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Merry Christmas

The picture below was taken this past Tuesday at my daughter’s Guiding troops’ annual “Snowman’s Ball” … daddies only of course! The evening consisted of “pin the nose on the snowman”, wreath building, and a holiday themed Trivia Pursuit game in which Team Thomson managed to score a rather pathetic 4 out of 14. (Fortunately my daughter still thinks I’m really, really smart.)


Kiera, Daddy and the rest of the daughters’ and daddies’ wrestling with the incredibly detailed work around Christmas wreath building.

During this time of year when we all have more time to spend with our families and friends it’s events like my daughter’s “Snowman’s Ball” that remind us of what the true spirit of the holiday season is all about.

Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year!


Narcissistic Altruism (altruistic narcissism)

Once upon a time I held firmly to the idea that one of  the “highest” forms of charity was giving anonymously. Conversely, the “lowest” form of giving was where a donor insisted on their name being etched onto the side of a building. I now realize my historical perspective was, at best, pathetically naive. At worst, it inhibited my ability to persuade people to give. Once again I draw on the wisdom of Seth Godin to explain why.

Narcissistic altruism (altruistic narcissism)

By Seth Godin

An oxymoron that’s true.

Everyone who does good things does them because it makes them feel good, because the effort and the donation is worth more than it costs. (And it might be a donation to a charity or merely helping out a neighbor or contributing to a community project).

Many people do good things because they like the attention that it brings. Because it feels good to have others see you did good.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy annually ranks the top 50 gifts of the year. And every year, virtually all of them are gifts to hospitals and colleges.

One reason: you get your name on a building.

Many people who work to gain support for good causes don’t like this, it feels like a tax on their work, but a building rarely gets worse if it has someone’s name on it.

It’s totally valid to offer a product or service that only appeals to the minority who aren’t slightly narcissistic, who seek a different story. But it’s a mistake to believe that just because you’re ‘right’ (quotes deliberately used) that your story will match their worldview.

If you want to make it more likely that someone contributes (to anything), it might be worth investing a few cycles figuring out how to give them credit, public, karmic or somewhere in between.


Are you smarter than Bill Gates?

Are you smarter than Bill Gates? Well, at least when it comes to trends in global health, you can find out by taking the quick ten question quiz shown below.

Hint – When in doubt, guess towards the positive … the world is truly in much better shape than the popular media would have us believe!



The new currency

For this month’s Philanthropy Matters, I once again draw on the wisdom of Hugh MacLeod over at gapingvoid. I find MacLeod an intriguing combination of artist, philosopher and consultant.  In his blog (which is included below) “Caring Is The New Hard Currency”, I believe he is writing primarily for a business audience. Then again, his insights perfectly extend into the philanthropic world.


We are fed a lot of silly myths in school, especially on what it takes to be successful in the adult world.

We are told that you have to be smarter or richer or meaner or harder working or come from a better family or go to the right college or take the right classes or suck up to the right people or say the right platitudes or read the right books or yes, just be luckier than the other guy.

Meh. Sure, a lot of the latter can factor in somewhat, but in my experience, the people who are more successful than the other guy, are so simply because they care more.​

They. Care. More

About the work. About the product. About the problem. About the solution. About the customer. About the relationship. About the humanity of it all.

Which makes it much easier for them to work late, work the weekend, study the problem harder, think more strategically or heck, just be nicer and even stay sane during the more difficult times.


Moments in time

Last month my family experienced a wonderful vacation in Newfoundland. You may know Ruth Mackenzie, the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP). I’ve had the good fortune to come to know Ruth much better over the last few months given that this is my first year serving on the board of the CAGP.

When Ruth heard that I was planning a family vacation to Newfoundland she said that I must watch the sunrise at Cape Spear, less than 30 minutes from St. John’s. Although I am a “morning person” getting my family up at 4:30 A.M. wasn’t exactly my idea of a vacation highlight. Was I ever wrong!


Kiera and me in Cape Spear at 5:51 A.M. on August 15, 2015

You see, as Ruth patiently explained to me in an email, Cape Spear is the most easterly point of North America and when you see the sun rise there you are the first one before anyone else on the continent. To make a long story short it was one of those moments in time that I will always remember.

Study after study confirms that personal resources (i.e. time and money) directed towards experience verses “stuff” are the keys to both short and long term happiness. I believe that this is one of the reasons that we feel so good when we experience acts of giving through its many levels. Not just money, but also time, friendship, and most important … love.


What does it take to be human?

Last month the team over at the Big History Project asked a Big Question: What does it mean to be human? They invited people to submit videos with their answers, with the winner (selected by a panel of teachers and students) receiving $5,000 and a job making more videos for Big History.

The results are in and the winner is Abby Lammers, an 18 year old college freshman from St. Louis, Missouri. You can watch Abby’s winning entry below. Given the theme of this blog, I hope that you will appreciate the video.

JULY 2015

The days are long. The decades are short

I recently came across this blog by Sam Altman. Although he is only 30, his 36 “life advice” tips are extremely thoughtful. I especially like #5 where he writes, “… I personally have never regretted money I’ve spent on friends, new experiences, saving time, travel, and causes I believe in”.


The days are long but the decades are short

By: Sam Altman

I turned 30 last week and a friend asked me if I’d figured out any life advice in the past decade worth passing on. I’m somewhat hesitant to publish this because I think these lists usually seem hollow, but here is a cleaned up version of my answer:

1) Never put your family, friends, or significant other low on your priority list. Prefer a handful of truly close friends to a hundred acquaintances. Don’t lose touch with old friends. Occasionally stay up until the sun rises talking to people. Have parties.

2) Life is not a dress rehearsal—this is probably it. Make it count. Time is extremely limited and goes by fast. Do what makes you happy and fulfilled—few people get remembered hundreds of years after they die anyway. Don’t do stuff that doesn’t make you happy (this happens most often when other people want you to do something). Don’t spend time trying to maintain relationships with people you don’t like, and cut negative people out of your life. Negativity is really bad. Don’t let yourself make excuses for not doing the things you want to do.

3) How to succeed: pick the right thing to do (this is critical and usually ignored), focus, believe in yourself (especially when others tell you it’s not going to work), develop personal connections with people that will help you, learn to identify talented people, and work hard. It’s hard to identify what to work on because original thought is hard.

4) On work: it’s difficult to do a great job on work you don’t care about. And it’s hard to be totally happy/fulfilled in life if you don’t like what you do for your work. Work very hard—a surprising number of people will be offended that you choose to work hard—but not so hard that the rest of your life passes you by. Aim to be the best in the world at whatever you do professionally. Even if you miss, you’ll probably end up in a pretty good place. Figure out your own productivity system—don’t waste time being unorganized, working at suboptimal times, etc. Don’t be afraid to take some career risks, especially early on. Most people pick their career fairly randomly—really think hard about what you like, what fields are going to be successful, and try to talk to people in those fields.

5) On money: Whether or not money can buy happiness, it can buy freedom, and that’s a big deal. Also, lack of money is very stressful. In almost all ways, having enough money so that you don’t stress about paying rent does more to change your wellbeing than having enough money to buy your own jet. Making money is often more fun than spending it, though I personally have never regretted money I’ve spent on friends, new experiences, saving time, travel, and causes I believe in.

6) Talk to people more. Read more long content and less tweets. Watch less TV. Spend less time on the Internet.

7) Don’t waste time. Most people waste most of their time, especially in business.

8) Don’t let yourself get pushed around. As Paul Graham once said to me, “People can become formidable, but it’s hard to predict who”. (There is a big difference between confident and arrogant. Aim for the former, obviously.)

9) Have clear goals for yourself every day, every year, and every decade.

10) However, as valuable as planning is, if a great opportunity comes along you should take it. Don’t be afraid to do something slightly reckless. One of the benefits of working hard is that good opportunities will come along, but it’s still up to you to jump on them when they do.

11) Go out of your way to be around smart, interesting, ambitious people. Work for them and hire them (in fact, one of the most satisfying parts of work is forging deep relationships with really good people). Try to spend time with people who are either among the best in the world at what they do or extremely promising but totally unknown. It really is true that you become an average of the people you spend the most time with.

12) Minimize your own cognitive load from distracting things that don’t really matter. It’s hard to overstate how important this is, and how bad most people are at it. Get rid of distractions in your life. Develop very strong ways to avoid letting crap you don’t like doing pile up and take your mental cycles, especially in your work life.

13) Keep your personal burn rate low. This alone will give you a lot of opportunities in life.

14) Summers are the best.

15) Don’t worry so much. Things in life are rarely as risky as they seem. Most people are too risk-averse, and so most advice is biased too much towards conservative paths.

16) Ask for what you want.

17) If you think you’re going to regret not doing something, you should probably do it. Regret is the worst, and most people regret far more things they didn’t do than things they did do. When in doubt, kiss the boy/girl.

18) Exercise. Eat well. Sleep. Get out into nature with some regularity.

19) Go out of your way to help people. Few things in life are as satisfying. Be nice to strangers. Be nice even when it doesn’t matter.

20) Youth is a really great thing. Don’t waste it. In fact, in your 20s, I think it’s ok to take a “Give me financial discipline, but not just yet” attitude. All the money in the world will never get back time that passed you by.

21) Tell your parents you love them more often. Go home and visit as often as you can.

22) This too shall pass.

23) Learn voraciously.

24) Do new things often. This seems to be really important. Not only does doing new things seem to slow down the perception of time, increase happiness, and keep life interesting, but it seems to prevent people from calcifying in the ways that they think. Aim to do something big, new, and risky every year in your personal and professional life.

25) Remember how intensely you loved your boyfriend/girlfriend when you were a teenager? Love him/her that intensely now. Remember how excited and happy you got about stuff as a kid? Get that excited and happy now.

26) Don’t screw people and don’t burn bridges. Pick your battles carefully.

27) Forgive people.

28) Don’t chase status. Status without substance doesn’t work for long and is unfulfilling.

29) Most things are ok in moderation. Almost nothing is ok in extreme amounts.

30) Existential angst is part of life. It is particularly noticeable around major life events or just after major career milestones. It seems to particularly affect smart, ambitious people. I think one of the reasons some people work so hard is so they don’t have to spend too much time thinking about this. Nothing is wrong with you for feeling this way; you are not alone.

31) Be grateful and keep problems in perspective. Don’t complain too much. Don’t hate other people’s success (but remember that some people will hate your success, and you have to learn to ignore it).

32) Be a doer, not a talker.

33) Given enough time, it is possible to adjust to almost anything, good or bad. Humans are remarkable at this.

34) Think for a few seconds before you act. Think for a few minutes if you’re angry.

35) Don’t judge other people too quickly. You never know their whole story and why they did or didn’t do something. Be empathetic.

36) The days are long but the decades are short.

JUNE 2015

Never lose the why

If I had just focused on the “why” of things I now believe I could have saved myself much time and money on self-development and motivational coaches. What I mean by this is, in the past, I could never understand the reason it was so frustratingly difficult to achieve certain goals I had set in my life.


I finally experienced what I now call my “blinding glimpse into the obvious” when I realized that if my “why ” was strong enough the “how” became relatively easy.


Image courtsey of

Even better, if my “why” was strong enough, I found I had all the energy in the world to accomplish those goals that previously were so difficult for me. Or, as one of my coaches always says, “Just follow the energy!”
I have found this insight unbelievably powerful in my life when it comes to my family, physical fitness, business and, of course, those causes that are meaningful to me.

MAY 2015

Hell yeah or no

This video below is from Derek Sivers …. musician, programmer, philanthropist, philosopher, and entrepreneur extraordinaire. His book, “Anything You Want” is one of the best I have read over the last few years, given just how much wisdom Sivers packs into its 77 pages.

I find his “Hell Yeah or No” philosophy the most effective time management technique I have ever come across. Indeed,  it works just as well for my philanthropic commitments as it does for my personal and business life.

APRIL 2015

Impact vs. cat photos

A tombstone is now shown at the end of my philanthropic Estate Planning and Income Tax Reduction presentation’s final slide .  I ask the audience to imagine that this is not just any tombstone but actually their own. I then go on to say, “When it comes to your tombstone,what matters most is not the year when you were born or the year when you died, but the dash placed between those dates. That small dash represents everything, EVERYTHING that you stood for while you were here. So I encourage all of you to remember, in all your actions, what do you want your dash to stand for?”


When I came across Hugh McLeod’s blog, I couldn’t help but think he was expressing the exactly same point in a different way.


MARCH 2015

Art in the beach

I am fortunate to live in a particularly beautiful part of Toronto. Specifically, our family has an incredible view of Lake Ontario in the neighbourhood known as The Beach. Recently, I woke up one morning to see a number of rather large scale art installations surrounding five, previously rather lonely looking lifeguard chairs.

I feel that public art, if done well, provides people with a sense of “meaning” while at the same time allows them to connect to the larger community. ‘This was certainly the case this past Sunday when crowds of admirers were out with their kids and dogs interacting with the art.


My daughter Kiera, our dog Haggis, and I… experiencing “Driftwood Throne”
designed by London architect, Daniel Madeiros.

And how did this bit of community philanthropy begin? Roland Rom Colthoff and Ted Merrick, two local architects launched the design competition after hearing about a similar initiative in Winnipeg. In the end the architects relied on condo developers to provide the $15,000 needed for each installation.

If you’re in town I would encourage you to come on down to The Beach and check out these installations as they will only be around until March 20th. For more information, and some great pictures of the art, please click here.


It’s all about the trust

Ever wondered what the 3 most critical factors are in securing and maintaining high trust relationships? Or how about achieving instant rapport with those individuals that are important to you? Even better … what is the single thing that is more important than having the answers to critical questions?

Trust In 12 Seconds!


For many of us that work in the nonprofit world we will be traveling to Halifax this coming April for the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) annual conference. I am proud to have been selected as one of the speakers with my session on “How To Create High Trust Donor Relationships In A Low Trust World”.

For many of us that work in the nonprofit world we will be traveling to Halifax this coming April for the Canadian Association of Gift Planners (CAGP) annual conference. I am proud to have been selected as one of the speakers with my session on “How To Create High Trust Donor Relationships In A Low Trust World”.

Although the CAGP conference is focused on those individuals that work in the nonprofit sector much of the information is relevant to all Canadians interested in the charitable sector. If you have not registered I encourage you to do so and take advantage of the early bird fee.

I am excited to be presenting and look forward to seeing you there!


You should be amazed

It has been my practice to begin each year’s “Philanthropy Matters” with a focus on the many positives that are happening in the world today. As I become older and, hopefully, a bit wiser,  I have come to the conclusion that how we perceive  our world is largely a matter of choice. Personally, this is evidenced by an annual Christmas email letter our family receives from a wonderful individual with whom I once served  on an international non profit board. This is how this year’s edition began.

“There was, of course, plenty of adversity to ‘make use of’ in this year of 2014:  increasing despoilation and degradation of the planet; ever-widening wars, displacement, and brutalization of innocents; new fears of globalized epidemics; ethnic and religious hatred of scale and intensity not seen since the Holocaust, if not the Wars of Religion or the Crusades.”

Geez  …. kinda makes you want to reach for the nearest bottle of Prozac! When I first started to receive these “Christmas updates” in which the themes were depressingly similar my first thoughts were to respond to my friend with fact based diatribes citing statistics that, to the contrary, clearly demonstrate that the world is actually improving on a number of social and environmental fronts. But (and this is perhaps where the wisdom comes in) what’s the point? In the end we all choose to see exactly what we wish to see. To that end, if like me, you choose to adopt a more optimistic perspective of today’s worlds I invite you to read the following by Oliver Emberton. Even better, if you choose not to adopt a more optimistic perspective of today’s world … I invite you to read the following by Oliver Emberton.

You Should Be Amazed

By: Oliver Emberton


Like millions of people I was carried to work today in a comfortable metal box by the controlled explosion of 60 million year old dinosaur juice. (You call that petrol).

I avoided unexpected traffic on my way thanks to flying machines orbiting the earth, which talked to a metal and glass supercomputer in my pocket smaller than a bar of soap. (You call that a phone).

My pocket supercomputer is – of course – wirelessly connected to the entirety of humanity’s knowledge. The entirety of humanity’s knowledge is – of course – free. And I can search all of it as fast as I can type.

None of this is even interesting to anyone anymore.

At work I help make software, which is to say I am able to benefit the lives of people mostly by thinking, and occasionally pressing some buttons on a surface. Somehow, I am paid for this.

At the supermarket I look for bananas, which have been transported five thousand miles for my convenience, yet remain fresh, tasty, and so cheap I don’t even notice their price (12 pence). I enjoy food without even considering the possibility that it might be diseased, or toxic, or fatal. I buy a plump, delicious chicken – the byproduct of a thousand years of careful breeding – and let machines scan my choices with beams of light and pay them with a thin piece of plastic. If I run out of money, there are whole industries competing to loan me some, for a price.

Best of all, I realise, I have my place amongst all of this wonder, and so do most people around me. My trip to the supermarket likely helped employ a hundred thousand people or more; from chefs to engineers, shelf stackers to logo designers. A few of those people are in their dream jobs, most less so, but together we’re all a lot more prosperous and opportune than when we built our own shacks and dug dry vegetables out of our gardens.

Is this world perfect? No. Many are exploited, and most are denied it entirely. I’ve walked through slums in Africa, India and South America. I know I’m among the luckiest alive.

But once upon a time, I wouldn’t have been lucky either. If you look at the whole of human history, a trend becomes clear. Draw a graph of the rights of women, or income per person, or human lifespan over the past thousand years. Compare the life of a child today with one fifty years ago. Consider how likely it is, today, that a person living in a developed nation will be drafted into war, or die in childbirth.

There are blips in that graph, to be sure, but the world is getting better constantly, and it’s not about to stop anytime soon.

If you’re able to read this, you live in the most amazing time imaginable. And the funniest thing is, most of us never even notice.

For more pithy wisdom written with a great sense of humour and coupled with excellent graphics, I would encourage you to visit Oliver Emberton’s website.

As Emberton writes, the world is a very long way from perfect. Fortunately, for those of us who work in the non profit environment our mission in life is to make our planet a bit better tomorrow than it is today.

I choose to believe that, collectively, we are succeeding.

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