BCBusiness + BMO Bank of Montreal
Credit: Photo courtesy BMO

Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation placed a special ceremonial beam to the roof of the Mental Health and Substance Use Wellness Centre during a donor beam signing ceremony: Jeff Norris, President and CEO RCH; Mike Bonner, Senior Vice-president and Regional Head BMO; Dr. Anson Koo, Chief Psychiatrist, Mental Health Substance Use Program;Tom Sparrow, RCH redevelopment chief project of cer and Steve Osachoff,Treasurer, RCH Foundation Board of Directors

BMO continues its 200-year commitment

BMO Financial Group pursues a vigorous program of philanthropy from coast to coast, not just because it’s committed to the spirit of giving back, but even more so because contributing to the community has always been part of its DNA.

Nada Ristich, director, corporate donations, explains, “Charitable giving goes back right to the beginning of BMO’s 200-year history, and our first recorded donation was to the Montreal General Hospital in 1835.” In fact, a 1927 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in BMO’s favour regarding a donation to the Royal Victoria Hospital paved the way for philanthropic activity in general in this country.

Today, BMO’s focus on giving is informed by three strategic pillars: innovation, collaboration, and learning—one example being the bank helping to develop course content in addition to funding UBC Sauder School of Business’s first online course of its kind (Family Business: Strategy Essentials). “In other words, we work with community partners to achieve solutions and shape the future instead of only donating money,” says Mike Bonner, BMO’s senior vice-president, BC & Yukon division. “By involving ourselves actively in the communities we serve, we stay connected with what’s current—and gain a keen appreciation for what’s needed.”

Given BMO’s sheer physical scale, an efficient way of addressing the requests for help it receives daily has been developed. Bonner explains, “In simple terms, I head up B.C. and Yukon; Tamrah Corben, Manager, Communications and Community Engagement, is involved at street-level fielding requests; and Nada presides at the macro, corporate level, all of us collaborating with a donations committee to assess and act upon the requests.”

This mechanism has resulted in a seemingly endless giving list, which in this province alone includes donations to the BC Cancer Foundation; Simon Fraser University; and many millions more to causes almost too numerous to mention. BMO also provides annual sponsorships like the BMO Vancouver Marathon and the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Much of this money provides unique solutions to regional problems, case in point: a recent donation to the University of Victoria is for a program that will enable teaching staff to connect to prospective learners who live too far away to physically access the campus. Topics such as  “Indigenous peoples, mental health and our continued support of the defence community are some of the important areas we care about,” says Bonner.

BMO’s $1 million gift to the Royal Columbia Hospital Foundation was the bank’s most recent donation in B.C., and Bonner, who also is a Foundation board member, stresses, “With our three strategic pillars, we always strive to improve our communities rather than organizations per se.”

Unsurprisingly, given BMO’s status as a philanthropic leader in the banking sector, Ristich says the institution’s goal moving forward is to continue full bore: “We recently asked ourselves, 'After 200 years of doing this, should we change anything?’ And the answer is we remain at heart a community bank serving community needs. Our system works, so we’ll just keep our heads down and continue to do our best.”

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with BMO Bank of Montreal