Leave a legacy

Giving back – with a bequest to help a community organization.

A thought-provoking message from the young generation.

By Jo Simon

‘Giving back to the community.’  It’s a phrase we encounter from time to time coming from the very wealthy on occasion and sometimes – at least as movingly – from some ordinary joe or jane, who may be turning over some carefully hoarded cash to a local community recreation centre or maybe donating some of his or her time to help cook meals  at a local church kitchen.

But do we stop to think about the meaning of that transaction – about what the community must have given in its turn through the years?  Indeed, do we ever stop and think about what the community has given us:  schools, a safe and happy neighbourhood, clean tree-shaded streets, friendships, baseball diamonds and tennis courts, a ready supply of fresh milk at the local grocery store? Oodles of things in fact, when you come tothe winnipe think of it.
Would we like to give something back?  May  – national Leave a Legacy month in Canada – isn’t a bad time for pondering this. There’s an intriguing, if somewhat improbable, statistic out there which suggests such ponderings might be fruitful. According to  Liz Kovach, chair of the Manitoba Leave a Legacy program, seven to nine per cent of  Canadians have left a gift to the community in their will, but 34 per cent of people have said they would do so if they were asked.

It is a way of giving a gift that will live on in perpetuity and continue to assist and enrich the community long into the future.

Well, it is May and in Manitoba organizations like The Winnipeg Foundation  and The Canadian Association of Gift Planners, the sponsor of Leave a Legacy month, are asking the public to remember their community’s cultural, charitable and other not-for-profit organizations in their wills.

The bulk of such bequests in Manitoba go to endowment funds operated by the Winnipeg Foundation on behalf of major community organizations and a multitude of smaller bodies – some 2,300 individual funds in all – in the cultural, social services, sports, health or recreation fields. Or, where they go to the Foundation directly, they’re used to fund its community grants program, which supports projects of hundreds of charitable organizations in the community.   Some funds under the Winnipeg Foundation umbrella  stand on their own in the name of a donor  family or of a person that family has wanted to honour, the proceeds going to organizations targeted by the donors.

Donations can be made to endowment funds through bequests, charitable trusts, life insurance, or RRSPs and RRIFs.

For some 20 years now, the Foundation and community groups have tried to get the public thinking about leaving a bequest as one way of gifting community charities.  In very recent times  organizations like the Winnipeg Foundation and Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra  have gone one step further and invited people making such gifts to become members of their legacy circles.

“For many years we mostly were saying thank you to lawyers and executors,” says Leslie Weir, director of family philanthropy at the Winnipeg Foundation. “We didn’t know who the legacy donors were until they were gone.”  Now these donors are getting recognition, an ongoing thank you from the organizations, and a chance to get to learn about their activities closer up. Members of the WSO Legacy Circle automatically receive membership, and all the benefits offered by the Foundation as well as its own banquets, special concert tickets and more. Even people who prefer to give in silence can apply and become anonymous members of the circle.

As Leslie Weir explains, the Foundation has no idea how many people today have arranged a bequest for a Manitoba organization in their wills. Historically, the numbers aren’t huge. Since the birth of the Foundation in 1921, it has received some 800 bequests.

In the old days, donors left it to the Foundation to decide where the money should go. Today’s donors are taking a more intimate interest in the operations of their chosen beneficiaries and tending to state the type of work they wish to support. Though the concept of raising money through bequests has been actively looked at for a generation, Weir says, most cultural and charitable organizations find their short-term need for cash is so great they don’t want to shift their focus from fund-raising to longer-term financial efforts and confuse donors. Yet the value of endowments and their long-term persistence is clearly not to be shrugged at.

It’s 91 years since entrepreneur William Forbes Alloway put up $100,000 to launch the Winnipeg Foundation as the first community foundation in Canada – a donation that was followed up by gifts of $1.76 million from Alloway and $740,000 from his wife upon their death.  The Foundation and associated legacy funds continue to fulfill his dream for this community, and to aim ever higher. Can we aim higher as well?

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