The Not-For-Profit Motive: The Bosa Family Foundation creates community

"We gave in an ad hoc way for many, many years," says Bosa Family Foundation director Sylvia Bosa, of the Robert Bosa development companies' approach to donating to charity. "It's really people pulling at your heartstrings, and it's reactive," she explains. "It's business associates: ‘Oh, my son's school's doing this.'...

Credit: Courtesy of Bosa Family Foundation

Holiday Safe Place cares for kids at Strathcona Community Centre over Christmas break

The Bosa Family Foundation gives back to programs in the communities where the development clan builds homes

“We gave in an ad hoc way for many, many years,” says Bosa Family Foundation director Sylvia Bosa, of the Robert Bosa development companies’ approach to donating to charity. “It’s really people pulling at your heartstrings, and it’s reactive,” she explains. “It’s business associates: ‘Oh, my son’s school’s doing this.’ ‘Can you buy a table for this?’ ‘Do you have something to donate to this auction?'” Although the Bosas still do some of that, several years ago they realized that it wasn’t clear where the money was going and decided to create a formal foundation to be more strategic in giving back. 

Make that two foundations. Each of the family’s companies—Bosa Properties Inc. and BlueSky Properties Inc.—formed a private foundation, referred to informally by the umbrella name Bosa Family Foundation. Because a percentage of the profits from every project goes back to the community, it simplifies accounting if each company gives to its own foundation. And “as a private foundation, we can really designate where the money goes,” Bosa points out. “We know exactly what we’re doing, and [we’re] keeping all that overhead as low as possible because we don’t want any of that funding to go to any sort of overhead admin stuff.”

The foundations focus on supporting children and youth in the communities where the companies are building. The Bosa Properties Foundation has donated to programs in Coquitlam, New Westminster, Surrey, Vancouver, Victoria and across B.C. The BlueSky Properties Foundation has done the same in Eagleridge, 

Vancouver and Victoria. The foundations also donate jointly to causes ranging from BC Children’s Hospital and Free the Children–Adopt a Village to Lunch2Go, a meal program for school children, and BabyGoRound, which provides necessities for families with young children.

The foundations’ guiding principles are to bring many different levels and resources in a community together to solve problems, and to be part of solutions. “So there is a much deeper strategic thought process behind the giving as opposed to ad hoc, which is what it was before,” Bosa explains. Planning approval for a project can take several years, during which the companies are in an open conversation with the community about what it needs. 

What Bosa finds most valuable is to dig deep to understand root causes and the real reasons behind the issues in a community. “It gives you a much better understanding and empathy and compassion for the people that are going through it, but also it allows you to then start thinking strategically about where are the changes that we can make when you really understand systemically what’s going on,” she says. “It extends our commitment to that community in the way that we designate the funding to those grassroots organizations.” 

GIVING ADVICE: Bosa points out that in the slow-moving philanthropic world, it’s important to be respectful of the communities where you’re working. “You can’t go in imposing your ideas or ‘This is what we should do’ on anyone,” she cautions. “It really is an open conversation, and it’s about listening more than anything. It takes time, and I think the value of it comes over time and the relationships we’re building in the communities where we’re working. It’s been a very rewarding experience.”