The spirit of giving
Monday, 29 November 2010 15:45
Written by Jon Waldman
Working in a sector that serves the public is something that has been a part of Rick Frost’s life for over 35 years. In fact, before coming on board with The Winnipeg Foundation 13 years ago, Frost was in a different arena altogether–the political arena.
As Frost explained in a November 2010 interview with Winnipeg Men, his dedication to the community around him started in Ontario, where he worked in three different city halls across the province (Hamilton, Burlington and the Peel region). Eventually, Frost made his way to Winnipeg, where he would again work in municipal government, this time as Chief Commissioner. He would serve in the position for more than eight years before joining The Winnipeg Foundation, where he is now chief executive officer.
Though the two industries ultimately share the same baseline purpose–service to better the lives of the general public–the differences between the two are numerous, but in particular, he points to two very large areas.
“The first is scale,” Frost told Winnipeg Men. “Governments have a lot of money to spend and big budgets, and charitable organizationshave much, much less, so they tend to be more focused.”
The second major difference, Frost explained, has to do with reaction time due to the nature of budgeting.
“I think charitable organizations are way more agile,” he explained. “We don’t have as much process to go through. You can make a decision very quickly. The Winnipeg Foundation, as an example, is very agile. If someone calls us up and says, ‘We need X amount of dollars for X purpose,’ and if it was a true emergency, we could act very quickly. Even if it’s not an emergency and normal routine, we can allocate money with great discretion.
“In most government departments,you open your year typically Jan. 1, you take a look at your budget and realize you’ve got more costs already built in than you have money to spend, so from day one you’re already looking at cuts. As a result, the budget process in a public service organization is long and difficult, whereas our process is quite the opposite to that.”
Building the Foundation
Today, Frost stands as one of the most dedicated men in our city, leading an agency that, on a daily basis, helps numerous charitable causes throughout Winnipeg. Currently, it ranks as the second-largest community foundation in Canada, totaling a staggering 2,000 endowment funds under its belt.
There is no exact formula for this success, but there are certainly two identifiable parts that contribute largely to The Winnipeg Foundation’s success. First is its heritage, standing as Canada’s oldest community foundation, which dates back to 1921. The second is the culture that has existed since its inauguration. Continually, our province is applauded for its people’s giving nature, ranking us at or near the top of national statistics year-in and year-out.
“We’re fortunate to have a very healthy charitable sector,” Frost remarked. “Certainly, the background to everything is that Manitobans are the most generous of Canadians. When you look at the percentage of income that Manitoba gives to charity, it’s by far the highest in the country.
“It doesn’t matter which income bracket you look at–if you look at people who are making less than $30,000 or people making more than $100,000, it doesn’t really matter; in every case, Manitoba will be at the top of the list. So we’re very fortunate to work in a very generous community. We’ve obviously had very large gifts and much more modest gifts. The Foundation will work with any body at any level to build an endowment.”
The dollars that come in annually, and the resulting size in growth of the Foundation, is absolutely staggering, especially when you consider that Frost and his team don’t run fundraising campaigns per se, choosing instead to primarily have private conversations with individuals about setting up endowments.
“It’s still very effective,” Frost commented. “This past year we raised $19.5 million. When I started here at the foundation, we had less than $150 million in the bank, and today we’ve got about $470 million. We’ve enjoyed remarkable growth over that period of time, with lots of individuals from all walks of life, creating funds and endowments.”
Additionally, Frost reported that in the same timespan, the annual grant money allocated has grown from $4 million to $21 million.
The growth in granted money has also allowed the Foundation to support more charities. Last year, 670 organizations were given allocations by the Foundation. But just as is the case in any industry, the number will change year to year.
“Like any other sector, there will be demands for certain things at one time and less so at others. There is fluctuation in demand that you see in the community.” Frost said. “But Manitoba has a very rich mosaic of different kinds of charitable organizations. We have lots of charities that represent all kinds of community interests and while there is ebb and flow in the organizations that go up or down, sometimes you see something that goes negative for an organization, they climb their way back out of it remarkably well.”
Still, some of the organizations that benefit from the Foundation appear more frequently. Frost remarked that there are several charities that re-apply every year, as well as agencies that are new to the process.
“We try to be represented in all aspects of community life,” he explained. “We’re interested in the arts, education, social welfare, the environment… it doesn’t really matter where you look – you’re going to see The Winnipeg Foundation showing up.”
In having this expansive reach, the Foundation is able to provide granting in a number of areas in our city, accommodating donors who want to direct their money to specific causes or those who want to set up a more generalized fund.
“There are people who say they’d like to support the community in the broadest way, or maybe they have a field of interest, either children or medical research, so they’re prepared to give a lot of flexibility in terms of how they structure it, so the result is we can respond to what the donor is interested in,” Frost said. “We have some ready-made products (such as our Nourishing Potential Fund, which augments child and youth nutrition programs in Winnipeg), but you’ll always have donors who are willing to give us lots of flexibility of putting the money where it needs to be.”
Time of giving
With the holiday season quickly approaching, one would expect that this would be a time that donations would follow the suit of this being the gift-giving time of year, and indeed this is the case at The Winnipeg Foundation. “There’s no question that as we approach year-end, we will see some families… remembering somebody, and giving to a fund,” Frost said. “We definitely see donations coming in, to an array of our funds at this time of year.”
But this is not an isolated time on the calendar; instead, every day is a celebration, with gifts and funds being developed year-round, and more people and organizations, on an annual basis, benefit from The Winnipeg Foundation and the hard work of people like Rick Frost.