How Canada’s Largest Foundation Invests for Impact

Background-OTF-01

Over the past decade, the Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF), an Ontario government funded agency, has granted more than $1 billion to nonprofit organizations across Ontario. Over the next decade, OTF will invest another $1 billion.

Those numbers make OTF the largest granting foundation in Canada. But regardless of size, all funders face the daunting question: What did our investments accomplish? How do we know that we made a difference?

Part of the answer can be found in the stories we hear about projects that we have funded. Often, there is also data suggesting that projects achieved their objectives. However, this anecdotal data fails to answer the broader question of impact.

Are we making communities better?

OTF has shifted in its focus as we work to evaluate the impact of our investments. OTF has a broad mission: to create healthy and vibrant communities. Our focus now rests on defining success. What does meeting that mandate look like? Are Ontario’s communities healthier and more vibrant because of our investments? How can we transform our available resources into our intended social impact?

We want to clearly define the impact we strive towards and focus our grant-making on evidence-based strategies to achieve the impact we intend. To do this, OTF has worked with the Canadian Index of Wellbeing to define “healthy and vibrant communities.” We have commissioned an Ontario-based CIW report that was released in April, and starting next year, we will align our granting budget to invest in projects which will help Ontario to be a leader in the indicators we select.

Collaboration is essential

While we are Canada’s largest granting foundation, we know that we are a teaspoon in the ocean. We have become increasingly aware that in order to build healthy and vibrant communities across the province, we need to collaborate in our approaches to investing and measuring impact. As we start to target our investments at specific indicators of community well-being, we will also need to work with the not-for-profit sector and other funders to collectively set goals, and measure and demonstrate results. With these partnerships, we can make efficient use of our investments to effect positive systems change – and collective impact.

A number of internal and external catalysts have influenced the Foundation’s increased focus of leveraging investments for collective impact and shared measurement. Like many others, OTF has had to cope with a decrease in our available granting budget. At the same time, our applicants and grantees have indicated that they need deeper grants over a longer time frame to get results. The increasing fiscal pressure OTF has encountered and the growing demand for granting dollars have galvanized us to find ways to leverage our investment.

These shifts have played a critical role in contributing to OTF’s goal of leveraging our resources by seeking partnership opportunities to fund projects for deeper collective impact. This year, we have partnered with two private foundations – the Weston Family Parks Challenge and the Gordon and Ruth Gooder Charitable Foundation. These partnerships help OTF to strengthen the impact of our investments while building support for shared measurement and shared outcomes through common objectives.

Our theme at OTF is “investing for impact.” We know how we want to change this province for the better. We also know that we cannot do it alone. As we move forward, we hope that OTF can catalyze change by working collectively with other funders and organizations.