Notes from our 2015 donor tea

Thank you to all of our supporters who joined us for our annual Donor Tea on May 4, 2015. We were welcomed to Government House last week by Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, The Honourable Judith Guichon. Guests heard from Tom and Lori Burley who have a family fund at the foundation which, provides annual grants to charities that are important to them. Here are Tom and Lori’s speaking notes from the event.

Tom Burley:

I have been involved with the Victoria Foundation in a number of capacities since the early 1980s, and I want to talk to you about some of my experiences and the growth and development I have observed over the past 30 years.

My first exposure to the Foundation was as a new Chartered Accountant working on the audit of the Foundation in about 1983. To be honest, I had never heard of the organization before the Executive Director of the day, Nancy Morison, dropped off a bundle of hand-written ledgers and bank and investment statements. Those documents revealed an endowment of less than $2 million, and a fascinating organization that was giving out little bits of money to a number of charities in Victoria. I had never heard of the concept of a Community Foundation, and I was intrigued.

Through my dozen year stint as the Foundation’s auditor, and then appointments to the Finance Committee and the Board, and ultimately to the Board Chair Position, and now as an Honorary Governor, I have been able to observe the Foundation’s remarkable growth and evolution.

From the early 1980s with a few thousand dollars a year being granted from that $2 million endowment, I watched the size of the Foundation grow:

  • Assets doubled to $4 million in 1992, and then jumped in 1993 with the Foundation’s first gift of $1 million. In those days, endowment growth came largely from bequests.
  • During my time on the Board from 2002 to 2009, assets grew rapidly, especially as the Foundation became known as a careful steward of investments, but also as an efficient administrator and manager of funds set aside for a wide variety of purposes. We attracted government trust funds, the Irving K. Barber Scholarship Funds and First Nations Trust Funds and administered endowments for a number of local charities.
  • By the time I was Chair in 2006, we were administering over $70 million in assets and the number of funds within the Foundation was growing rapidly, as of course were the size and number of grants being made. Today the Foundation is home to $250 million of assets and grants an average of a million dollars per month.

By 2006, our job had become much more than making sure we distributed grants in accordance with wishes provided in wills. We were becoming seen by the community as an organization that could and should play a role in guiding philanthropy in the city and steering funds to causes that mattered most here in Victoria.

Vital Signs was created as a tool to help reveal how the city was doing in a number of areas, but also to identify the most pressing needs and provide a basis for encouraging gifting that would help with those greatest needs. 

Another significant change was a gradual move from making grants based on applications received to making proactive grants to respond to issues identified by Vital Signs. 

While Vital Signs in now the Foundation’s highest profile program, there were challenges getting it off the ground 10 years ago. There were many unknowns, funding for the venture had to be found and it was a big project for a very small staff. The community knew a good program when it saw it though, and it has been embraced and the Foundation recognized for its leadership in shining a light on issues, convening stakeholders and creating community partnerships to address issues. Vital Signs has given the Foundation and the city as a whole, the information needed to better address issues such as homelessness and food security.

One of the other changes I have watched is the advent and growth of Donor Advised Funds, and in particular Family Advised Funds. There is a clear tendency for people to want to influence how their gifts are directed to the huge variety of causes that are out there. The Family Fund is a great way to support the charities of your choice, both local and beyond, while taking advantage of the fabulous stewardship, management and administrative capabilities of the Community Foundation. Whether you want to support causes helping the environment or education or a charity of choice like Canuck Place Children’s Hospice, as Lori and I have done from our fund, the possibilities are endless. The Foundation’s reach is broad in scope, but it provides tools like Vital Signs to help narrow things down to make donor’s choices easier.

Tom and Lori Burley, 2015

Lori Burley:

I am very pleased to be here, as a fund holder as well as a recipient of grant funding. In fact, my motivation for becoming a fund holder was my experience as a funding recipient. I feel fortunate to be in the position I am as principal of an inner city school because I think schools, particularly elementary schools, are the ideal place to influence change for the future. Essentially, with a captive audience, we in education, have the perfect opportunity to support change beyond the scope of reading, writing, numeracy and social responsibility. The initiatives funded by the Victoria Foundation are excellent examples of such change. Outside of the expected outcomes of the Read for the Top initiative of increased literacy, the outcomes of increased physical fitness and literacy of the PISE programs and the increased involvement and enjoyment in music of the Choir Kids programs, I have seen broad and surprising outcomes.

Some of these unexpected outcomes include increased self-confidence, increased safe risk taking to participate in opportunities and willingness to plan family time around these, increased visibility in the community at parks, playgrounds, recreation centres, increased parent communication and involvement with schools and community groups, increased awareness of the link between good nutrition and good health. I have noticed children and parents alike increase in their tolerance of differences and in their ability to show empathy, self-regulation and enjoyment in small pleasures.  

Many of our students come to school ill prepared for the rigor of formal education because of the challenges they face as families. Many are impacted by the current challenges of our world around hunger, homelessness and poverty. I view support from places like the Victoria Foundation and people like yourselves as an opportunity to help connect vulnerable youth with the broader community in ways that will transform their future. Comments from parents such as: “Choir Kids changed our family”, ”Choir Kids showed me the gift within my challenging child and how to appreciate music as a family”, ” my family is enjoying our community parks when we used to stay at home”, “Thank you for giving my kids the opportunity to try new things and be successful in ways that I don’t think I could have afforded”.

In summary, by removing barriers to opportunities for children and families, I think I have seen an increase in families’ awareness in the value of family, the benefits of activity, the potential that community holds for each and the small changes that can make a big difference to thriving rather than just surviving.

School is an opportunity to reach those hard to reach children and families and to affect change in their life trajectory — open doors that cannot even be imagined, remove barriers that cannot be acknowledged and realize potential that simply has yet to be tapped. Funding from Victoria Foundation, carefully thought out and pledged makes a difference beyond the obvious and plays a significant role in proactively addressing the ever increasing challenges of homelessness, poverty and food security. Thank you for being the people who care, to the children who matter.