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Board Spotlight - Spencer Duncanson

August 06, 2017 | Working Together - Spring/Summer 2017

Spencer Duncanson
Spencer Duncanson was appointed to The Winnipeg Foundation Board in 2009.

Q: What trends are you seeing in community foundations across the country?

In April and May, I had the pleasure of attending two conferences that included discussions relative to the trends and priorities of community foundations. The first was sponsored by the Council on Foundations and was convened in Dallas, Texas. The second, sponsored by Community Foundations of Canada, was held in Ottawa.

Both provided opportunities to learn of strategies practiced by various foundations around the world.Topics included Vital Signs®, perspectives on reconciliation, food security, environmental factors, support for smaller foundations, growing investments, governance, impact investing, and many more.

Collectively these events hosted more than 1,500 delegates representing many levels of involvement with foundations. Everyone was there with a single mission: to better serve the needs of their communities.

In principle, the movement seemed to speak with one voice. Nonetheless, I found it interesting the same mantra was echoed at each event, “When you’ve seen one community foundation, you’ve seen one community foundation.”

This speaks to the uniqueness of every foundation and its innate ability to adapt its strategies to the needs of its local community. This has been one of the underlying strengths of the movement for many years and perhaps one of its weaknesses.

Q: Are there any national trends you’d like to see become local priorities? Is there something happening at our local level that you believe could serve a national audience?

We are living in very unusual times and conditions. Things are changing rapidly and those changes are having rippling effects globally. Ours is a shrinking world causing us to redefine our concept of community and how it is best served.

To address some possible shortcomings, a number of foundations – community and private, both in Canada and the U.S. – have turned their focus to a variety of social innovations including Vital Signs (community knowledge), developing “local-to-global” frameworks to address environmental and global concerns, developing strategic partnerships, and of most notably, impact investing.

Impact investing, which includes both program related investments and mission related investments (MRIs), has been purported to be the next frontier for social transformation. I draw on a quote from Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation:

“While this field is still emerging, we are making this commitment because we believe MRIs are the next great tool for social transformation, in philanthropy and beyond… we have come to believe that if we expect to overcome the forces of injustice and inequality, we need to expand our imaginations and our arsenals. In short, we must begin to more deliberately leverage the power of our endowment.” (Equals Change Blog, Ford Foundation, Apr. 5, 2017)

This in no way diminishes the traditional role of our community foundations. We still seek to strengthen our local communities through granting and being a voice for the voiceless.

The Winnipeg Foundation knows the value of this well and has dedicated a great deal of its resources to help our rural communities in their efforts to establish community foundations. The Winnipeg Foundation remains a shining example to the 191 community foundations across the country of the benefits of mentorship and collaboration amongst our sector.


About Spencer Duncanson
Appointed to The Winnipeg Foundation Board in 2009. Served on Grants Committee from 2009 to 2014; currently Chairs the Strategic Initiatives Committee and sits on the Board Governance & Personnel Committee. Appointed to the Community Foundations of Canada Board in 2012.