A legacy from the past, a promise to the future

The Winnipeg Foundation

 

Richard L. Frost, CEO, The Winnipeg Foundation
Richard L. Frost, CEO, The Winnipeg Foundation

April 26, 2016 marks the 95th anniversary of The Winnipeg Foundation. As Canada’s first community foundation, we have a longer history of community service than our colleagues and therefore a greater opportunity to reflect on the impact of our beloved institution.

Any such reflection needs to recognize that our donors are forward thinking. The Winnipeg Foundation is endowment based, which means that donors invest today for the benefit of tomorrow.

“I owe everything to this community and I feel that it should derive some benefit from what I have been able to accumulate” wrote our founder William Forbes Alloway in 1921.

Alloway’s gifts, and those of his wife Elizabeth, continue to generate grants decades later.

 

The growth and development of a community foundation will always depend on the respect for its judgment that has been engendered in the public mind.

Hugh Benham, 1962

Each and every day, we see generous community-minded people creating or contributing to one of our over 3,000 endowments, always with an eye to the future.

A willingness to set aside a portion of one’s earnings to be invested for the longer term well-being of fellow citizens is not a common characteristic; most of us want to see immediate results. But for 95 years, The Winnipeg Foundation has enjoyed the good fortune of being supported by wonderfully committed people willing to pool their resources and provide a higher quality of life to citizens they will never know.

In our 95 year history, there have only been five Executive Directors. (I’ve been here since 1997 and have almost achieved an average tenure!) To celebrate this milestone, I’m looking back at two articles published in Canadian Welfare—one written by Peter Lowe, our first Executive Director, in 1957 and the other written by Hugh Benham, our second ED, in 1962.

What did they see in our future and how have things changed?

 

The first and most obvious change relates to the scale of Winnipeg Foundation operations. In 1957, total assets at market value were just over $5 million and grant making reached $189,000. Five years later in 1962, assets were more than $6 million and grant distributions amounted to $271,000.

 

If the past is any criterion, many of the needs and causes we regard highly today will over the years have disappeared and other contemporary needs will have taken their place.

Peter Lowe, 1957

Today, total assets are more than a hundred times greater. Distributions reached $27.7 million in 2015 and more than 900 different charitable agencies received support.

Such remarkable growth and impact has been possible because of the faith and willingness of generous donors to create and support endowments for our community.

The vision of our Foundation is “a Winnipeg where community life flourishes for all”. In reading the Peter Lowe and Hugh Benham articles, it’s clear that our fundamental course has not changed. They would readily have agreed with the four key themes of our current Strategic Plan:

 

  • Connecting our generous donors to the work of community agencies
  • Addressing inequality and advancing compassion
  • Enhancing the vitality of our City
  • Empowering those who want to make a difference

The Foundation’s work 50 years ago was aligned with these goals. There was recognition endowments provide great flexibility for donors to decide philanthropic direction.

Peter Lowe wrote, “They may designate a preferred charity or stipulate a field of service to which their funds are to be devoted. Donors may also indicate whether they wish their donation carried as a continuing fund or whether the principal, as well as the income is to be disbursed over a given term of years”.

In 2015, about 15 per cent of Winnipeg Foundation grants were what we call “flow through.” That is to say, while we have anchored our identity in the creation of permanent legacies, we have always worked with donors who bring different strategies and perspectives to philanthropy.

While every donor wants flexibility to set their own direction, Peter Lowe gave particular emphasis in his commentary to the importance of allowing The Foundation some discretion.

“Human conditions change so rapidly that a project that is worthwhile today may be useless, harmful or non-essential tomorrow,” Mr. Lowe wrote.

 

You can’t go up and down the street knocking on doors in this business. If your management and its policies won’t attract funds to your foundation, nothing will.

Hugh Benham, 1962

We echo his sentiments; at any given time we are processing dozens of applications from community organizations seeking support and of course, donors who allow some discretion enable The Foundation to respond.

Hugh Benham puts focus on the importance of the Board and the management policies it develops to ensure the prudent stewardship of gifts. Long term success depends on “people who not only command the respect of the community but also know a great deal about its needs.”

Mr. Benham lauds the development of The Vancouver Foundation as a “shining example.” He wrote, “While we have great faith and pride in our own Winnipeg Foundation, we wouldn’t like to predict that it will still be bigger than Vancouver’s 10 years from now.”

Today there are 191 community foundations in Canada. Vancouver, Calgary and Winnipeg are the largest.

Perhaps the most interesting reflection on these two articles is what they don’t say. For example, there is no reference to “The Widow’s Mite” – the second gift ever received by The Foundation: three gold coins worth $15.

Today, we place enormous emphasis on the importance of the everyday philanthropist. It is not the size of the gift but the giving that matters. Countless endowments are being built by hundreds of donors working together in a common cause. Planned gifts will always play a critical part in the growing impact of The Winnipeg Foundation. However, it is generally the smaller gifts to some appealing fund that introduce endowment-building as a possibility in the mind of a future fund holder. Accessibility and community engagement are key characteristics of today’s Winnipeg Foundation.

Peter Lowe and Hugh Benham could not have anticipated the development of Donor-Advised Funds, where an increasing number of families actively participate in grant decisions. The fact that there are now more than 350 Scholarship Funds and almost 200 Agency Funds would also surprise them. Foundation initiatives like the Centennial Neighbourhood Project, Nourishing Potential and our Downtown Green Spaces Strategy would undoubtedly fulfill their greatest aspirations.

As today’s generous donors continue to build capacity, we can only wonder about the innovative approaches The Winnipeg Foundation will pursue 50 years from now. However, we can certainly be confident its impact on community well-being will be profound.

 

Each fund, whether individual or collective, bears the name of the donor or a name given to it by donors—it is a foundation within a larger foundation.

Peter Lowe, 1957

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