Chris FredetteThe governance of charities should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve, business professor Chris Fredette told the Canadian Senate.

Canadian Senate turns to business prof for expertise on charitable governance

When Canadian senators studying the nation’s charitable sector wanted to learn more about diversity in the leadership of non-profit groups, they turned to the University of Windsor’s Chris Fredette.

Dr. Fredette, an associate professor at the Odette School of Business, addressed the Special Senate Committee on the Charitable Sector in Ottawa on October 15. The committee invited him to testify after finding a research paper he co-authored and had published in 2015 on the dynamics of diversity in the context of boards of directors in the non-profit sector.

“This sector touches each of us in our most vulnerable moments,” Fredette told the committee. “Each of us turns to these organizations to aid us in raising our children, preserving our environment, enriching our spirits and absorbing the shocks of economic, political, and social change.”

As such, Fredette told the committee, the governance of these groups should reflect the diversity of the communities they serve.

The special Senate committee was established in January to examine the impact public policy and laws at the federal and provincial and territorial levels have on the charitable sector in Canada. In addition to hearing testimony from experts like Fredette, it is inviting non-profit groups to answer an online survey before November 2.

Fredette gave a six-minute opening address to the Senate committee, then answered questions. Senators asked what diversity should look like from community to community and how it should be measured.

Fredette said organizations should be asked to self-report on the makeup of their boards using the criteria already established by Statistics Canada to collect census data on minority groups. “What’s measured matters,” he said in a recent interview following his Senate committee appearance. Just being asked to report on diversity would give some groups the “nudge forward” they need to become more inclusive.

Fredette said he reached out to local charities and non-profit groups before addressing the Senate committee. The United Way, the Windsor-Essex Therapeutic Riding Association and the John McGivney Children’s Centre gave him feedback he used in his testimony.

According to 2015 statistics, Canadian charities and non-profit groups generated $251 billion in revenue, with governments accounting for more than 40 per cent of that revenue. In 2013, more than 24 million Canadians donated to charity, and Canadians devoted about 1.96 billion hours to volunteer work — the equivalent of one million full-time jobs.

Watch Fredette’s appearance here:

—Sarah Sacheli

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