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Gifted for Life

Legacy giving can change lives—yours and for those who need it most.


BCBusiness Community Partners

Credit: The Salvation Army

Legacy giving can change lives—yours and for those who need it most.

In 1943, the Vancouver Foundation received its first gift–$1,000 from Alice McKay, saved from her secretarial job. That was the beginning of an endowment fund that has supported countless charities in British Columbia thanks to individual and corporate generosity, much of it in the form of legacy gifts. What kind of legacy will you leave behind?

“Death and dying–this is an uncomfortable conversation and so easy to put aside,” says Craig Hikida, vice-president of donor services for Vancouver Foundation. “But families can take comfort knowing their loved ones’ wishes have been fulfilled. Having that conversation during one’s lifetime alleviates the burden of having to decipher these wishes after the fact.”

Legacy giving is important for the community, as well as the donors. “If you have been involved in a charitable organization or have received services, wouldn’t you want that organization to flourish beyond your lifetime?” Hikida asks.

Kim Findlay, divisional director of development for The Salvation Army, says legacy giving allows the organization to plan for the future. “It allows us to plan and builds an ever-lasting legacy of hope through continued funding,” he says.

Founded in 1865, The Salvation Army operates 56 locations across the province, helping to feed, clothe and provide shelter to the most vulnerable members of our communities, while helping others escape violence and addiction. 

Findlay says talking about legacy wishes with an organization in advance allows the donor to choose an area he or she is passionate about, and it allows the organization to thank the donor in advance. “For instance, if they are passionate about food delivery or shelter and housing, we will take them on a tour of those programs to see how their gift will have an impact,” he says.

Legacy donors are very forward-thinking individuals, says Patti Nakatsu, director of development for Arthritis Research Canada. “Legacy giving is an opportunity to ensure a lasting impact for one’s most valued causes. These are very special gifts, and donors are encouraged to make known their specific wishes.”

Arthritis Research Canada is North America’s largest arthritis research organization. Though often overlooked as a natural part of aging, arthritis affects one in six Canadians from the age of two and upwards and can be life-threatening, particularly inflammatory types like rheumatoid or lupus.

“As a rheumatologist and scientist, I have seen firsthand the tremendous impact that arthritis research can have in transforming lives,” says Dr. Diane Lacaille, scientific director, Arthritis Research Canada. “While we have made significant progress in the availability of treatment, there is still so much we can do to lessen the pain and disability of this disease and help people live well with arthritis.”

“No matter how large or small, everyone in their own way can make an important difference,” she adds. “People often find they are able to have a greater impact with a gift in their will than they ever could during their lifetime, even after taking care of their loved ones.”

Anna du Bois, legacy and giving partnerships for TB Vets, agrees. “Wills aren’t just a legal way to distribute personal assets. They can be a powerful tool for change in the world,” she says. “By giving even a small portion of an estate to charity, people can make a significant impact on the causes they care about and still support those they love.”

TB Vets provides respiratory care for individuals living with asthma, newborns needing oxygen, trauma patients, those battling COVID-19 or anyone requiring respiratory assistance. This year, air pollution caused by forest fires in the United States increased the demand for ventilators across the province. 

“A legacy gift of $350,000 TB Vets received this year went directly to support respiratory care in BC, funding approximately six multi-function ventilators,” du Bois says.

Planning ahead with an inventory of assets and a general plan of who should benefit from a donor’s estate—including the charities to support—helps families navigate the process. TB Vets offers a Legacy Giving Guide on its website, along with a Personal Affairs Planner.

“This is very helpful in starting to think about both the estate and also end of life arrangements, such as healthcare, funeral arrangements or power of attorney decisions,” du Bois says.

Lumber industry leader and dedicated philanthropist John Brink says giving back to community is something everyone should consider and decisions about how to do that should come from the heart and from knowing one’s community.

Brink’s generosity is well known in his community of Prince George, where he has made sizeable donations to the Prince George Animal Rescue, Goodsir Nature Park and to the Trades & Technology Centre at the College of New Caledonia—named after Brink in 2005. In 2019, he received the Order of British Columbia and an Honorary Doctorate of Laws Degree from the University of Northern British Columbia in recognition of his past 50+ years of commerce, philanthropy and community involvement. Also in 2019, Brink’s record of fierce advocacy for skills training in the north was further cemented with a $1 million commitment to the College of New Caledonia.

Employing over 400 people in Northern British Columbia, he advises philanthropists to become involved in their communities and the issues that matter to them. “Become part of groups that help in your community, but first and foremost become knowledgeable about what you can do to really give back,” he says. “I think of younger people who are entrepreneurial and hope they make giving back part of their life’s work. I hope they choose something important to them and pursue ways to contribute.”

He points to some of British Columbia’s most generous doners—Jim Pattison, Joe Segal and Peter Legge—as examples of people who have given back in spades.  “The most successful individuals we know in BC and beyond stand out for things they have done, not only in business, but in terms of giving back,” he says.

Once a donor identifies a cause, the next step is to speak to a qualified financial planner who is also aware of the wide range of options for charitable giving that can maximize the gifts while reducing the tax burden for the estate.

Typically, people write a will or put a plan in place, but that plan may not be triggered for decades. That is why it is important to plan ahead but not be overly prescriptive. For instance, if you are passionate about housing and sheltering the vulnerable, trust your gift to an organization who holds that as one of its primary functions, but don’t assign the gift to something specific like supplies.

Vancouver Foundation works on an endowment model where donors commit a gift amount, the foundation invests it, and the income generated goes to serving the purpose, in effect creating a life-long legacy.

Through this model, Alice McKay’s $1,000 has grown to $1.3 million.

“It is interesting that the $1,000 is still at work,” Hikida says. “When we look at a mature endowment model, the amount generated will overtake the amount given, and the gift lasts forever.”

Charities looking for stability typically look at two revenue streams—ongoing fundraising and a steady stream of background income used to further the mission of the organization. Having a steady reliable income stream can take the pressure off an organization’s annual campaign needs.

As an example, during the height of COVID-19 in BC, the charitable sector took a hit, and Vancouver Foundation was there to help. “We were able to activate funds and support the charitable sector very quickly because of donor gifts left years ago and entrusted to us,” Hikida says. “Those donors trusted us to understand our community needs and how to support the most vulnerable.”

Findlay adds that leaving a legacy is a personal decision that should be made with the whole family so everyone understands it. “If they understand what their family member was passionate about, hopefully they will take the torch and carry it forward,” he says.

“People never have to choose whether to support their family or their favourite causes—they can do both,” du Bois says. “And the donor knows that even after they are gone, the charities that they’ve supported in their lifetime will continue their work.  What a wonderful way to be remembered.” 

Created by BCBusiness in partnership with its Community Partners