The best philanthropy is not just an obligation to some social duty but an opportunity. The best business is not just an opportunity to profit but an obligation to care for the social and natural world that provides the resources to profit from.
On his 55th birthday, one of my entrepreneurs–who is also one of the most prolific philanthropists in Canada–invited 55 of his friends and family to pick causes to which he would make a $5000 donation. Tania and I picked the Malamute Rescue Foundation. Many people adopt super cute Malamute puppies and then abandon them when they can't handle the stubborn, intelligent and insanely energetic adult dogs. We had a team of Malamute sled dogs. It was very personal to us. It was the biggest check they'd ever received.
I've seen all sorts of charities on Facebook and other social media platforms raising money for causes very personal to them. I'm sure you have too. Every breed of dog and cat, from boxers to persians, seems to have a rescue league dedicated to them. There are countless other worthy social, humanitarian and environmental causes for the giving person, family or business to support. Mental health. Diseases of every imaginable type. Youth. Indigenous groups. There are many more causes than there are people to volunteer for and fund them. And coming out of COVID and into crazy levels of inflation, many of them are hurting worse than ever.
Donor fatigue has limited the resources available to many charities.
It's true for business ventures too. As for all other marketplaces, we express our values and limited resources through the funding choices we make. All the recipients for those scarce resources, whether time or money, have to have an argument for why an investment in their cause or venture is likely to yield the great social and emotional impact. It's a tough market to be in.
I met Tony Allard* as one of a group of philanthropic entrepreneurs (or entrepreneurial philanthropists) gathered at an event to consider the plight of wild Pacific salmon. Tony founded the Wild First society to rid the oceans off the coast of British Columbia of the Norwegian fish farms that are polluting the oceans with pen-raised Atlantic salmon. The foreigners employ a relatively small number of locals, contribute pitifully small amounts to government coffers and put the indigenous species at risk with viral infections and parasites. The free fish are getting smaller and the runs more anemic.
His pitch is compelling, his passion infectious and he is competing for resources like every other person with a cause that's very personal. It was not an arbitrary cause, nor a distant one. When he acquired the Good Hope cannery on Rivers Inlet in the territory of the Wuikinuxv Nation he soon immersed himself in the controversy. He had a business to run and he was part of the community.
For from an impact perspective, salmon is a unique lever. From an ecology perspective, salmon is a unique keystone species. Negative impacts on salmon cascade through a large ecosystem that not only includes grizzly bears but a multitude of First Nations.
We have a long history of carelessly fumbling away valuable things before we understand the true value of what we are fumbling away.
It's easy for me to imagine donor fatigue extending to a kind of general fatigue for social issues in Canada. As people living in cities struggle to keep food on the table and get their kids to school, the plight of Pacific salmon and the political economy of industrial aquaculture can seem abstract and fanciful. At best we might remember what happened to the cod fishery. At worst it's a distant and irrelevant problem that will never touch us: why should we all give a shit about some local fish thing?
One of the problems with highly complex systems like the natural environment or the social environment is latency. If we have purturbed the system, we are often unware that something has gone past a point of no return only after it has gone well past the point of no return. Impact lag impulses. We don't hear the signals while they are whispers until we get hit with the screams. People don't pay attention to the flame until they're singeing their own hair.
Perhaps we should give a shit about salmon for the same reason we should give a shit about other issues like rampant forest fires. Or affordable housing. Or residential schools. Few of use really notice the problems until well after they happen. They are the same kind of opportunity: a chance to consider what Canada is really about and what is worth fighting for. Clean up the mess even though none of us today had anything to do with it. There will come a time when we understand the true cost of mistreating what is most vulnerable in our communities, land, water and air. I hope we learn before everything has burned down.
Proactive leaders separate the real signals from the noise and get after something long before anyone else. This is your job today. And every day.
*Check out Tony's work at https://www.wildfirst.ca. There are things you can do there that mean something.