AFP Ottawa honours ‘incomparable’ Barbara McInnes with lifetime award and new mentoring project

Barbara McInnes Executive Mentoring Project to develop leaders and executive directors from underrepresented groups, NGOs and charities

Editor's Note is supported by the generous patronage of Mark Motors and Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties and the National Arts Centre. Read their stories here.


She may be small in stature, but it’s impossible not to look up to Barbara McInnes, a wonderful role model, mentor and friend to many.

The Ottawa chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals took time Tuesday to honour McInnes, a legend in our community, with its first-ever lifetime achievement award. Normally, such a recognition would be presented in person, along with flowers and hugs, but as the pandemic plods on, the event took place via Zoom during the group’s annual general meeting. 

AFP Ottawa, which has about 250 members, hosts two signature events: its Fundraising Day held in the spring and its Philanthropy Awards held in the fall to thank individuals, groups and businesses for making a difference in the community.

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“We realized we needed a really special way of celebrating a key leader in our sector and in our city,” said AFP Ottawa outgoing board president Teresa Marques of the new award they were honouring McInnes with. 

McInnes, 77, was diagnosed last December with advanced colon cancer. She appeared on camera with one of her daughters, Leah McInnes-Eustace, a fundraising consultant. Other members of the McInnes family, along with close friends, logged into the meeting to watch the special presentation.


Marques listed off McInnes’s many accomplishments, including her 27-year career with the Ottawa Community Foundation, a non-profit organization that connects donors with causes they care about. She founded the community foundation with her father and influential mentor, Alastair Gamble, in 1987, and took over the leadership from him in 1991, overseeing its growth to more than $100 million in assets and distributing upwards of $8 million in grants each year, until her retirement as president and CEO in 2014. The Ottawa Community Foundation is one of the city’s most highly regarded philanthropic organizations.

McInnes has received the Order of Canada and an honorary degree from her alma mater, Carleton University. She chairs the TELUS Ottawa Community board and sits on the board of entrepreneur Zita Cobb’s Shorefast Foundation. She was formerly on the board of Equality Fund, Carleton University and United Way and is a champion of and adviser to Compassionate Ottawa and PAL Ottawa. She was also involved with Refugee 613 when it was first getting started.


While not mentioned during the presentation, McInnes performed a soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Richard III on stage years ago in front of an audience at the National Arts Centre as part of an arts benefit. She nailed it, too. That was in 2013, when McInnes also announced her future plans to retire. Ironically, the fundraiser had been called Don’t Quit Your Day Job.

“As I have come to know her, I’ve often been struck by thinking, ‘Gosh, I want to be like Barb McInnes when I grow up.’”

Marques described McInnes as an inspiration to many, including herself.

“As I have come to know her, I’ve often been struck by thinking, ‘Gosh, I want to be like Barb McInnes when I grow up,’” said Marques, who said it was an honour to be able to recognize on behalf of AFP Ottawa the “incomparable” McInnes with an award.

“Barb embodies the values, the commitment and the spirit of the charitable sector, not just in this city but in this country.”

AFP Ottawa is also establishing the Barbara McInnes Executive Mentoring Project to develop leaders and executive directors from underrepresented groups in Ottawa, such as small NGOs and charities. The program will launch this fall and will offer professional mentoring, funding support to access professional development resources and custom training, and a peer-to-peer learning network.

McInnes’s legacy of leadership and commitment through the ongoing mentoring and peer support “will make this city and our sector stronger for years to come,” said Marques, who is also the president and CEO of the Rideau Hall Foundation.


McInnes was her usual modest self in accepting her award.

“I can only say that I’m reminded of something an East Coaster once told me after receiving a whole lot of praise: ‘Aw, shucks, don’t act so humble; you aren’t that good,’” she joked.

“I’m also reminded of one of my very favourite messages when I retired. I got a lot of really warm and wonderful messages, but one was from a donor and it was only five words. It said: ‘Thank you for taking my money.’”

“I think all of us who are in this business have felt that joy of matching an opportunity with a donor who could help, and the tremendous joy that comes for everybody out of that, and especially the community that benefits.

“It’s just wonderful knowing you might have made a positive impact, and I hope we all feel that from our work at the end of our careers.”

“So, it feels mighty good to get a lifetime award at this stage in my career. I’m not lighting the world on fire anymore, that’s for sure. It feels very good that all the work that I have done, together with most of you, has led to something that’s made a difference in the community. It’s just wonderful knowing you might have made a positive impact, and I hope we all feel that from our work at the end of our careers.”

McInnes said she was “especially grateful” for the creation of the mentorship program and its purpose of providing opportunities, and making sure nobody is being left out.

“I just love building things that last, and this will last,” said McInnes, who believes the mentees, as they take on bigger roles, will become mentors themselves. “I couldn’t be happier.”


McInnes, who spoke for three minutes, indicated that there were a lot of people she would have liked to have publicly thanked, including her late father. She did tell later that all her work has been done out of love for her community.

“It was such a pleasure,” said the wife, mother and grandmother, who’s lived most her life in Ottawa (she graduated from former Laurentian High School). “I loved my job. It was the best job in town.” 

Ah, the mute button. With everybody’s screen set to mute, you couldn’t hear the applause, but the sight of McInnes-Eustace embracing her mom ended the presentation with the perfect image.

Tributes to Barbara McInnes

Zita Cobb

“I am fortunate to be among the many who have benefited from Barb’s mentoring and from her steadiness of spirit that manifests in everything she does. When I heard Barb was planning to step back from her leadership role at Community Foundation Ottawa, I pounced quickly to convince her to join our Shorefast Board. Having worked with her these past years, I have seen and felt her wise counsel, her readiness to jump into the group dance and steer us all closer to perfection, closer to coherence and productive collective effort. Barb is the master of the group dance; she has the skills, the sensitivity, the nuance and the willingness to act with her head and her feet. It’s a pleasure and an honour to be in the dance with her.”

Alex Munter (CHEO)

“I have known Barb McInnes for nearly 30 years. When I first met her, the Community Foundation of Ottawa was a fledgling new organization and she was its dynamic, visionary captain. What a journey she charted for the organization and for our city. When I think of Barb, I can think of few people who know Ottawa as well or love and support it as much. And in return, the love and support of her city is reflected right back at her.”

Community Foundations of Canada

“When one thinks about the history of the community foundation movement, it is hard not to think about Barb McInnes. For almost 30 years, Barb was a leading force in Canadian philanthropy. As the CEO of the Community Foundation of Ottawa, she led the foundation with dedicated energy and fostered the development of the community foundation movement in her community, across Canada and around the world. She was instrumental in the creation of the national network, Community Foundations of Canada, and was a founding board member where she never hesitated to encourage the growth of community foundations across the country. Barb has been a champion, mentor and a friend to so many and her impact continues to be strong. We can’t think of a person more deserving of this honour! Congratulations, Barb!”


“Barb McInnes has been an integral member of the TELUS Ottawa Community Board since June 2011 and has led the board as our chair for the past six years. During her term, she has made a significant impact in our community, providing $4 million in grants supporting 322 local grassroots initiatives. We share our sincere gratitude for Barb’s leadership, commitment and energy as a valued board member.”

Mayor Jim Watson

“As Mayor of the City of Ottawa, I am proud that Barbara McInnes is being recognized for her significant contributions to the philanthropic and charitable sector with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Her presence in the community and her generosity over the years have led to immense impacts on the lives of countless individuals in need.”


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