Issue 2 – Fall 2013: Short relationships shrink financial support

The Mackenzie Investments Charitable Foundation isn’t one of Canada’s largest corporate foundations. But we like to think that our relationship-based approach to granting is unique.

Every Foundation volunteer (that is, every member of the Foundation’s Board of Directors and its Employee Donations Committee) plays a role in deciding which charities will receive grants. All Foundation volunteers are Mackenzie employees.

The review and recommendation process isn’t all that unusual, nor are the Foundation’s giving guidelines (we grant to small social services organizations with a focus on children and families at risk). What is more unusual is that each of the 30 grant recipients is assigned a Relationship Manager (RM). The RM is a member of the Donations Committee or the Board of Directors, and becomes the charity’s point of contact for site visits, volunteer opportunities and any other matters affecting the charity’s relationship with the Foundation.

Once a charity begins to receive funding, it can expect to receive support for approximately five to 10 years (although officially, our Foundation does not provide formal multi-year grants). More than anything else, the RM structure allows our Foundation to get a full picture of the charity’s inner workings, over and above any stewardship report or financial statement. Furthermore, our charitable partners like it because they know precisely who to contact with any issues or opportunities that might arise.

 Almost one in three (31%) development professionals who were planning to resign cited problems between them and their Boards as the key reason for their early departure!


Here’s the problem: our point of contact at the charity changes. It changes often … in fact, far too often.

This excessive turnover invariably impacts our relationship and the Foundation’s overall opinion of the charity. More often than not, turnover shortens the funding period, turning it from a potential decade-long relationship into one that lasts only a year or two. The personnel transitions may be relatively seamless, but constant turnover makes us question the charity’s overall efficiency and leadership, even if the roots of the problem are elsewhere. It’s a very, very big deal.

Since our RMs act as the primary contacts, their opinions of the charity and its staff weigh heavily when considering future grants. It is important for us to know that our grants are used to create impact in the communities where we provide funding. When there is heavy staff turnover, it is difficult for the RM to build a strong and lasting relationship with the charity.





“As donors, we do have an obligation to make sure our grant recipients know of our requirements and deadlines,” notes Rob Neish, a Committee Member and RM since 2006. That can be difficult without a working email contact. Many RMs cited email “bounce-backs” (due to staff turnover) as a major source of concern, especially when they occur without an indication of who to contact moving forward.

While new staff at the charity often take a proactive approach to donor development, we too often feel that the introductory call fails to acknowledge the breadth and depth of the relationship. “It almost feels like they are re-introducing themselves to us rather than acknowledging our past support,” says another Committee member. This is not ideal.

Our RMs keep in touch with our charitable partners regularly, even monthly or bi-weekly. They also try to match the volunteer needs of the charity to the volunteer interests of our employees. When there is staff turnover, this component of the relationship often fails.

Sometimes the turnover in staff creates a catastrophic shift in the relationship between the charity and its donor. Sometimes there is no effect at all. More often, however, the shift is categorized by small nuances that chip away at the relationship between charity and donor. While staff turnover is inevitable, it is clear that it needs to be both managed and mitigated.