5 Questions: How former Boston Pizza co-owner George Melville distributes his hard-earned dough

The former chancellor of Kwantlen Polytechnic University opens up about giving back.

George Melville

The former chancellor of Kwantlen Polytechnic University opens up about giving back

1. What are some of your current philanthropic endeavours?

We [Melville and his wife, Sylvia] just did a funding round with St. Pauls for an IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) centre. One of our family members had a major IBD issue. We totally connected and saw an opportunity to make that centre viable and workable, so we did it. We also support Covenant House and Union Gospel Mission, because of social issues in downtown Vancouver. When doing that, we look at community needs and how we can have a positive impact. In health care, we helped with Peace Arch Hospital and Penticton Hospital, which is in our hometown. I really believe it’s all about connection and making a difference.

2. You’ve created quite a legacy in terms of your donations and fundraising—what are some things you’ve learned along the way?

One thing I’ve learned is that matching funds for organizations is really effective. We do that for two or three organizations, where we offer to match donations and certain campaigns they’re offering. It encourages people to get in there. In our group of friends, we talk about this, because we’re at the age where most people are looking at philanthropy as part of their life. With the Kwantlen gift itself [the Melville family gave $8 million to KPU over four years in 2021], we wanted to see where it was going to. You can set up scholarship and bursary funds which give students better access to the facilities, but it’s also for the professors and the teachers to give them the resources to help them with the ability to teach better. That way it’s a composite thing with the benefit coming to different parts of the university.

3. Have you noticed any significant changes in the world of philanthropy? Impact investing, for example, has seemingly become popular over last decade. Any new things you’ve noticed?

Not really. There needs to be a connection. And that is so important. The ability to help, analyzing and working with the people making the benefit of whatever you’re providing much better. I’m sort of old fashioned, I guess. I look at it as motivating people to use what- ever we can provide in a better way. I don’t think that’s any different than it’s ever been.

4. Beyond the idea of connection, what advice do you have for people who want to get involved in philanthropy in a meaningful way?

Budget. Do what you can, every dollar counts. Start off with something. It may be that you live in the Interior and want to donate to the Red Cross, which is doing amazing work with the fires. You see stories of little kids having a lemonade stand and raising money for the local hospital. That’s part of the culture. I think it’s doing your budgeting and figuring out what you can afford to donate. That’ll change over time, as it has with us. We did the budgeting and thought, Who would we like to see receiving money from us? As far as the charity is concerned, communication is critical. Once you make that connection, once you’ve got somebody, you can almost over-communicate in some cases, but there should be continual connection. That’s what philanthropy is all about—deciding where the funds are best to be going in your opinion and applying it there. If you’re treated well and respectfully, you’ll continue to go there.

5. The billionaires debate is a hot topic with people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffet saying that the very wealthy should pay more in taxes. How do we strike the right balance in that debate as a society? 

I really believe that governments use taxation for a number of different reasons. One is to motivate people to change their habits. So you have governments saying, We want to have these charitable organizations provide benefit to our communities, therefore we’re going to allow you to deduct it. All kinds of provisions are set up to encourage rich people to contribute to society through donations. I’d be stupid if I didn’t say part of the reason we make donations is because of that. But it still costs money—it’s cheaper to pay the tax. By donating to causes that are close to our hearts, we’re able to put the money where we see it doing the best. A lot of taxation dollars go into funding different organizations, but to criticize people for what the government is motivated to try and get you to do is kind of sad. Whether you should spend a billion dollars going to the moon instead of solving world hunger, thats a different topic. — with files from Nick Rockel

Last book I read: Pleasant Good Evening–A Memoir: My 30 Wild and Turbulent Years of Sportstalk by Dan Russell

Most memorable concert: Paul McCartney, Vancouver, April 2016

Pet peeve: Canada geese fouling my lawn

Favourite place in B.C.: Peachland

Guilty pleasure: Salt and Vinegar potato chips