Opinion: Canada mixes US verve with UK reserve

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief

I don't get out much but, after last week's Aussie nostalgia, I'm writing this at the Association of Fundraising Professionals in Toronto.

This annual event attracts more than 700 participants. Most come from the province of Ontario - with its population of only 12 million - so there is much talk of the crowded non-profit marketplace.

As you would expect, the fundraising ethos is influenced by the US as the huge neighbour.

More surprising is the extent to which fundraising in Anglophone Canada is shaped by the British experience (there are always several British contributors to this conference), how many similarities there are to the UK context and how British charities are acclaimed as being years ahead.

Some things are very different. TV Ontario is a public network that has to fundraise to survive and raises income through embarrassing live appeals that demand donations to screen worthy shows uninterrupted by adverts.

"Donate or we dump Jane Austen" is the message. Although Canadians are more restrained than their US counterparts, there is less of the British reserve about making the ask and less reticence among donors about listening to it.

A big difference I detect is in the expectations of the board. Many are like typical UK boards of trustees, led around by their staff, of mixed ability and level of commitment. But whereas in the UK the American formula for appointment as a trustee ('give, get or get out') has a very small following, in Canada it is an accepted goal, if not yet the norm.

The legal framework comes from the Statute of 1601 and has strong kinship with English charity law (at least until the passage of our Charities Bill), although the tax authorities remain the regulators. But changes in Canadian society are leading to pressure for the four heads of charity to be revised here too. The declaration of a General Election as I arrived means the major charity groups are now flat out trying to ensure their issues are recognised by the parties.

I'm here to talk about the role of the chief executive and the issues I raised in Holland a few weeks ago are just as recognisable as in the UK. There is a different nuance in the role, though. The chief executive of a Canadian national charity is unlikely to be the boss of the executive directors in the ten provinces; federalism in government is reflected in federalism in charities and, as the election campaign reveals, it's the tension that holds them together.

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