Even with masks on, this year’s 27th Annual Ottawa Philanthropy Awards felt like a breath of fresh air.
The dinner, held Wednesday night at the National Arts Centre (NAC), brought together professional fundraisers and business leaders to honour individuals and groups who have made Ottawa a stronger, better and more caring place to live. It was hosted by the Ottawa Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Foundation WCPD was back for its seventh year as presenting sponsor, represented by its president and founder, Peter Nicholson. The event was emceed by CityNews 101.1 radio host Sam Laprade.
Chairing the event were Shelagh Connolly and Laura Scaffidi, both of whom work at the NAC Foundation. Connolly is a development officer and Scaffidi is an associate development officer.
It had been two years since The Phils, as they’re colloquially known, were last held in person, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, organizers safely re-introduced a sit-down dinner involving nearly 200 vaccinated guests in the NAC’s Canada Room. The dinner was sponsored by Accora Village and its president and owner, Dan Greenberg. Because the gathering was kept smaller, the awards ceremony was also live streamed.
The room collectively remembered two exceptional community builders Barbara McInnes, retired president of the Ottawa Community Foundation, and Rabbi Reuven Bulka, both of whom passed away from cancer early in the summer.
There were comments made throughout the night about how happy everyone was to be together again under one roof. With events slowly returning, many people are just getting used to going out again.
“Tonight, when I was getting ready to come over, I put my hand in my pocket and pulled out a receipt," Jacques Emond, founding law partner at Emond Harnden, told the audience as he was getting ready to present an award. "The last time I wore this suit was in 2019."
The awards ceremony kicked off on an inspiring note as Ottawa Food Bank CEO Rachael Wilson took to the stage to accept her award for Outstanding Fundraising Professional. She delivered an acceptance speech full of heart, humour and humility.
She thanked her “amazing team” for “rising to every challenge on every occasion” during the pandemic. She dedicated the award to them "but, like all good leaders, I will take full credit, so thank you,” joked Wilson, who became the first woman to lead the Ottawa Food Bank when she was promoted from director of communications and development to CEO in 2020.
The award, she said, “represents every hard day, every challenging moment, every mistake that I’ve ever made, every glorious moment and every life changed.”
She also spoke about what “an incredible gift it is to connect with donors to solve the community’s biggest problems. Our sector is filled with changemakers and disruptors and people who are passionate about the work that we do. They are champions for our causes.”
Next up was Outstanding Volunteer Fundraiser recipient Ian Sherman, who, for decades, has devoted a tremendous amount of his time, energy and passion toward so many causes that he believes in. “It makes those around him ask, ‘How does this guy do it? Where does it all come from?’,” award presenter Ron Prehogan from sponsor Brazeau Seller Law asked at the podium.
In 2020 and 2021, Sherman led the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation’s Cancer Champions Breakfast. He is currently chair of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa and of the Ottawa Board of Trade. He also chaired the Ottawa-Gatineau Youth Foundation while shepherding it through a very difficult split from the Ottawa Senators and eventual merger with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group. Sherman retired in June as a long-time tax partner with EY and is founder and CEO of Relationship Capital Inc.
Sherman’s speech was one big classy thank you. “I believe the gift of volunteer service has led me to a life of love,” he said as he expressed his gratitude toward his family — including wife Randi and his three grown sons. The young men are lawyers now at big firms in Toronto but made the trip up for the dinner. Sherman thanked his fellow volunteers of the Cancer Champions Breakfast and the ORCF, which nominated him for the award.
“As a community, we are so fortunate to have such dedicated professionals helping us as volunteers to achieve great results, constantly punching above our weight,” said Sherman.
He dedicated his award to the late Rabbi Bulka, calling him a champion of courage, dignity, goodness, gratitude, hope, humanity, kindness and wisdom. The room heard how Sherman has been guided by his deep Jewish heritage, and how he learned at an early age about volunteering and charitable giving at the Shabbat dinner table with his extended Shinder family.
The County of Carleton Law Association (CCLA) was awarded this year’s Award for Outstanding Philanthropic Group, after being nominated by the Ottawa Food Bank for its annual food drive while Dave and Ann Trick received Outstanding Individual Philanthropist for their support of the CHEO Foundation. Ann thanked her late mother for teaching her family that it's better to give than receive.
Mike McGahan, CEO of CLV Group, got his team to join him on stage to accept the Outstanding Corporate Philanthropist Award. The company’s annual golf tournament has raised more than $5 million for a whole bunch of charities. During the pandemic, the company supported local merchants through its #CLVSupportsLocal campaign and also provided money to the Ottawa Food Bank, asking it to purchase food through local restaurants to create a twofold impact in the community. As well, CLV is a long-time supporter of BGC Ottawa, which successfully nominated McGahan for an AFP Ottawa award in 2018.
McGahan told the audience how proud he was to be “just a small part” of the CLV team. “We’ve got such a great group of people. They want to do as much as they can in the community.
“And I have to tell you, just being here, it just really makes you want to do more.”
McGahan praised all the individuals and businesses who have stepped up, philanthropically, during the pandemic months. "It makes you really proud to be from Ottawa," said McGahan. "I tell you, we've got such an amazing city."
This year’s Outstanding Youth Philanthropist award went to Daniel Bersyniow-Naane, who launched the student-led Star of Life Project to create positive and sustainable change.
“Community service to me is more than just playing a hands-on role within the community; it’s about inspiring others, specifically our youth,” said Bersyniow-Naane, 18, a health science student at the University of Ottawa. “Our youth may only be 20 percent of our present but they are 100 percent of our future.”
It had only been about two weeks since Bersyniow-Naane was last on stage to collect a RBC Spirit of The Capital Youth Award, also at the NAC. “I do think we’re all going to be working for you some day,” RBC vice president Linda Newman, who had been at that previous awards ceremony, told him while offering up her congratulations.
She presented the final award of the evening for Innovation in Fundraising to the Youth Services Bureau Foundation. It had been nominated by KPMG, which was represented by Ottawa managing partner Andrew Newman.
The one-time award recognizes the innovation in fundraising during the pandemic. “Over the past 20 months, that’s what we’ve all been doing … rethinking, recreating,” said YSB Foundation executive director Patti Murphy.
The YSB Foundation “dug deeper” into digital fundraising and transitioning to virtual events. “Like all of you, we worked hard to reimagine pretty much everything,” said Murphy.
The selection jury for this year’s Ottawa Philanthropy Awards consisted of Mariette MacIsaac, manager of Trinity Development Foundation; Derek Noble, partner at Huntington Properties; Brian Scott; Glenn Sheen, regional director of community marketing and citizenship at RBC; Patrick Twagirayezu, lawyer at Emond Harnden; Jennifer Van Noort, vice president of philanthropy with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation; and Sheila Whyte, owner of Thyme and Again.
The evening also saw the digital launch of the annual Giving Guide that's published by the Ottawa Business Journal in partnership with AFP Ottawa and Foundation WCPD.