The Season of Giving

Five business leaders extol the virtues of taking on a good cause. Philanthropy, donations, volunteering: most people respect the value of selfless giving, but for many it isn’t a daily reality. Some may want to make a difference, but don’t know where to begin. Others may contribute financially to worthy causes, but don’t believe they have the time to get personally involved. Some may be involved in charity work and are looking for ways to get others to join the cause.

Sarah McNeill, McNeill Naka­moto Reruitment Group | BCBusiness
Sarah McNeill found that a little giving goes a long way to ensuring a bright future for young girls.

Five business leaders extol the virtues of taking on a good cause.

Philanthropy, donations, volunteering: most people respect the value of selfless giving, but for many it isn’t a daily reality. Some may want to make a difference, but don’t know where to begin. Others may contribute financially to worthy causes, but don’t believe they have the time to get personally involved. Some may be involved in charity work and are looking for ways to get others to join the cause.

Getting personally involved with charitable pursuits beyond writing a cheque is a growing trend. “People want to be more engaged,” explains David Gent, executive director of the Vancity Community Foundation. “They want to see and understand how they’re making a difference.”

Faye Wightman, president and CEO of the Vancouver Foundation, agrees. “When you volunteer with a charitable organization, you understand the issues at a deeper level,” she notes.

Finding a cause that is close to one’s heart often leads to a deeper involvement and longer-lasting relationships with organizations. Whether it’s something you’re passionate about or an experience you or a loved one has been through, Gent says that people almost always choose to get involved with charitable organizations dealing with issues they care about. “Think about what charges you up,” he suggests.

Wightman was surprised to discover that the most common reason people provide for not getting involved in giving is that they don’t think they have anything to offer. “This is shocking,” she says. “Everyone has something to offer. Everyone. Start with your neighbourhood; find out what’s going on, where people need help.” She also suggests that speaking directly to a charity is beneficial: you can tell them about yourself, what your time and budget constraints are and what you’re passionate about. A charity should do its best to find a good match for you.

Another way to get involved is by networking. Janet Austin, CEO of the YWCA of Metro Vancouver, believes that sharing information with colleagues and friends leads to becoming more involved in charitable pursuits.

Vancity’s Gent agrees. “Build on the relationships you have. Connect with people who are doing the work you care about,” he suggests. He also believes that social media is a great way to make or maintain relationships that can lead to philanthropic work.

Austin notes that charitable organizations can help foster personal commitments by demonstrating and disclosing how people’s gifts of time and money are being used and what the results are. “People today want a better understanding of the impact of their gifts, so it’s important that charitable organizations are transparent,” she explains. “This leads to long-term relationships between donors and charities.”

Sometimes it’s a matter of people not realizing how enriched their lives will become once they’re involved with a charitable organization. “You feel like you’ve made a difference,” Wightman enthuses. “You become an integral part of your community, you develop personally and you form lasting relationships with others.”

All agree that, fortunately, there is a strong and growing philanthropic community in B.C., both on corporate and individual levels. We caught up with a handful of prominent people in Vancouver who continue to make philanthropy a priority in their lives, and whose examples and advice might serve as an inspiration to all of us.

Sarah McNeill

For Sarah McNeill, giving back started one magical Christmas. McNeill, chief acceleration officer at McNeill Nakamoto Reruitment Group Inc. (a company she co-founded with her business partner, Cheryl Nakamoto), got involved with the Big Sisters of B.C. Lower Mainland to provide Christmas hampers to families in need, and she was shocked to see the hardships local families were facing. One family in particular stood out: a girl in the Big Sisters program whose 19-year-old brother was raising her and another brother, all on his own. It was then that McNeill realized that she could make a difference.

Since McNeill and Nakamoto were two young women who had started a successful company, making Big Sisters their charity felt right. “We wanted to help young girls make good choices and give them a chance to succeed,” McNeill explains. She got involved with the Big Sisters in 2003, first with the Christmas hampers, then with the annual gala. She started the successful GrapeJuice wine auction in 2007 and she explains that people’s contributions through it have a huge impact, since almost every fundraising dollar from this event goes right back into the charity.

For McNeill, the rewards of her role with Big Sisters are many. “Seeing little sisters graduate from school, speak with confidence in front of a crowd at a gala, get a chance at a bright future where before it looked bleak – it’s amazing,” she says. She adds that charity work is also impressive on a resume. “It shows that you care about community, not just about money.”

McNeill also believes that corporations have a responsibility to give back to the community that has enabled their businesses to thrive. “People notice. Charity work gives more credibility to a company,” she says.

Even her young children have taken note; they have been known to collect their own change to donate to Big Sisters. McNeill’s daughter recently said that “Man in the Mirror” was her favourite Michael Jackson song because it only takes one person to make a change. One of McNeill’s favourite quotes is from Dr. Seuss: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better – it’s not.”

McNeill notes that whether writing a cheque or donating time is best suited to you “depends on where you can offer the most influence. It’s a very individual thing.” She points out that it’s best to speak to the charity you’re interested in to find out what kind of help it needs. “Do what feels right for you,” she comments. “If you can’t get involved personally, do something else; get involved however you can.”

Image: Brian Howell
Tim Manning got his philanthropic start through his
parents, and is passing that commitment on to his

Tim Manning

Tim Manning, regional vice-president of commercial financial services at Royal Bank of Canada, grew up with a strong foundation of charitable giving because his parents were actively involved in their community. Even as a child, Manning wanted to get involved and help others and he believes that passing on this mindset to his own children is important. After more than 30 years of community involvement, Manning is currently the chair of Junior Achievement of B.C. and a member of the advisory council for Variety, the Children’s Charity, among other projects.

When it comes to getting involved with a charity, Manning feels it’s simply about making a choice. “Instead of buying a coffee every day, set aside that money to donate to a worthy cause. Instead of watching an hour-long TV show, spend that time volunteering,” he suggests. (He spends a couple of hours a week in charitable pursuits.) Manning believes that the personal benefits and satisfaction he gets from helping others is a reward in itself and being part of the community is something that everyone should strive for.

Manning also believes that corporations have a responsibility to give back within the community. RBC, for example, has an employee giving program: the company will donate $500 to a charity an employee has spent 40 hours volunteering annually. Encouraging employees to be more philanthropic by providing incentives or time can only benefit everyone in the long run, he says.

Besides personal satisfaction, Manning notes that getting involved with a charity provides a sense of purpose and contributes to personal development. “Through your volunteerism, you get to see and do many new things that you wouldn’t normally have access to, so you grow personally as a result,” he comments. When asked if he believes that getting personally involved with a charity is more important than writing a cheque, he responds that it depends on each individual’s ability, and that a combination is ideal. However, he says that there is a much higher level of personal satisfaction when you are directly involved. “You get to see first-hand how your money is being used,” he explains.

Though Manning sees a strong philanthropic community in B.C. in terms of both monetary donations and volunteerism, he’d like to see even more people getting personally involved and giving their time to worthy causes. “Volunteering is a huge part of the story of Canadian culture,” he points out. “In fact, volunteerism for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games was so successful that the 2014 Russian olympic organizing committee came to Canada to learn more about how they could incorporate volunteerism into the 2014 games.” He also believes that when charities are accountable to the public, people are more likely to give their time and money. At Variety, people can see the children who benefit first-hand during the telethon and Manning points to a Boston Consulting Group study that concludes that every dollar donated creates a $45 return at Junior Achievement of B.C.

David Sidoo

David Sidoo, investment banker, entrepreneur and former professional athlete, still recalls what it was like growing up with blue-collar roots. Sidoo was one of six children and when his labourer father got laid off from time to time, he remembers going to school without breakfast. Memories like this prompted Sidoo, along with his wife and two sons, to found Sidoo Family Giving in 2006, which is dedicated to enriching the lives of children and families, especially single mothers and at-risk youth. “Getting personally involved with charitable work is important as you see first-hand the differences made, and that resonates into a very good feeling of positive change,” Sidoo says.


One of the main programs of Sidoo Family Giving is the Breakfast Club in New Westminster schools. Sidoo, who grew up in New West, was appalled to learn that kids are still going to school hungry. He is determined to change that by offering breakfast to any child who wants it in New West and the foundation plans to continue expanding the program into other schools around B.C. “Look around your community,” Sidoo says. “Go back to your schools. Find out what’s going on and who needs help.”

Sidoo is grateful for the opportunities he has received in his own life, which is what makes him so passionate about giving back. He received a football scholarship from UBC that led to him becoming the first Indo-Canadian to play professional football, suiting up for the B.C. Lions and the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He knows how valuable the support and encouragement of his family, his coaches and his colleagues has been and he wants to impart that kind of support wherever he can. “Community work is a lifelong passion,” he explains. “It’s something that’s interwoven into our family and that we think about every day.”

When asked how people can start helping others, Sidoo cites the three Ts: time, talent and treasure. “You don’t always have to write a cheque,” he points out. “You can get involved in other ways, by giving your time or by using your talents to help an organization develop, such as helping out with the business side of things.” Talking to people in your community, he says, is an excellent way to discover the needs of others. He adds that it helps to be focused on one or two areas where you can truly make a difference, rather than spreading yourself too thin.

It also doesn’t take much to change lives. Sidoo remembers talking with a girl in the third grade at one of his breakfasts who wanted to be a pro tennis player when she grew up. Sidoo encouraged her to follow her dream. When she shyly admitted that she didn’t have a tennis racquet, Sidoo assured her that he would personally make sure the school had one available for her. The elated smile that suddenly appeared on her face is just one of the many reasons why he does what he can to give back.

Susan Yurkovich

Susan Yurkovich, executive vice-president of BC Hydro, learned the importance of giving from her parents. Her father was the son of a widow who was helped by the Salvation Army. Yurkovich says that her father never forgot the care and kindness shown to him, and he passed on that gratitude to his children. Yurkovich, who is currently a governor of UBC and director of the Vancouver General Hospital Foundation, as well as a past advisory board member of the Salvation Army, wants to share with others what she was taught. “If you are fortunate, you should give back,” she comments. “People can overcome great adversity with just a little help.”


Yurkovich is instilling these values in her own two young children, showing them that everyone has time to give and that little things can make a big difference. Her children collect their birthday money to give to charity and they know the difference that volunteers make at their school. Yurkovich believes that anyone can follow these principles.

“It’s important to do something,” she advises. “Don’t put it off. If you feel that from a financial perspective you can’t contribute right now, give your time instead. There are a lot of opportunities for volunteering.” She firmly believes that volunteering makes a better, stronger community. “It’s an important part of being a citizen of a community. Everyone has the time if they make it a priority,” she explains.

When asked which is of greater value, donating money or getting personally involved, she responds that both are rewarding and it can depend on what stage of life you’re at. Early in your career, when you may not have as much money, volunteering may be a more viable option. Later on in life, if you’ve been successful you may be able to give both time and money. “The important thing is to start,” she explains. “You can grow your giving over time to what’s comfortable for you.”

Yurkovich mentions that the benefits to getting personally involved with a charity are numerous. “It’s incredibly inspiring,” she notes, explaining that it enables the donor to add to their experience, learn new things, network and help people change their lives. “You get way more out of volunteering than you ever put in,” she says. As for the charities themselves, Yurkovich believes organizations that are good at providing feedback and engaging donors in how their contributions will be used stand a better chance of getting more people involved. “People need to understand where their money and time are going,” she believes.

Yurkovich plans to continue her family’s tradition of giving, and hopes others will adopt a similar view. “Think about the next generation. Start with your kids. Build a culture of giving back.”

Bev Park

Bev Park, president and COO of TimberWest Forest Corp., has a long history of community involvement. Her parents instilled a strong sense of community and caring in her from a young age, and in her 20s Park joined the YWCA board to continue her family’s tradition. These days, she serves on boards for organizations such as the United Way, the Vancouver Opera and the B.C. Business Council.


Park has worked with the United Way for more than a decade, currently serving as director and chair of the finance committee. She has always liked how the United Way has a broad-based community impact and focuses on a range of issues, especially those affecting children and seniors. “The United Way has shifted from a simple fundraising and granting organization to making longer-term systemic changes, allowing it to have a great impact because it raises money on such a large scale,” she explains. “They take a longer-term view of solving problems.”

Park is quick to tout the value of getting personally involved with a charity. Although making a donation is less time-consuming, being hands-on allows you to learn more about what a particular charity does, she says. “You get a great deal of personal satisfaction as well as the chance to meet interesting people, learn about your community, learn about how other businesses are run and learn about leadership. You get out of it what you put into it.” Park notes that her philanthropic work has influenced her corporate work, all for the better.

How do you make the shift from simply making a donation to getting more personally involved in charity work? “Reflect on what you’re passionate about. Reflect on what you’d like to do. It’s much easier to spend time on things that you care about,” Park suggests. Approaching charitable organizations is a good place to start if you’re not sure what you want to do. “Tell them you’d like to volunteer and let them know how much time you have to give. The bigger organizations will usually have many options for you,” she advises. Park herself spends about one to three hours a week doing philanthropic work. “It’s so important for the health and well-being of your community to be supporting those who have greater needs. It makes for more livable cities and more caring communities,” she says.

Park says that people need to realize the importance of giving back, especially during tough economic times. “When the world is uncertain, people need to support their communities.”