"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Monday, 29 October 2012

What's Going On

Toronto Public Library foundation seeks ‘entry-level’ philanthropists

Published on Sunday October 28, 2012

Aaron Harris/For the Toronto Star New York author Amor Towles is among the speakers the Toronto Library Foundation has presented in a bid to attract young donors. Others include novelist Irvine Welsh and journalist Jodi Kantor.
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Patty Winsa
Urban Affairs Reporter
Bestselling author Amor Towles is in the Yorkville branch of the Toronto Public Library, describing how a man in Manhattan once asked him for help and then led him down a set of basement stairs to an unknown destiny.
The author of Rules of Civility, dapper in jeans, a white shirt and beige jacket, is speaking at an exclusive event for the library’s New Collection, a group of under-40 philanthropists.
New Collection is the library foundation’s youth wing, an attempt to attract the dollars of the city’s rich young elite.
Their participation is vital if cultural institutions like it are going to survive as fewer and fewer people give to charity.
Since 1990, the number of people claiming charitable deductions on tax returns has gone down 22.5 per cent. And although the amount donated has recently gone up, it’s only because the baby boomers and civics, the group born in 1945 and before, are giving more.
That can’t last forever.
“It is critical for Canadian charities to start tapping into Gen X and Gen Y,” says Karen Willson, senior vice president at KCI, the country’s largest fundraising consultant firm. “They are the future to the financial well-being of our charitable sector.”
On this Saturday night, most of the 50 or so people in the audience at the Yorkville branch, which with no small irony was built by a donation from Andrew Carnegie — the U.S. titan of philanthropy — are in the right age group.
Towles, who moved from a Boston suburb to the Big Apple when he was 25, inhaled New York for more than 20 years before he breathed life into the pages of Rules of Civility, his first novel. The book is about how a woman’s chance encounter with a man at a club in the ‘30s shapes her life. It was named one of the best works of fiction in 2011 by the Wall Street Journal.
The author finishes his story about the basement in New York — it turns out a congregation of Orthodox Jews was eating dinner in a dark basement on the Sabbath and needed somebody to turn on the lights — and begins another. It’s about a dinner again, this time at a restaurant with his wife.
Towles was about to say hello to a man he recognized at an adjacent table — the father of a friend — when he heard the woman across from the man say: “For seven years you’ve been telling me you’re going to leave that woman. When are you going to do the right thing?”
Towles and his wife had inadvertently heard the details of the couple’s seven-year affair.
It’s those kind of personal stories the foundation hopes will entice young professionals to join New Collection for $300 a year. For $500 you can bring a friend.
It’s “entry level philanthropy,” says Gillian Hewitt Smith, who sits on the library’s board. The library holds similar events for over-40 patrons who give $1,000 or more.
The donations don’t replace core municipal funding. The $3- to $5 million raised each year is used to enhance programs and services, such as the Sun Life Financial Museum and Arts Pass, which gives library members — many in priority neighbourhoods — access to free passes for cultural venues including the zoo. The foundation raised $30 million for the Toronto Reference Library’s revitalization project.
“The country is going through a pretty significant transformation,” says Smith, referring to a StatsCan report that said by 2011 our net labour force growth could be entirely dependent on immigration, as would Canada’s net population growth in 20 years.
“Just think about that for a second. All we’re doing is holding the absolute number of people steady in the country,” she says. “So what that means is if you’re not fully engaging every single Canadian politically, socially, culturally and economically, the country goes backwards. It doesn’t matter if you’re an employer, a consumer or a cultural institution. We physically need all hands on deck.”
Getting that level of involvement means foundations will have to change the way they do business.
“I think they have to provide different opportunities to younger donors,” says Andrew Watt, CEO and president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Instead of sitting on boards and using their contacts, “people actually want to feel engaged, not just with the glitz and the glamour, but with the organization,” he says. “And understand what it wants to achieve.”
Smith says that when the New Collection committee did that research, they found that although younger patrons were interested in socializing, they “wanted the chance to think broadly about city building issues or issues in general. Those are the types of speakers that we’ve brought to their attention over the last little while.”
The series has included Jodi Kantor, the New York Times journalist who wrote The Obamas, and Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh who penned Trainspotting.
Next month, Helen Burstyn will talk about Eleven Out of Ten: The Life and Work of David Pecaut, the book she wrote about her late husband who co-founded Luminato.
New Collection hopes to attract 300 to 500 members.
“The spirit of what we’re trying to do, and the institution that we’re supporting, is open to absolutely everyone,” says Smith. “That’s the point. We’re trying to support an institution that supports us all.”


Anonymous said...

I love the comment " instead of sitting on boards ". Ring a bell, anyone?

Anonymous said...

Meanwhile, here in Aurora, one Councillor will try very hard to reduce any money from the Budget that would go to our Library. As usual. Makes you want to cry.