing inequality and systemic racism to build the future we signal in our speeches. Will we be able to meet the moment?

Dolly Chugh encourages us to embrace a mindset of being “good-ish.” She states that a “good-ish” person is someone who is a work in progress, who is doing their best, but sometimes making mistakes. This approach enables us to address our unconscious bias and blind spots, and work towards becoming better people.

The courage of our leaders will define how we move forward, and whether 2021 becomes a transformative moment for our sector or a continuation of a complacent status-quo.

For help navigating the social change sector or to receive McMillan Vantage’s tri-weekly COVID-19 updates, please contact

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