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New research shows impact of foundations on charitable organizations

By Dale Johnson Posted: December 9, 2016 2:00 p.m.

Iryna Khovrenkov is conducting research to provide insight into how Canadian foundations can affect social change.
Iryna Khovrenkov is conducting research to provide insight into how Canadian foundations can affect social change. Photo courtesy of Debbie Bunka at Design Molloy

There’s some encouraging news for the many charitable organizations that depend on funding from philanthropic foundations.

A researcher at the University of Regina has determined that the number of foundations is increasing and becoming more important.

Iryna Khovrenkov specializes in the economics of charities, foundations and leadership giving. Khovrenkov is an assistant professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Regina.

Khovrenkov is part of a team that received three-year funding of $198,300 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada to develop a body of scientific knowledge about Canadian grant-making foundations.

“Canadian data on foundations is the best in the world. We have detailed, publicly available financial data on all foundations in Canada between 1992 and 2013, and few people have explored this dataset. We were pleased to uncover the research potential of this rich administrative data and let members of the foundation community know that it’s there and can potentially answer questions that can benefit them in their day-to-day operations,” Khovrenkov explains.

She says the research so far shows that the importance of foundations is increasing.

“In the past 20 years, the Canadian foundation sector solidified its presence, almost doubling from 5,400 foundations in 1992 to 9,759 foundations in 2013. In Saskatchewan there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of foundations between 1992 and 2013.”

As well, total assets of Saskatchewan foundations have more than tripled during that period, and Saskatchewan is second only to Alberta among western provinces in the growth of foundation grants between 1992 and 2008.

Khovrenkov says the goal of this partnership initiative was to establish relationships and to bring representatives from the university and the community together to learn from each other and create a solid proposal of collaborative research.

“By engaging in active conversation with foundations, we were able to draw from their experiences and identify a number of research topics that would be of interest to academics and of potential benefit to the foundation community as a whole,” she says.

“We hope the papers we publish from our research will be of interest to the community and look forward to trying to answer some of the questions community members indicated will be of value to them. These topics include research that leads to a deeper understanding of the typology of the foundation sector, the effect of policies on foundation disbursements, foundations’ governance structure and involvement of foundations in political activities.”

She says research into this area is important because it will provide the public with greater insight into how Canadian foundations can affect social change.

Through her efforts to develop connections and learn more about Regina’s grantmaking foundation sector, Khovrenkov was asked by the South Saskatchewan Community Foundation (SSCF) to work with them on their Regina Area Vital Signs Report for 2016.

Vital Signs© is a national program led by community foundations and coordinated by Community Foundations of Canada that leverages local knowledge to measure the vitality of communities and support action towards improving the collective quality of life.

The research points to some gaps and challenges, particularly for Indigenous people, refugees, newcomers, and for low-income families struggling to make ends meet.

Christina Attard, Executive Director of SSCF, says it is recognized as best practice to form partnerships with universities to conduct the data analysis part of the Vital Signs report.

“We are proud of the collaboration that we were able to develop with Dr. Khovrenkov and the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School. Through this partnership we were able to ensure that we are telling an accurate and relevant story about our community, based on the analysis of the data. As an economist and policy expert, Dr. Khovrenkov provided structure and rigour to our research. She provided us the credibility we need for people who are in a position to do something with this knowledge to take the report seriously.”

Attard was also one of the people who attended a networking event and symposium that was recently held at the U of R. One of the goals of the event was to provide foundations with an opportunity to network with each other and to continue to build stronger collaborative relationships between the academic community and foundation partners.  

Those attending the event also had an opportunity to meet and listen to a presentation of one of Canada’s foremost fundraising experts, Michael Farrell who is a principal at Philanthropy Coach & Counsel.

“Grant making foundations and other charitable institutions play a pivotal role in our social safety net. This symposium and the research that is carried out by Dr. Khovrenkov as part of the national research consortium demonstrates that academia can be an effective catalyst by bringing foundation leadership together and exploring ways that they can be more impactful,” said Farrell.

Another goal was to provide the people who were consulted with an educational opportunity.

“We appreciate that the University is investing in this type of research and sharing it with the community,” said Attard.

“What I enjoyed the most about the forum Dr. Khovrenkov organized was the opportunity to learn more about her research on the overall foundation sector. Some of the quantitative analysis that she has conducted helps me understand where public and private foundations fit in the world of non-profit organizations in Canada.”