The origin of WE’s real estate philosophy can be traced back to the Kielburger family home in the suburbs of Thornhill, north of Toronto. It was there that WE co-founders Craig and Marc began to learn about the importance and value of real estate at a young age. Their parents, Theresa and Fred Kielburger, were not only schoolteachers but also hard-working entrepreneurs who spent their summers personally renovating homes they had purchased to get them ready for resale.
Almost every year they would buy a house in need of a major face lift and then dedicate their summer “vacations” to renovating it with the whole family pitching in to help. The parents couldn’t have not known it at the time, but their hard work and entrepreneurship ultimately provided critical financial support for the establishment and growth of WE Charity.
The fact that the organization was growing, and needed more and more space, was validation that the charity was delivering important results. But the physical office expansion was disjointed and led to inefficiencies.
Staff were often in cramped work spaces, with inconsistent access to technology requiring frequent trips outdoors to other buildings that housed computers, video linked board rooms, school kits and other resources.
It was also difficult to engage and work with community partners due to the lack of space and disbursement of staff.
It became clear that the organization needed a headquarters to accommodate the organization and its growth and vision of creating a Campus for Good - a nexus of social impact and innovation bringing together non-profits, social enterprises, and community services, all in one location within Toronto’s urban core.
Complementing the WE GLC, will be the Social Entrepreneurship Centre (WE SEC), which is scheduled to open in 2021, with the full vision laid out in this Toronto Star article. The WE SEC will be Canada’s first centre for innovative social enterprises for people under the age of 35. Its mission will be to support young leaders as they launch and scale social enterprises that apply business solutions to society’s greatest social challenges.
Based on the model of technology clusters, the Campus for Good will allow users to interact and network, learn from one another and have access to experts from a wide range of disciples.
This “cluster” or hub model has been highly successful in revitalizing other inner-city neighborhoods in recent years, but often the influx of investment that follows squeezes out those most in need. As a social innovation hub, the Campus for Good will offer programs and services that directly support the community and help residents make impacts to build and revitalize their own neighborhoods.
By their very nature, non-profit organizations, including charities, rely heavily on inconsistent sources of funding to deliver their services and programming. Basic fundraising campaigns, contributions from large and small donors, government funding, philanthropic donations, gifts from estates: all represent long-standing ways in which non-profits generate their operating funds.
The inherent problem with relying on these streams of revenue is they are often the first form of spending to be cut by individuals, business and governments in times of economic hardship or uncertainly. Not surprisingly, the charitable and non-profit sectors were hit hard by the Great Recession of the late 2000’s, with many not being able to sustain operations through the downturn.
The cruel irony of this reality is that the work of charities and non-profits is never more needed than when there is a recession, which can create a negative spiral that leaves more and more people without resources, and fewer organizations to support them.
That’s why it is so important for charities to establish and maintain a reserve. Like a piggy bank that’s only meant to be opened only on a rainy day, charities establish reserves they can draw upon to sustain operations should there ever be a disruption to their traditional funding streams.
WE Charity’s long-established practice of purchasing property rather than paying to lease office/operational space couldn’t be carried out without the incredible support and generosity from donors. We would like to formally thank a number of them here.
Everything WE does is designed to support the overall mission of WE Charity and maximize the impact of the organization. The Real Estate Investment Strategy is no exception.
WE believes that there is nothing more important than integrating and investing into the communities it serves while inspiring and supporting people to change the world. WE is proud to be part of a growing movement that ensures its investments are completely aligned with its mission.
Boards of Directors for non-profits and social enterprises are typically averse to risk. Big gambles on the stock market or other volatile investments are the exact opposite of what they look for in terms of investments to support the organization.
Instead, they tend to prefer steady and predictable investments that deliver results over the long term. That’s why WE’s Real Estate Investment Strategy targets low-risk, long term investments in properties that help the charity to establish a reserve, keep its operating costs low, and work directly with communities that can most benefit from WE’s programs and services.
Each and every real estate transaction WE Charity carries out is carefully planned, reviewed and approved by the Board of Directors in consultation with the organization’s senior leadership.
WE’s Real Estate Investment Strategy has led to long-term, sustainable growth for the charity, while providing the security of a reserve fund that can be easily accessed in a time of serious economic uncertainty.
Through targeted donations for real estate purchases, WE Charity is able to ensure that funds generated through day-to-day fundraising activities are fully invested in charity program delivery.
Past real estate investments have yielded excellent returns for the organization and have outpaced investments in the stock or other financial markets. All of that means more funds to carry out the organization’s core activities and continue to develop its vision for a Campus for Good in the heart of downtown Toronto.