Sponsored Content

The Gift of a Lifetime

Giving small amounts of money to a friend or a colleague who is helping raise funds for a personal cause is an easy decision. But when people find themselves in a position to make a more significant donation, a lot of consideration and careful planning is needed to ensure these larger gifts have the lasting impact they are intended to.


Planning a Legacy
One factor to consider is whether you would like to make a short-term or a long-term gift. “If you are interested in the long-term and the cumulative effect of granting, then a community foundation makes sense,” says Kevin McCort, president and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation. “If you are interested in helping a charity with a need they have today, then just give them a gift.” 

The Vancouver Foundation is the largest community foundation in Canada. McCort describes the role of a community foundation as an intermediary between a philanthropist and the work they wish to support. The Vancouver Foundation was started more than 70 years ago and the endowment fund has grown to more than $1 billion. The Foundation invests the capital of all donations and gives out the income generated. Currently, the Vancouver Foundation is granting more than $1 million a week to various organizations and causes. “It’s like a perpetual motion machine for charitable giving,” says McCort. “We have a very good track record on our investments, and our five-year returns are over 10 per cent year over year. The charities that are funded by our endowment want consistent income, so our investment philosophy is built on supporting charities in a consistent way.”

Donating to a fund through the Vancouver Foundation is easy, McCort notes. An endowment fund can be started with a donation of just $1,000, and once it reaches $10,000 then the income from the fund can be donated. There are about 1,700 endowment funds within the consolidated trust fund, including funds set up by about 850 charities. 

Another way to give is to designate money to a cause, such as families and youth, arts and culture or the environment. Organizations submit proposals for projects within those general areas, and the proposals are vetted by staff and then reviewed by a community advisory panel appointed by the Vancouver Foundation. This panel recommends which proposals are awarded grants. Some donors choose to leave undesignated funds, and in these cases the Foundation pools the money with similar sources and asks the charitable sector for their best ideas, through calls for proposals. 

The decisions are made by experts in that area,” says McCort. “It’s a unique model that focuses on ensuring that community has a dominant role in what the Vancouver Foundation does. Individuals and organizations set up funds, they direct the use of those funds and the staff of Vancouver Foundation facilitate that process.”

McCort says that the bulk of donations come from major gifts, but people can make smaller gifts to any fund as well. “If you want to create a legacy, then the community foundation is the place to do that. We are a convenient option for people because we allow donors to support multiple charities from one place.”

Legacy planning, says Shelly Appleton-Benko, director and vice president at Odlum Brown Limited, is a long-term vision and requires careful thought. “We consider legacy planning as part of the process of intergenerational wealth planning,” she says. “We assist people with their plans and we look at the entire family. We look at educational planning, estate planning, how you can help your children and your grandchildren, charitable giving and taxes. Including how you pass on that money in an effective way.” 

Many portfolio managers at Odlum Brown work with their clients to develop a wealth management strategy, and Appleton-Benko describes their role as similar to a coach who helps a team work together. “We work with a number of professionals that you would already have employed, like a lawyer and an accountant. We try to help everybody work together.”

When people decide to make charitable donations, Odlum Brown helps to facilitate those. “We will start building the relationship now, and this might mean an annual donation or determining planned giving parameters for future legacy giving,” explains Appleton-Benko. “So we don’t just manage stocks and bonds, we work on all aspects of a client’s wealth plan including the philanthropy component.” 


Expert Advice
Legal expertise is another important aspect of the legacy planning process. Sandra Enticknap, Q.C., is the partner in charge of the Private Client Services and Charities and Not-for-Profit Group at Miller Thomson LLP’s Vancouver office. “Our firm has an emphasis on client planning and charities,” Enticknap says. “If we have a client who wants to make a donation to charity, a will gift or a gift in their lifetime, we can help. It could be a gift of shares or a gift of land or cash. We have a good understanding of the benefits of charitable giving, and where and when the receipts can be used to reduce tax.” 

One of the firm’s leading areas of expertise has always been private client services where lawyers address the day-to-day and long-term planning needs of individuals and family enterprises. These include a complete range of estate planning and personal tax services, as well as advising on charitable giving. 

“We’re also interested in giving back to the community,” says Enticknap. A number of Miller Thomson’s lawyers sit on charitable boards and volunteer across the sector. Miller Thomson has its own private foundation, which has given annual scholarships to high-school students across the country for many years. “We have a technical expertise in this area but we are also interested in being charitable ourselves,” she adds. 

The Canadian Cancer Society is one of the organizations that recognizes the complexity of legacy gifts, and provides services to help donors. “We dialogue every day with donors or potential donors, and we also work on a daily basis with financial advisors, lawyers and accountants,” explains Larry Amstutz, a charitable giving advisor at the British Columbia & Yukon office of the Canadian Cancer Society. “So we give our expertise on charitable giving, they give their expertise on the structure of a will perhaps or a picture of the tax situation, and we work very closely with those professionals on creating a charitable giving plan.” 

When Amstutz discusses legacy planning with people, he encourages them to consider what they hope to accomplish. “Statistics will say that on average, Canadians will donate to three causes. 

So I usually ask, ‘If you could donate to only one cause, what would it be?’ I want them to focus on what they are most passionate about. And when they understand what that passion is, I come back and ask, ‘What’s the impact you want to have for that particular cause?’”

That impact, he explains, may be something you want to accomplish immediately, or it may be something further in the future. These considerations will help guide the process of gift planning. “We usually find that a lot of people don’t give it that kind of thought,” Amstutz says. “They leave their gift in a will, which is a really great thing, but it doesn’t necessarily fit their own personal situation. We want to take a little more time and provide some professional guidance to help them do that.”

Professional advice can help tailor the gift in particular ways. For example, the Canadian Cancer Society has a charitable life insurance program. Life insurance is a unique gift to a charity, because it allows the donor privacy, and the gift is paid out usually in a matter of weeks after someone’s death. In contrast, a will usually takes two years to be settled. Amstutz notes that each gift has its own unique advantages that should be considered as part of the strategic planning process. Similarly, some people are better served by making the gift immediately, rather than putting it in a will. This way they can take advantage of the tax benefits, and also enjoy the satisfaction of seeing their money help those living with cancer. 

For the Canadian Cancer Society, working closely with donors is a helpful and rewarding process for both parties. “It sounds really simple,” says Amstutz. “We send a card to the family when we receive a gift and we say, ‘Thank you. Your mom or your dad was so thoughtful.’ Their legacy passes down to their children, and for us to see that process, and to see the good that money does to eradicate cancer and to support people living with cancer, that is very powerful. To have that engagement with the family, that’s very important to us and it will inspire them [the children] in the future.” 


Connection to the Cause
People often choose an organization to donate to because they feel a personal connection. This is very true for Barb Hestrin, who chose to include BC Women’s Hospital Foundation in her will. She worked at BC Women’s Hospital in various departments from 1992 to 2008, first as a nurse clinician and eventually as a senior administrative officer. “My time at Women’s was incredibly rewarding, and I always appreciated the fact that the leadership of the hospital has a very proactive philosophy around promoting women’s health and well-being, so that just fit for me. It’s an organization that I really value so that set the scene for what happened after I retired.” 

In 2008, Hestrin was asked to join the board of the BC Women’s Hospital Foundation. She also began working with the BC Women’s Hospital Auxiliary, which fundraises for the hospital. She sees first-hand the impact of the generous gifts that people make. While donations to various programs are tremendously appreciated, she notes that undesignated gifts are almost more valuable. “The reason I say that is that the costs of doing fundraising are escalating all the time, and you can’t do it without staff and resources. So all the donations I make are undesignated because I really believe we need that infrastructure.” 

Personal connection is the biggest reason people give to the BC Cancer Foundation, which provides funding for research at the BC Cancer Agency. In the past fiscal year, the Foundation raised $50 million, about 12 per cent of which came from legacy gifts. “What really motivates that, is personal experience with cancer,” says Erik Dierks, VP of development. “One in three of us in B.C. will hear the terrifying words ‘you have cancer’ at some point in our lives. So when people are touched by cancer, they leave those generous bequests to us to really change the story.” 

The cancer story is changing because of crucial breakthroughs made by researchers at the BC Cancer Agency. With BC Cancer Foundation funding, the agency is now carrying out the second phase of a clinical study of the Personalized Onco-Genomics Program, in which researchers use genomic sequencing to learn more about a particular tumour and provide doctors with new knowledge and treatment options. For some patients, this program has already provided life-altering treatments. “The real goal,” says Dierks, “is to make this program a standard of clinical care so that every person who is diagnosed with cancer would have that level of detail about their specific cancer, and treatment decisions would be based on that knowledge.” 

Research on the causes and treatment of prostate cancer is one of the key pillars of Prostate Cancer Canada. This national foundation also contributes to prevention campaigns. David Walker, vice president of the Western Canada office, gives credit to the ongoing support of legacy donors for making significant gains. “These thoughtful major gifts are helping to arrest the mortality rate and significantly stop the disease,” he says. “We’re seeing 2,400 more dads, uncles, sons and grandfathers alive today than 20 years ago, because of the advance of research and also growing awareness among men about getting a PSA test done.”


Changing Lives
Donors to the Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada also feel a sense of connection. The average cost of granting a wish to a seriously ill child is $10,000, and so donors know exactly what their gift is accomplishing. “A donor can change a child’s life,” says Jennifer Petersen, director of the British Columbia & Yukon Chapter. “It’s easy for a donor to understand the power of a wish, and there’s great joy in it.” 

Legacy gifts have allowed the organization to continue offering a five-year window to any child whose wish is approved. This window is a unique feature of the Children’s Wish Foundation, and a crucial part of the wish-granting process. Some children are undergoing chemotherapy or other treatment and are not stable enough to travel or enjoy whatever experience they have chosen, so this flexibility allows them to fulfill their wish. 

The Foundation is now expanding its eligibility criteria and granting wishes to children who have serious genetic and neurological illnesses. “We are changing the world of wish granting and we need the support to help us along the path,” says Petersen. “We anticipate 200 new children over the next 18 months, and we are working hard to find the funds to grant wishes to these kids.”  


Sustaining Growth
Any organization envisioning growth must be able to count on long-term support. The Ronald McDonald House of British Columbia (RMHBC) recently celebrated the first anniversary of two new facilities, one on the grounds of BC Children’s Hospital and another in the new wing of Surrey Memorial Hospital. These residences are for families who must travel from a distance for treatments for their children. 

Richard Pass, CEO of the RMHBC, says that the annual operational budget has grown from about $900,000 to $2.6 million. “Now that the new houses are built, everything that we’re doing is about raising funds to continue to support families in new and better ways,” he says. “Legacy gifts provide that sustainability for a long time.” 

The Ronald McDonald House is an independently owned and operated local charity that receives about 12 per cent of its operating budget from a partnership with McDonald’s Restaurants. One of its challenges, says Pass, is that it is located in Vancouver but serves people who live outside the Lower Mainland. For them, the stability and comfort the Ronald McDonald House offers in a time of need is crucial. “The worst possible thing has happened to these families: their child is seriously ill. And when they walk into the kitchen and have a frank conversation like, ‘Hi, what’s your name? What’s your kid got?,’ and all of a sudden they’re not in it alone.” 

Canuck Place Children’s Hospice has also recently expanded, with the recent opening of Canuck Place—Dave Lede House in Abbotsford. This new facility offers community services including recreation therapy programs, counselling services and support of specialized outpatient clinical care nurses. 

Since 2003, Canuck Place has seen incredible growth of 121 per cent in the number of children and families receiving care. “We strive to provide the specialized medical care needed by the province’s most medically challenged pediatric patients,” says Margaret McNeil, CEO of Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. “We cannot do it without our donors, and one of the most meaningful ways to support Canuck Place is through planned gifts by individuals who wish to leave a legacy of love for Canuck Place children and families.” 


Meeting Emerging Needs
Family Services of Greater Vancouver (FSGV) has provided support for individuals and families for more than 86 years. Last year, 13,000 people in the Lower Mainland accessed a wide variety of services, including a food security program, clinical support for victims of trauma or domestic violence, employment programs, support for youth living on the street, and social enterprises. While many programs operate as contracts with various governments, about five per cent of the organization’s annual budget comes from donations. These funds give FSGV the ability to respond to emergency situations and emerging needs. One of these areas of need is an emergency fund for women who want to flee domestic violence. “Historically, one of the things that Family Services has been able to do very creatively was to actually respond to needs as they emerge in the community prior to government seeing them as a priority,” says Caroline Bonesky, CEO of Family Services. “So we would like to innovate more and respond as we see emerging needs.” 

Bonesky notes that we all have different versions of what we call families, but they all play an important role in our lives. “We believe that when people are thinking about leaving a legacy, and they think about the things that are important to them, family is usually really high on that list.” 


Gifts With Major Impact
Thompson Rivers University (TRU) is the province’s fourth-largest university, and offers some of the most diverse programming in Western Canada including trades, open learning and a law school. As an institution it has a relatively short history of 45 years, but it is already serving the educational needs of B.C.’s Interior and attracting students from the Lower Mainland, Calgary and Edmonton.

A recent $2.5-million donation by Kamloops businessman Ken Lepin to the TRU Foundation, which raises and manages funds for scholarships, bursaries and special needs funding, revolutionized the university’s process of recruiting and retaining students. “These gifts, no matter what the size, have the power to transform us,” says Christopher Seguin, vice president Advancement. “There’s a way to make an impact on the education in the entire province by looking outside of the traditional offerings, and finding us.” 


Long-term Vision
In a proactive effort to meet future needs, the Burnaby Hospital Foundation has recently developed a Community Health and Wellness Fund. The purpose of this fund is to go beyond the hospital foundation’s traditional role, which is to buy equipment and technology for the hospital. “Hospital foundations have a great position as the broker between the hospital and people who are looking to invest in the health and wellness of the community,” says Cheryl Carline, president and CEO of the foundation. “We’re on the hunt for new ways of promoting health and wellness because we know the system in its current state is under pressure so we need lots of partners in addressing issues of health care.” 

The hospital foundation works very closely with the hospital’s administration to identify needs and to choose community programs that could prevent hospital visits. Last year, the Community Health and Wellness Fund supported two projects, and this year it supports 10. Those include programs that support initiatives in the areas of food security, homelessness, long-term care and research on preventing falls among seniors. “As we see the demands for health care outstrip the capacity of any one source of funding, foundations are playing a critical role in the health care continuum,” says Carline. 


Legacy of Hope
The Mel Jr. and Marty Zajac Foundation was formed in the memory of two brothers who died within eight months of each other in separate sporting accidents. In 2003, their family started the foundation, which supports the Zajac Ranch for Children, a summer camp for children with a wide variety of medical conditions and illnesses. “Children that can’t fit into traditional camps are able to come here and get the camp experience that all kids deserve,” says Carmen Zajac, president of the foundation. “We want this camp to be around for many years, because unfortunately there’s always going to be sick kids. Some of the children who go there have never been away from their homes for one night. So it’s very empowering and it changes childrens’ lives.

No matter how big or small, the gifts that we give can continue to make significant differences in people’s lives for many years to come. Making these deliberate decisions can be a meaningful and rewarding process for all of us.