2020 didn’t just mark the start of a new year, but a new decade. Even though the last few months have been more than challenging, it is time to move forward and look beyond COVID. How will we pave the way for new communities to thrive, and how can we get new generations of donors and philanthropists involved within the sector?
Andre Vashist is a Network Developer & Co-Creator of Verge Capital. He is committed to shifting dynamics of power, equity and inclusion by transforming organizations and collaborations into networks and ecosystems. Through being humble and transparent, Andre believes we can create a better future for the industry.
In our interview, Andre discusses how to
- Challenge the bias’ we have within ourselves to open the floor to others
- Welcome the leaders of tomorrow while encouraging them to create their own opportunities in the sector
- Use technology as a way to forward your mission and,
- How we can better support marginalized communities
Let's discuss the future of philanthropy with Andre Vashist.
Hello and welcome to Donor Engine's Fundraising Superheroes podcast. I'm your host, Sabrina Sciscente. Donor Engine is an All-In-One nonprofit software here to help you drive success. Easy to use and efficient aren't just buzzwords to us. We truly live by them. If you want to learn more about our donor, volunteer or team management systems, give us a visit at donorengine.com.
When we entered 2020, we didn't just enter a new year, but a whole new decade. Now, the year is almost over. We have a lot to think about, especially on what mindset we want to enter 2021 with. Beyond the pandemic, how will we keep up with the times and continue to connect with the new generation of donors and philanthropists? Andre Vashist is a network developer and cocreator of Verge Capital, and he is committed to shifting the dynamics of power, equity and inclusion by transforming organizations and collaborations into networks and ecosystems.
Today, he joins us to discuss the inequalities that exist within the Canadian nonprofit sector and how we can move forward through the 2020's . Thank you so much, Andre, for being on the show with us.
Thanks for having me.
So the Black Lives Matter movement has been trending since the passing of George Floyd, as it should, and since then a lot of organizations and businesses have gone to show support of the movement. But something that at least I've been finding scrolling through social media that has occurred through this is tokenism. People are acting in support for clout or popularity, but they're not taking any real action to contribute to improving the situation and adding to the movement.
So how do we stop ourselves from doing that and what does it really mean to change?
That's such an important question and the word tokenism stands out to me in that question because it's not a new idea of feeling tokenized in our society. Yeah, it may feel like it's a concept that's taking a lot more shape, and more space right now, because we know there's a greater need to do something different regarding racial equity, gender equity, social-economic equity, all these different lenses. The work that is being asked to do as a charitable sector, as a non-profit sector is saying, OK.
If we haven't solved this yet and we knew that we were in a position to contribute to changing this dynamic, this narrative, what do we need to do differently and for those who are early in that journey of trying to do something differently, that tokenism sometimes is the result because say, hey, I'm going to do a consultation or I'm going to add a board member or I'm going to partner with this organization. And that's a good first step.
But it can sometimes be tokenism because we're not actually creating a relationship that's long term. We're not actually doing the proper listening. So I'll put it in the context of my own journey. When I started learning more about the indigenous history of Canada, turtle Island, I then became aware of, OK, something's wrong here. There's an injustice here. And what is my approach going to be to work with that community?
And when I would go to different conferences and I would go to some social finance conferences and there was one panel and they're all like, just build a relationship with us. Don't come to us with your organizational mission. Don't come to us with the project. Don't come to us as a solution. An idea. Just come to a meeting and listen. And I think that's how you get away around tokenism, right? You say, OK, I'm just going to take my time to get to know you before we start doing anything together.
And that becomes more of an equal relationship because the part that we want to get to is partnership. The part we want to get to is we're actually working together. And sometimes working together doesn't mean we each have an equal role. And then working together means I'm listening and you're talking. And sometimes I'm the one doing and you're directing and changing the different dynamics. So right now, we currently work in London with an organization that is supporting the African, Caribbean black community.
And they are thinking about the idea of a network and they're doing a community center and different things. And some of these are these are news. And these are these are old resurfacing in some of these ideas and the willingness to do them. And we as non-black people in our organization had to be like, OK, what is our role? Our role is to listen and our rules also leverage our privileges, leverage our skills to support those ideas.
And so we're not the ones leading the idea, we're the ones that are kind of being the helpers in that context, right. And so that takes a lot of humility. Because of the other reason why tokenism happens, people are not humble enough to let someone else lead someone else to have an opinion, so not to have a voice that is worthy of taking on as the kind of leading edge of the work, because people who are in leadership roles feel like I'm in a position to make those decisions.
So there's a lot of complexity when we talk about tokenism means in the context of Black Lives Matter and context, indigenous lives matter. And I think if there are some simple ways of approaching, it is again, if humble, if we're willing to just listen and build relationships and we also willing to give something to get out of the way and give space to other people to do the work and not just be the ones having to be there.
Mentioning being humble and humility is is, I think, so important, and it's also very powerful as a leader to understand that you've made mistakes and Make it a priority to, as you mentioned, include people of the demographic that are being hurt the most into these conversations, into leadership positions and taking a second to step back and say, I have been doing things wrong. I haven't been as supportive as I should have or I've made mistakes in the past and own up to it and commit to a better future.
Moving on, because I find that a lot of people are they get really defensive when they are opposed to change, because it's like they're being threatened, almost like their way of doing things is wrong, but it's not at all but being threatened and it's about partnerships, building those relationships and truly having empathy for these people who are experiencing prejudice in professional environments, which is a whole other thing,
Like it's a professional environment. There shouldn't be emotional bias in it, but there is. So we have to stop that.
And I think there is emotional there's an operational bias to some degree, you know, and I'm thinking about the context of the work that we do here, like we recently got a three and a half million dollar grant. The biggest grant organizations have received biggest project I've ever been on in terms of a budget.
And it was called the Women of Ontario Social Enterprise Network, so two things they need to mention. One is I'm male-identifying. So as being a member of a project like that, I have to check in with my gender identity to see if am I going to be a good ally in this moment so people can feedback with me like, hey, we want you here in these conversations.
We don't want these conversations, and just be likeable able to have that kind of dialogue and not think that just because I'm in a leadership role in the organization that regardless of my identity, that I have a right to be here because that's the operational bias. If I'm a director of a program that I need to be involved in every single conversation.
But if you take that principle of being humble and say, hey, you know what, I need to remove myself in certain conversations and create a space for the people to lead. The second thing is when we started doing that work, we've got a whole bunch of money. Right. But we realized that we couldn't do that work like that work was not for us to do is actually the part of our role was to take that money and then now redistribute it back into our community.
So we ran like an accelerator program for organizations to build some of the ideas, and we did it in partnership with an indigenous leader. And so she's the one that actually designed the program with our support, and so the money went to her to help design it and facilitate it. And then we took some of the money to provide staff support. And so it was a strong partnership where we weren't imposing our ways of doing things, or our ways of knowing we actually partner someone else who wanted to showcase their ways of doing in ways of knowing with our support as they asked for it.
So, again, the level of partnership and humility ripple down to many different layers, from an organization to a project to community relationships and networks. So I think that's the work that we're being asked to do right now. And we're also being asked to like, you know, if we don't know how to approach a situation to ask for help. We don't always have to know how to handle the situations, and not every book is going to tell us the answer.
You know, you have to be willing to go out there and just ask and make some mistakes, too, and take responsibility for that.
Yeah, and I think COVID has almost created an opportunity for that, they've made it pretty clear that collaboration is the way to go. I've had several people on the show come in and just speak solely on the fact that we need to collaborate moving forward. And they didn't realize how much silos and this kind of triangle effect of leadership has been holding them back.
So since COVID has created such a push for everyone to step out of their comfort zone and update their way of working and us realizing that a lot of organizations were stuck in the habit of doing things. How do we reflect and understand why we're so behind on the trends of today?
Hmm, interesting question, because when COVID happened, I also had this sense of like sadness that like, no society was being kind of shut down, but also a sense of optimism of like, wow, this is an opportunity to reimagine.
And it's like these two emotions, like side by side, right? Something called the sadjoy, like just like the one word is like it's called sadjoy and.
And so I think both of them are true because one end, yes, you know, there's some really sad things that happen. Some organizations had to shut down, some programs had to end, some businesses had to close. And some people got hurt, like died and got sick. And all that kind of stuff happened. And furthermore, people from the situation are exacerbated because of the existing inequities that existed in our society. And if the time is right and rallied people together, like, hey, how are we going to work together?
We're going to figure this out. How are we going to collaborate like we weren't collaborating before this happened? Because we're kind of working on what we need to work on. So let's figure this out. Two things I've seen emerge from that collaboration is, one, some of those collaborations are about maintaining the status quo. So we just need to survive right now. Survival mode. We don't need to innovate. We don't have the space to do things differently.
We just need to survive right now. People just need us or we need to keep our jobs or like, no, we were just at that level and that's OK. Some people can only operate there because of whatever context or environment they're in. And then there's also the collaboration around, hey, how we do things differently. So you saw all the personal protective equipment, innovation. People sort of collaborating on those business models, you know, and people started collaborating on like, you know, mutual aid networks and looking at creating different educational spaces for our children.
Well, people are at home and all these different things started happening.
And I'm not sure how that's going to continue in the next couple of years. Right. Because now a lot of money is coming out of the government support of the black community that's been supported through government projects. You have some climate action stuff that's coming out, the green infrastructure projects, things that nature. And so that stuff feels like it's going to be off in a different way of doing things. But on the other side, we also are seeing that people are just kind of saying, like, how do we get back to the way it was?
My salary job and my nine to five and everyone goes to school the way we used to, like some people are yearning for that, the way things used to be. And so we're just cutting attention. And I think the attention that sometimes like in the park, you know, seeing the kids and the parents and we're talking about like who's in school, who's not in school. And some kids I've gone back to school and some kids are staying home with their parents and parents to figure out how to homeschool and work at the same time.
And you see, like everyone is kind of taking this moment in a different way and a different path. And I think that is interesting to me to see how that all turns out, because, you're going to have a bit of both a little static or a little bit of innovation.
I guess you need that because it is a huge change. I mean, we literally went from our every day like nine to five, I guess, and then thrust into work from home environment, and especially if you have to work from home before that sets up a whole list of challenges on top of being scared for COVID and caring for yourself and your loved ones. One of the things that Paul Nazareth mentioned in all this talk in the podcast, Bucks for those Listening, is that he made a point of explaining the technological drawbacks that a lot of nonprofits face.
One of the examples that stood out to me was he explained that we just got tap and everyone was really excited for Christmas because now the people asking for donations at malls and such, we're able to get tap donations. But the fact of the matter is, has been around for years. And it's almost a question of why did it take so long to reach the nonprofit space because it would have been so helpful to have received that technology when it was first coming out.
So do you think there's a reason why there's almost like a lag in the industry?
It's been there. I have been in this area 10 years, a little over 10 years. And as a young person, I was really tuned into technology and I thought of that so many times, like you passed by like the Salvation Army, like in the mall or something, you ask for cash. And I'm only have my debit card I don't carry cash anymore but I'd gladly tap. Right. And then COVID happens and everyone's tapping all of a sudden.
Right. And then everyone was like, oh yeah. Cash is like the longer existing because people don't want to share the germs.
And in the nonprofit sector, like, well, like tap was there, we didn't adopt it the minute that it released like many other technologies we don't adopt. There's a couple of reasons I think and I don't know for sure, but one could be sometimes it's the leadership that, you know, is kind of stuck in a different way of doing business. Even the nonprofits, churches are businesses. They operate. They have to do certain things.
Those technological advancements aren't the priority of that business because delivering the social mission is right and the caregiving its the programs, its the spaces into technology kind of doesn't seem like the on the top of the priority list in terms of investment. Now, on the investment side, though, we also don't receive a lot of additional funds to do like take on new approaches or tools. We are really based on project funding or donors or sponsors. And so a lot of our money is restricted.
And so we don't have a lot of flexibility to add new innovations to our organizations or projects because our money is so tied up and just maintain the current project as is or doing some slight adjustments to it.
So I think those two forces kind of put us in a bit of a box and think of it too, the nonprofit charity sector is only a small part of the larger economy, although an important part, it doesn't take up a lot of the wealth resources that are larger business community has. So large it has a lot more resources as disposal and is investing a lot more into that R&D or trying to see new models and willing to take some more risks on those tools and models.
Whereas the charity sector will wait till they are really solid and they become cheap and the strategic priorities align finally that we can take on this new approach.
So there's so many other barriers that our sector is considering when making these decisions.
Moving forward, especially because I feel 2020 has been rough, but one of the things, again, going back to the talk with Paul Nazareth is that he mentioned is that it is the start of a new decade and we're going to see the baby boomers kind of dwindle out of the fundraising pool and we're going to make way for millennials or potentially even Gen Z donors. Do you think that this new generation of giving will push more technological advances in the industry, or do you feel like it's a deeper issue than just the generational gap?
Well, technology is a tool and tools have a bias, and so technology is biased towards a specific demographic. I'm part of the millennial generation. And yeah, I mean, we are comfortable with certain tools and the Gen Z, they're going to be comfortable with different tools that are coming out and that will also be connected to the wealth of bias. Who actually has the money. Right. And so we talk a lot about the transfer of wealth from the baby boomers to maybe the millennial generation.
And we shall see.
And so. How we engage with those with the wealth or the resources that we want to access, whether it be through sponsorships, donations, philanthropy, grant-making will be connected to how those people like to engage with the millennial generation is engaged with technology in a certain way. That's maybe where that relationship will occur. We just did a crowdfunding campaign. For a local organization here, and they had over five hundred supporters combined to help raise 75 thousand dollars.
So that's a large volume of people, right? And so you could go do a corporate sponsorship campaign and get like five corporate sponsors. Right. Or go do a hybrid net worth campaign and do it with a smaller volume. So I think the way we think about engaging our community our donors, our committed supporters if you will, has to be connected to where the money is coming from and how people want to engage.
And I can imagine using technology right now to engage in some of our higher wealth people through a crowdfunding campaign that says, hey, donate twenty-five thousand dollars chunks and raise five hundred thousand dollars or whatever it is right like that to me. I can't conceptualize that right now. I would love to, you know, I would love to see that as a possibility. But I find myself do the traditional model of creating a proposal to have a campaign, go do outreach, have meetings, you know, all that kind of stuff.
Whereas in the crowdfunding campaign created a video promoted on social media, you know, and we've got outreach and we have five million people that are going to be highly engaged in this project moving forward.
So it's evolving times and technology is sometimes being looked at as the next wave of part of the solutions to ensuring that our sector is resilient and has the resources it needs. I just also think we have to not let technology be the end goal. And so I watched a Netflix documentary recently, The Social Dilemma.
Oh, I love that documentary.
Yeah. So that helps open up different perspectives to how the technologies are being used and what they are creating in terms of the relationships, not just from us as a user of benefiting from those relationships, but then what those companies are also benefiting from us using that platform. So there's a lot of nuance to it. And that's why I'm really hopeful that, you know, people from our sector can also create those impact versions of those technologies.
So we won't have to rely on technologies that are not aligned with our mission, which is challenging times.
Yeah, and that's a really good point to make, is that at the end of the day, it's going back to that mission and seeing what really does benefit the cause and the people that you helped serve.
Another thing that this new generational shift is bringing is a whole sea of new leaders. But one of the things that the next generation governance research done by the pillar nonprofit found was that some of the newer talent aren't being nurtured and they struggle with taking leadership roles because they feel like they don't have enough experience leading in the workplace. So how can we do better to support this future generation of nonprofit leaders?
One thing I've noticed recently is we work a lot with the London, Ontario area where I am is there's a lot of universities here, right. And so we happen to work with a lot with students. And students will want to get involved the organization to get experience through a club. The club will have an internship program or there's a co-op program or something of that nature or some sort of summer grant or something of that nature.
They're coming to us and saying, hey, we want to work with non-profits and charities. And they're actually seeing a higher rate of students wanting to get involved with us in the system. Sometimes from the business school or from other programs are not related to being the nonprofit charity sector, just like someone's health or someone in science. And I want to create could impact in my community. So I want to be involved with the sector. And so I see that happening.
But then what I also see happening is there's no follow up job for them. Because all the jobs are taken to some degree. There's not a lot of jobs in our sector because our sector is small and those who are in it. We're not leaving. And so the turnover, although our jobs may have sometimes a high turnover rate, depending on what level of job you have.
It's not like we're a growing industry know that it's just growing so fast that we're having to bring in a whole bunch of new talent. And so you have people that have been workingin this industry for 20, 30 years. And so there is not a lot of space for new people, so for me, someone like I've have over a decade of charity, I've had to be patient.
You know, for the next job, the next opportunity to grow my opportunity to lead and do that work, and it's a really slow-moving in that way. And so I think there's also an interest now for how can that talent not only be oriented towards our nonprofit sector, but how can we orient that interest, that enthusiasm to do good in the world into other industries? So maybe that technology sector in our government sector, in our health sector, there are so many other spaces that these talented young people can offer and contribute in a positive way that doesn't have to be kind of put in based on a legal structure of being a nonprofit or a charity.
Right. And so we use the language of social enterprise, social purpose organizations and others at the B Corp movement. So there's other ways of embedding that mission, if you will, if it's really about the mission and about the structure into other spaces and allowing young people to activate those parts of themselves, those morals as values in those spaces and. I'm hopeful that that can happen. We're also trying to do some work around getting people involved in the board.
So even if, like, for example, I'm not a staff member of a non-profit, how do I get involved in a governance level of a non-profit? And I think we're trying do a lot of matchmaking right now in our community with organizations so that the people can get involved that way if they can just get a job in the sector. So I think that's kind of where we're at right now. And I think beyond that, if you can't get a volunteer role, a board or you can't get a job and sometimes it's like, can you create something?
Can you build something on your own? And there's the space for that, too, right now for people to be entrepreneurial, innovative if you have the right resources.
I think that's another great way to look at it, though, is thinking about even if you want to make a difference, it doesn't necessarily mean you have to go out and start a nonprofit or be part of a nonprofit organization. You can take that ideology and those beliefs and bring it to maybe a business and see how they can do things better and how they can better support a nonprofit community. And I think that's part of making your own path as well as understanding where you are and what your skillset is and molding your situation to fit what you want to see happen in the industry.
And I think if you think about like about like it's a societal challenge that we have, you know, it's not just like a nonprofit or charity challenge. A societal challenge requires everyone to be tuned in to that challenge. So I think we do need more people in the business sector now working on those challenges, not just from a business orientation of the cave. This is a profit making year for our shareholders or owners, but really like what is it from a community perspective?
And I think there is hopefully I'm optimistic about a glass half full kind of person, that there's more of interest in that for society to be more tuned in to our corporate social responsibility and the environmental impact and those lenses to the work. And I think hopefully those portfolios are growing in those businesses that give opportunity for young people to get involved as well. In addition to being, of course, being involved with the nonprofit sector.
So as someone who's been in the industry for 10 years now, I know this is a very heavy question, but what do you hope to see change in the next 10 years? Where do you hope that we go in the future?
Well, yes, it's a big question. I have thought about it and I have some clarity around where I want to be involved in it. So I think I know there's like the big picture of what we want everyone else to be doing, but I think sometimes I have to go back to think about what is my individual responsibility within that, because I was taught like the circle of influence in a circle of concern. And I can be concerned about a lot of things.
What can I have actually influence? Right. And so in my circle of influence, I'm thinking about. Education for our children, I have a young son, four years old, I'm thinking about educational models for him because of our current school system, if it still has systemic racism, still has a systemic inequities, and that's a large bureaucratic process. If I can solve that, because I'm not going to be a politician or a trustee or the consultation process doesn't feel adequate enough, then I have to kind of develop a different idea for that.
So I'm looking at other alternative educational models to be involved with.
I'm looking at the future of work, which everyone cares about, and I'm thinking about a lot of the ways that we can collaborate between organizations, you know, and not just thinking about people being consultants or freelancers, but really thinking about how do we create spaces for people to collaborate between organizations more than just being in our organizations. And I think I've learned a lot about that working and a network. And then the last one is how we live together.
And I think we all kind of live in a neighborhood with neighbors. And I'm really thinking about how to structure really experience in a way that creates more relationship and connection. And that came forward really during the crisis because people are looking to each other for support of the more and and feeling a little bit more like I saw a lot of my neighbors walking around a lot more during the neighborhood and we had a lot more conversations. And so these are the kind of the way we learn, the way we work, the way we live.
They're all kind of cultural pathways. And I think I'm thinking about how do we renew some of these cultural pathways of that are centered around being, again, humble, being collaborative and even being very localized in this highly technological and globalized world. And so I know that may not answer the question of like, no big corporations are doing trans ocean supply chains and this and that. Like, that's really big. Like I'm not in that space. I'm not there.
I can't contribute to the conversation that are at a level the UN maybe one day I can get to a global conversation, but for now, where I am at in my neighborhood and my community is working on those areas and I think everyone has to just find their space of influence. And when we don't have a level of influence that we want, that connects the circle of concern that we have to find a way to get that level of influence. So, you know, running for office, you know, I would love to see more young people, more people of BIPAC descent or more women being involved in in some of the political sphere, myself included.
So I think there is an opportunity to do things differently if you're willing to act differently. And I'm I want to be part of that.
So that's could be my call to action for this next decade is to work on those three kind of areas and really center around what kind of culture you want to create, because I really have been thinking a lot about the next generation, like my children, the children that come after. And I think a lot of the wisdom of our First Nations people in this land to really kind of grounded me as well, thinking about this land and how we're going to care for it for many generations to come, because it was cared for by many generations before us.
And we have that responsibility. Yeah, indigenous wisdom is just something that I think we should be speaking more about because it's so relevant right now, you know, the idea of collaborating and being mindful of our actions, what we use and just taking care of everyone in our tribes, our communities. Do you feel like collaboration is going to be key for a more sustainable future?
Yeah, I do. And I can't lie. I do like the competition slightly. Think there's healthy competition, you know, and that's what keeps you like being the best at what you do. Right. You find that someone else that's really good at what you do and you make sure you keep each other on your toes. Right. So I think competition could be very healthy, but I think in that competition, still collaboration, that I'm still going to be friends with you after, you know, we're still going to go and hang out and do something, do work together.
Like we're going to say, for example, we train for a basketball team. We're competing against each other to be the best basketball player. By the end of the day, we go on that and we play together as a team and we're part of a league or whatever it is. So I do think collaboration is important. I do think we are sometimes taking off more than we can chew in terms of trying to collaborate on such a massive scale that we're on right now.
Like our societies are huge, like cities of millions of people. That's not a collaboration at the scale of billions of people, is not a small endeavor. And we have infrastructure that we call government that tries to manage those situations and have a lot of organizations and businesses that help create the market efficiencies. We have the non-profits and charities to help create the community support and, you know, backbone and all that, that inequity, if you will. I get a little overwhelmed sometimes with trying to think of how to collaborate at that scale.
So I think for me. Collaboration is so important and it's hard work, and I think what I've learned recently at the core of that collaboration is building trust. That's the greatest currency that we can have right now, is this is trust in finding ways to build trust each other. And if we can do that, we can build trust in our neighborhoods.
If we can build trust in our industries or sectors in our and even our own families, then I think we can we can get further. But I think in this current day and age, because of all the social media and all the different stories that we see, it's so hard to trust what's happening around us. And and we are disconnected from the truth and the truth.
And trust is the same word from the truth that is our our our personal experience and the experience of others. And it requires a lot of trust, a lot of empathy to understand someone else's truth, someone else's, and understand the world and build that trust. And so that's to me is the key currency that we can exchange for collaboration and get another strong willingness to put our emotions out there. And I went home and told my mentors, told me, in order to love, you have to be willing to have your heart broken.
And I think that's where we have to be, that love and courage to collaborate, and if we do it, we can be successful and I'm not convinced everyone's ready to do that. And that's OK. We'll find everyone on the journey.
But I think those of us on this call, on this podcast, on this on this on this moment in time, this decade, if we can try and do that more, I'll keep that glass half full.
Definitely. And I think I will as well. I think that's a beautiful place to end the podcast. Thank you so much, Andre, for joining us.
Thank you Sabrina, great chat.
I highly recommend you check out Andre’s Organization, the non-profit network. They have incredible information and resources. They deliver programs and services to help support the positive community impact of individuals, organizations and enterprises. If you want to discover how they can help strengthen your impact, give them a visit, pillarnonprofit.ca. And if you want to get more resources into past podcast episodes, I highly recommend you check out our website at donorengine.com, where you can access blog posts and previous podcasts as well as the full transcription.
So again, that's donorengine.com. And as always, thank you so much for listening and we'll see you next time on Fundraising Superheroes.