Français |  Home |  What's New |  Sitemap

This site uses PDF files. Adobe Acrobat Reader software is required for viewing. Click the image to download it now.

In This Section
Search Database
Project Background
Case Selection
Regional Approach
Contact Info.

 Print Page


print  Feedback

Inventory of Effective Practices in Financing and Resourcing of Voluntary Sector Organizations in Canada

The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation

1170 Peel Street, Suite 800
Montreal, Quebec
H3B 4P2

Contact Information:
Gisèle Rucker, Assistant Executive Director
Fax: 514-878-5293

Name of Project:
Urban Issues Program

Type of Organization:

Background and overview of organization:
The Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation is one of the major private foundations in Canada that provides grants to support the voluntary sector. The Foundation was established in 1952 as a means through which members of the Bronfman family could combine their philanthropic interests. Since 1952, the Foundation has been supporting initiatives geared to enhancing the strength and self-reliance of communities: a mission that represents the fundamental values and commitment of its founders, Samuel and Saidye Bronfman.

The Bronfman Family Foundation maintains an office in Montreal, Quebec, which handles all of the fundraising and grant-giving activities of the Foundation across the country. The office is run by an energetic and dedicated team of professionals, which includes an executive director, an assistant executive director, and program and administrative officers. The Foundation is governed by a Board of Directors, which is largely responsible for defining the vision and direction for each of the funding programs it maintains.

Several distinct funding programs have been created:

Cultural Management Development: Supports multi-sectoral initiatives that enhance the governance and management of non-profit institutions concerned with the arts and heritage.

Urban Issues: Delivers grants to community-driven initiatives that enhance conditions of life for residents in urban areas of Canada.

Futures: Supports research to identify new roads and opportunities for philanthropy. Currently, the program is providing major funding to a national Arts and Youth Demonstration Project, a three-year study exploring the potential benefits of community-based arts programs for youth aged 10-15 years.

Special Initiatives: Provides access to small grants of up to $5000 for new or established organizations wishing to undertake a new project that is not already part of their other activities. The application process is less complex and less restrictive than for the larger grants.

In addition to the above, the Foundation regularly provides funding to the Saidye Bronfman Centre for the Arts and the Federation CJA, an organization dedicated to serving the Jewish community in Quebec. As well, the Foundation promotes the fine crafts in Canada through the Saidye Bronfman Award, a cash prize to an outstanding crafts artist and a program to acquire works by the award recipient and nominees.

Each of the funding programs demonstrates the Foundation’s commitment to helping Canadians develop and apply solutions to issues that matter to them, whether of an economic, cultural, social or educational nature. They also embody the unique concerns of the Bronfman Foundation in the preservation of heritage, the protection of our built and natural habitats, and the revitalization and development of local communities.

Summary of funding arrangement:
The Urban Issues Program is one of the largest funding programs— in both size and scope—of the Foundation. The program delivers grants of up to $30,000 annually for three years to 20-25 community organizations in cities across the country. In addition to the financial support, the Urban Issues Program commits the time of its staff to providing technical assistance to grant recipients, organizing a national conference on Urban Issues, and facilitating travel grants in excess of the $30,000 which allow a member of an organization to visit another grant recipient or any other organization in a different part of the country in order to learn from their experience.

The organizations that receive support under Urban Issues address a broad range of concerns from conservation and environmental protection, to community mobilization, education, and cultural development. Yet, their specific area of focus is the city and helping urban citizens work together to make their living environment more vibrant and humane.

The Urban Issues Program grew out of a series of discussions held between urban planners, architects and developers in North Hatley, Quebec in 1990. The ideas shared during these discussions—as detailed in the North Hatley Statement (please see—pointed to a need for programs that would support community-based approaches to urban conservation and development. The core tenets of the Urban Issues Program remain the same as they were in 1990, yet the diversity of projects has increased. This diversity in projects reflects the Foundation’s willingness to take on new and daring approaches to issues it recognizes as important.

The unifying principles of the Urban Issues Program are (with quotations from the North Hatley Statement):

Governance: Replace the alienation and marginalization so many urban citizens experience with a sense of empowerment.

“Citizens in urban areas have become alienated from the institutions of government, which have effectively hindered them from exercising full power over their lives and their communities.”

Community: Community involvement is the key to development.

“An empowered citizenry is essential, developing a sense that through action, both individual and combined, people can affect and participate in decision-making and hence, direct change to meet their goals.”

Environment: Quality of life is directly related to the preservation and protection of the built and natural environment.

“Livable human settlements must be created and sustained to recognize the interdependence of human and natural systems and acknowledge that the true heritage of everyone is the entire planet.”

Economy: All citizens have equal rights to enjoy the benefits of development.

“Developing a more effective model of economic development that will ensure everyone can profit from the benefits of prosperity.”

Examples of innovative projects the Program has given funding to:

L’Autre Montréal

L’Autre Montréal is a non-profit group that organizes bus tours to educate citizens on critical urban issues, such as the history and impact of immigration, homelessness and women’s role in urban development. A new program is being started to create bus tours for community organizations, in order to inform them of other organizations working in the neighbourhood and the populations they serve. The goal is to strengthen “solidarity” among urban-based community organizations.

Project Genesis

Project Genesis is a well-established and well-known organization in Montreal which caters to a diverse population in one of the city’s most multicultural neighbourhoods. One of the innovative and effective programs the organization runs is a “bartering system” through which newly arrived immigrants can meet and exchange resources with each other. The aim is to assist new immigrants with their integration into the community; to give them access to resources they might not otherwise be able to afford (for example, they can make an exchange with each other for babysitting, toys, etc.); and finally, to enable them to practise their language skills in French and English.

In summary, the grants given by the Urban Issues Program to organizations are part of a much larger commitment to developing their capacities and their chances for success. This commitment is in the form of:

1) Technical support throughout the duration of the grant (staff of the Foundation are available to respond to questions from recipients and will advise on fundraising, planning and setting objectives, addressing difficulties in the implementation of a project, etc.) 2) Reference material on fundraising 3) Contacts with other potential donors 4) Educational opportunities through a) travel money and b) participation in a national conference.

After each 3-year cycle has ended, the Program prepares a new call for proposals. Past recipients are eligible for a renewal of their grant, but must compete alongside other candidates. Of the approximately 400 applications the Program receives each time, it selects 20-25 recipients ensuring that there is a certain representative number from each region of the country. The selection of grant recipients is by a jury of experienced practitioners and academics.

Amount of the contribution $30,000 annually (excludes evaluation costs which are borne by the Foundation), in addition to technical support, travel money, reference material and attendance at a national conference.
Objectives To support innovative and problem-solving community initiatives
Type of contribution

Grants can be used to cover salary and project-related costs but not capital or development costs, i.e. rent, renovation, etc.

One time only funding (funding can be renewed if organizations submit proposals that are successful in the follow-up to the 3-year cycle)

Duration of the contribution Up to 3 years (organizations submit proposals for a grant of 3 years or less)
Type of recipients Groups or organizations (not individuals)

Registered charities (or groups partnered with an organization that is a registered charity).

Urban-based and addressing urban issues.

Type of Funding:
Project funding

Budget/amount of funding:
$500,000 - $1M

Sources of funding/resourcing:

What is innovative about the arrangement?
The Urban Issues Program is committed to developing relationships with grant recipients because it sees itself as working in partnership with them to achieve goals. It is not simply about delivering financial assistance to communities, but working together with people to make change happen in a way that enhances the quality of life, particularly for communities that are more marginalized for social and/or economic reasons. As the Assistant Executive Director of Foundation explains, “the strength of the Foundation lies in the strength of the recipients: if organizations are not successful, we have not done our job.”

The Program is also based on an innovative model of urban development. The Foundation’s philosophy is to help society shift from an emphasis on traditional development models to a more community-based approach that promotes equity, participation, and sustainability. While the Program has articulated its own views on the changes needed to revive and enhance life in urban areas, it supports people in their creative search for solutions. The goal is to support positive change as defined by communities. As described in the North Hatley Statement, “there are many things citizens can do that lead to change through empowerment. It may be as simple as collecting and distributing information to people about what affects their lives, or as complex as participating in the creating of new networks of government and citizen-based organizations which work together to improve and sustain the quality of life.”

Another innovative and exemplary feature of the Program is the consideration it shows towards the ideas and the capacity of community organizations. The Program maintains its faith in the ability of organizations to address the issues they raise: once they are selected to receive funding, they are supported from beginning to end (except in very serious cases of misconduct, such as fraud).

The Program is also reasonable and flexible in its expectations: all it requires of organizations is to be innovative and creative in the way they approach issues. In terms of innovation, the Program looks for organizations that are dynamic, adaptable and continually in search of ways to improve on the work they do and to find new solutions to intractable problems. As explained by Giselle Rucker, “sustainability is not as great an issue as the innovative nature of the project. We consider the potential for a project to make a difference in the community, that is the primary criteria, which is different from sustainability. We consider that the organizations are not institutions, but movements and may only need a lifespan of 3-5 years, after which other priorities or ways of doing things may emerge.” In the same spirit, the Program will fund new organizations or completely new ventures if they appear promising. It does not require proven results as a condition for support.

In addition, the Program recognizes that creativity is not enough; ideas have to be supported with resources and expertise. Therefore, it provides both financial support and technical backing over the three years. The concern is to help organizations develop their capacities as change agents. The staff of the Program has enough faith in organizations that if they confront problems, it does not question their capacity but is instead committed to finding the solutions with them. The Program realizes that one of the most complex tasks organizations face is that of mobilizing resources and people at the local level amid political, economic and social barriers.

Finally, it is important to underline the impact of the Foundation in committing to three years of support for community organizations. This period gives organizations sufficient time to determine whether projects or initiatives are indeed workable and relevant, and if they are, to have the opportunity to mobilize other forms of support to sustain it. If a project is promising, staff of the Program will even go as far as to identify other potential donors. Successful projects also have the option of applying for another 3-year grant after the three years. Hence, just because they have already received support they are not denied future opportunities to receive funding through the Program.

What makes this a best/effective practice? Innovative?
Adapting to change
Effective granting practices

Could other organizations adopt or adapt this practice?
The Urban Issues Program involves an approach that can be easily replicated by any similar agency, though it requires that that agency have the right resources and expertise at its disposal. The basic requirement is to work in interdependence with community organizations in achieving common goals. It means recognizing the distinct roles of donor and community organization: neither can succeed without the other and each one has a separate role to play. As simple as it may sound, not everyone can be a donor and not everyone can be a community organizer.

Lessons learned:
Some of the same factors that make the Urban Issues Program innovative are also reasons for its success. The Program works in interdependence with organizations. While it has its own strong vision it remains open to adapt to the ways in which community organizations articulate this vision in practice. Therefore, the Foundation’s own success is dependent on its ability to innovate and adapt to the changing times.

According to the Assistant Executive Director, “we do not call our program ‘food security’ or ‘environmental sustainability’ because we want to support urban issues as defined by communities.” The uniqueness of the program is that it runs the gamut from arts to land use. Artists have a way of making dreams a reality. We take a wholistic approach, which makes it more difficult to find other partners and donors, but it’s one of the reasons for our success.”

The staff of the Program maintains a commitment to grant recipients and builds relationships with them that are mutually helpful and enriching. Indeed, the Program is about helping people, not achieving fixed targets.

The Program also attributes its success to the organizations it supports. They are among some of the most innovative and dynamic initiatives. The Program does not take on traditional “service delivery” because it does not see this as its mission. The Foundation is also very rigorous in choosing whom to support; organizations submit detailed proposals that are reviewed by a jury of experienced practitioners. Furthermore, since the Program can only support up to 25 organizations for one three-year cycle, it is forced to be very selective: the organizations chosen represent the strongest 6% of applicants. They all succeed in meeting the criteria the Program looks for in applicants, including those described earlier in section 2.1 on the objectives.

Furthermore, the capacity of staff members to follow and maintain contact with 20-25 grant recipients is important. If the size of the program were any larger, the Foundation would have more difficulty maintaining the same level of contact with organizations and building the relationships that it considers key to the success of its own mission.

Outcomes and evaluation:
As mentioned earlier, it is also important not to base success on whether pre-determined targets have been achieved, but to look at the benefits of participation, of building relationships and establishing processes that are sustained over the long term.

Indeed, a more important measure of success is whether people have been changed and empowered through the experience of working with others. Targets are not always realizable and while the material changes remain important, they can only be worthwhile if supported with change of a less tangible kind: in other words, positive changes in the way people see their lives. It is also important to appreciate that change and progress are also in continuous flux; what is necessary today may not be as relevant in 3 or 5 years. Donor and recipient must be continually prepared to re-examine their approaches and to adapt to new realities and new opportunities as they emerge. As defined by the Assistant Executive Director, “success is very dependent on a group of people having a vision and knowing how to turn mid-stream and swim another way if necessary.”

Partnerships and alliances:
The Foundation also maintains a commitment to organizations that are similarly committed to working with them. It encourages grantees, for example, to provide regular updates and to let the Foundation know how well or even how badly things are going. Finally, the recommendation from the Foundation is for donors to continue supporting participatory processes of evaluation and action. For the Urban Issues Program, success is defined by the opportunities people are given to meet, to analyse issues, and to work together. This is certainly a unique way of viewing development and perhaps even the most humane.

Future plans:
The Urban Issues Program has been in place since 1992, and its principles and goals remain as relevant today as they were 10 years ago. Yet, the Foundation—concerned with staying relevant and in touch with current realities—believes it may be important at this stage to pause and assess on a broader level the impact the Program has had on organizations and the communities they serve. While the Program defines its success according to the success of its recipients, it also wants to make sure that it is meeting and addressing needs as well as or as appropriately as it can. The future can only be promising for a Program that is always prepared to renew its vision and its strategies. As the Assistant Executive Director states, “renewal is very important. Community development is about renewal and following processes that are in a continuous state of flux.”

The Foundation also maintains a commitment to organizations that are similarly committed to working with them. It encourages grantees, for example, to provide regular updates and to let the Foundation know how well or even how badly things are going. Finally, the recommendation from the Foundation is for donors to continue supporting participatory processes of evaluation and action. For the Urban Issues Program, success is defined by the opportunities people are given to meet, to analyse issues, and to work together. This is certainly a unique way of viewing development and perhaps even the most humane.

For more information:
Please contact Gisèle Rucker.

« Back to search results.



About the VSI | Govt.-Sector Relationship | Funding | Policy | IM-IT | Regulations | Sector Identity
Working & Volunteering | Research | VSI Reports | Contact Us

Funding Code | Accord | Financial Resources | Effective Practices | Capacity Committee | Reports | Background
Last Updated: 2019-04-22