This week, we caught up with Robert L. Conconi himself, better known to his friends and family as Bob. We wanted to know what inspires and motivates him and his wife Diane to do what they do, his thoughts on the future of philanthropy, and advice for those looking to give back.
Tell us a bit about your background.
I am now a retired entrepreneur with decades of experience in the financial service industry. My wife and I started the Foundation some 10 years ago as our way of giving back and getting personally engaged in our communities. I also am a grade 12 graduate who chose not to pursue post-secondary education but learn on the job instead. I started in the finance industry and eventually got into my own mortgage brokerage business. Over the years I’ve explored a number of different business opportunities; I’ve enjoyed them all but have not been successful in all of them – some were better then others. I was lucky that one of the success stories was a company I started called Canadian Securities Registration System (CSRS), which for years was the only company providing search and registration services in Canada. We dealt with every single financial institution and every government and quasi-government body in Canada with a staff of 120 people. After dedicating 20 years to growing this business, I decided it was time to step back and do something different – this is when my wife Diane and I started the Foundation. We thought it was time for us to give back to our communities and try to inspire some lasting constructive change.
What inspires your philanthropic efforts?
I believe we have a responsibility to leave this world a better place to live, that we have to add to the quality and life experience. Some of us start off with better life circumstances than others and we should try our best to create opportunities for those from more challenging backgrounds. Most of our foundation’s work is centered on the idea of bringing constructive change to the organizations and individuals we support. We do this by not simply funding a need but by identifying what the need is and finding a solution for it. We work very closely with our partner charities to identify these opportunities and the appropriate course of action. If we can do that together, then we are happy to provide our funding support as well as our network and experiences.
What inspired you to start the Robert L Conconi Foundation?
We started the foundation because we wanted the involvement – we wanted to be personally engaged with decision-making and have a direct measurable impact on what goes on in our communities. I didn’t want to just give a one-time lump sum to a charity and limit my impact to just money. Us being who we are as a foundation, we invest time, professional expertise, our network of partners along side our grant funds. In turn, we can have some fun along the way and make a real difference. It is really enjoyable getting to know the people whose lives we’ve touched. It is also a big learning process and our approach continues to evolve over time, but I think that over the years we’ve gained some knowledge that we can be use to help build stronger organizations to serve our communities.
What is the RLCF’s vision or guiding principles?
We don’t want to just passively donate to charity, we want to facilitate change and take an active role. We want to make something better, and when you work closely with your charity to identify their goals and you make it a focus to improve things, you will almost always see results. Once our involvement with the organization is finished we want them to have learned something from the experience, to have have a better processes in place and to be self-sufficient. Most importantly, we hope all of this will reflect in the quality of care and service they provide to those most in need.
You partner with a large variety of charities in the sectors of health, arts, poverty and education – why not just focus on one?
This question should go back a bit further; we’re not trying to make a world a better place we are focusing on British Columbia, Greater Vancouver, our local community. To make a lasting contribution to a community you can’t focus on one single part, you have to be diversified. We identified the four core pillars of our community – what is needed to set a solid foundation. We are hoping these areas we’ve touched will add to the quality and life experiences for everyone.
What accomplishment with the Foundation are you most proud of?
We think of the work we do as a process, which continually evolves and improves. As such it is very difficult to identify a single accomplishment. What is important are all the inspiring organizations we’ve had the pleasure of working with and all the knowledge gained through this process. This is something very tangible and transferable to our future work.
What is one of the major challenges facing the non-profit sector right now?
Competition. A lot of charities spend significant time and effort fundraising because there is a large number of compelling causes chasing a limited pool of donor dollars.
What opportunities do you see for philanthropy in the future?
I think there is an opportunity for consolidation and/or partnerships between charities. In the non-for-profit world we sometimes forget to step back and ask: What is the most effective/efficient way to solve a problem or deliver a particular service? Is there evidence to support one type of program delivery over another? I think we can learn a thing or two from the corporate world when it comes to efficiency and partnerships.
What advice would you give people who are looking to make an impact on our community but don’t necessarily have a lot of money to donate?
Just get started, and don’t think giving money is the only way you can make an impact in your community. Your time, your knowledge, your business network, your out-of-the-box thinking, or social-media know-how are all useful tools that can help create an impact on your community. Identify how you can best contribute and get going.
Do you have more questions about RLCF? Reach out to us on social media!
LinkedIn: Robert L. Conconi Foundation