After some 18 months of conversations, deliberations, validation of ideas and most importantly testing of our sanity, Foundation House has just opened its doors at the corner of St. Clair and Yonge Street (Toronto). Given the buzz and interest, and as one of three partners along with Bruce Lawson (The Counselling Foundation of Canada) and Jehad Aliweiwi (Laidlaw Foundation), I thought I would take some time to highlight, from my perspective, the what, the how and the why of this collaborative project.
The what… So what is all the fuss about? Well, let me take you back to where it all started. It was in Banff, back in May of 2014, at a meeting organized by Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC) that a few of us started thinking about the virtues of sharing space vs being on our own. Over the months the conversation evolved from a simple idea of having a collective roof over our heads to the concept of Foundation House – a hub for philanthropic collaboration, learning and sharing.
And joining us is a stellar group of organizations: the Canadian Education and Research Institute for Counselling (CERIC), the Ontario Nonprofit Network (ONN) and the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network (CEGN). And Philanthropic Foundations Canada (PFC), Community Foundations of Canada (CFC), The Circle on Philanthropy and Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, and GrantBook will also have a presence at Foundation House. All in all, we will be about 45 in the new space. Great people who will share great ideas!
From the outset, we have worked hard, and will continue to work hard, at making this a welcoming space for all, from staff to family members, grantees and partners. Jehad at the Laidlaw Foundation continuously reminds us of the need to ensure that our grantees and partners feel comfortable and welcomed when they visit us. As foundations we need to be approachable and collaborative and this is informing how we are thinking about our space. It is very much integral to our philosophy.
The how…..Once we had decided that there was something here and that it was worth investing some time on this, we got away for a full day to figure out our goals and objectives, the kind of culture we wanted to see in this new shared space, possible locations, etc. We actually came up with a vision statement that continues to inspire us.
This process was all about ensuring that we were all talking about the same thing and that we all had the same understanding of what this venture would be all about.
We also realized that if we were to do this, there would be a huge amount of time required on our part (and of course patience, determination and resolve). As Bruce Lawson is fond of saying, and rightly so: this kind of thing is not for the faint of heart! So with our eyes wide open (well as much as that was possible in those early stages!), we decided to jump.
The next step included finding a realtor in Toronto who understood what we were trying to accomplish and who could help us source out the ideal space to make it happen. We decided to go with Colliers, given their genuine interest in the nonprofit sector and our project. (They actually featured an article about Foundation House, and it is worthy of a read: here). With their help, we found a place to call home for Foundation House.
The moment we walked into the space, we could already envision Foundation House. It had lots of windows and great light, it had the open concept we were looking for and an amazing kitchen where we could imagine lots of collaboration between staff and guests taking place! And so after quite a few weeks of renovations, our conceptualization of Foundation House actually became a reality in December of 2015.
And now the why…Foundations often talk to their grantees of the need for better collaboration, for sharing of resources, for partnerships….all in the name of better outcomes and impact. I certainly agree with this, as I know Bruce and Jehad do, and one of the main reasons we are embarking on this adventure is for those same reasons. We believe in this for our grantees as well as for us, and we want to walk the talk!
No doubt this whole thing started off as a discussion about a place to live (i.e., it was about a roof over our heads), but it has grown into so much more.
It’s about learning from each other and sharing (not only our physical resources but also our ideas, approaches, successes and failures). It will be a place to convene and hopefully stimulate philanthropic conversations about how we can improve the work we do. Having the funder umbrella organizations (CFC, PFC, CEGN, the Circle) in with us will create great opportunities to foster and broaden those discussions and to create a true philanthropic hub. And having organizations like CERIC, ONN, and GrantBook with us will also help keep us grounded in the real world!
A few final reflections
There is still a lot to do over the next few months as we get settled and learn to work in this collaborative space. We will be working on our organizational culture to ensure that it aligns with each organization and the individuals that make up Foundation House. We know that if this is going to work for the long term, we need to invest time in getting to know each other and setting a tone and philosophy that will work for all of us.
Because we think our experience can be helpful to others, we will be chronicling our process to share the Foundation House story and our learnings. Hopefully, this will be helpful to others who may be thinking about similar opportunities.
In closing, I have to say that working on this project with my colleagues Bruce Lawson and Jehad Aliweiwi has been one the highlights for me.
If you happen to be in the neighbourhood in Toronto, please drop by! We are at 2 St. Clair Avenue East (corner of Yonge), suite 300. Au plaisir!
Related Foundation House articles:
Foundation House: Seeking Premises that Promote Collaboration, Community and Opportunity (Colliers, December 2015)
Laidlaw Foundation arrival last piece in new Foundation House project (YongeStreetMedia, January 2016)