Communities around Aotearoa NZ are set to benefit from the investments of $750 million over the coming years, thanks to the recent growth of Community Foundations in New Zealand.
Almost 20 years ago, Sir Stephen Tindall and his friend from college days, Bill Holland, discovered a new way of giving that was gaining real momentum in North America. Bill travelled to the States to take a look at the model of ‘Community Foundations’ which were building new community assets, mostly from local generosity.
“It’s a simple idea really,” says Bill. “The foundations receive donations from individuals, often in the form of bequests, pool them, invest them together and give the income back to communities. For individuals, you can direct your donations to areas of your interest - it can be a bit like having your own trust, without all the hassle”.
As a lawyer who often talked with clients about philanthropy as part of the estate planning process, Bill could see wide potential. He was convinced this was a good idea for New Zealanders, who often wanted to give to something that they care about but, says Bill, “couldn’t find an easy vehicle to do this, without the big fees”.
“Stephen and I both thought the idea had real potential for NZ. I then brought up the subject with my neighbour, Neil Craig (from Craigs Investment Partners). He was on board from the start and that is where The Acorn Foundation, based in the Western Bay of Plenty, was born.”
The Acorn Foundation was established in 2003 and Bill chaired the Foundation for its first 8 years, with The Tindall Foundation and Craigs Investment Partners both providing seed funding to get it off the ground. The foundation steadily grew, and today is self-sufficient and manages an investment portfolio of over $60m, and all from local generosity. “But what you see only tells a small part of the story: Acorn Foundation actually has hundreds of millions of dollars in a pipeline of bequests, all pledged to be gifted for the future of the region,” says Bill.
Since the establishment of Acorn Foundation in 2003, and the earlier establishment of a similar foundation in Wellington (now known as Nikau Foundation), a further 15 Community Foundations have been launched, today covering almost all of New Zealand. While a young network, between the 17 Foundations they already have $230m in investments and have distributed more than $50m in the past 5 years alone.
However, says Bill, that is just the beginning. “We talk about the network as being a bit like an iceberg, what you see on the surface is only a small part of what is going on. There is at least $520m in the pipeline of bequests – adding up to a network worth at least $750m. And all from local generosity.”
It’s been a quiet success story, in part, Bill says, because much of the work going on behind the scenes hasn’t come to reality yet. But as a lawyer he knows that, while they take a while to come to fruition, bequests are real. “Some of them are very substantial, and many often are larger – sometimes much larger - than what we expect. And the great part is that Kiwis love this strategic way of giving to their communities, and often they make their giving really personal, going towards something that has touched their heart and souls”.
Sir Stephen Tindall says that he is proud of The Tindall Foundation’s investment over 20 years and the success of the Community Foundation’s network. “What I love about it is that it’s a community-centric model, authentically about community and the future local people want to create. And it’s not a concept just for the wealthy. We find that people, from all walks of life, leave legacies to be cared for by their local Community Foundation, forever.”
Neil Craig says he is also proud of his early investment in the concept. “I thought it was a brilliant idea right from the outset. Community Foundations are an easy way for locals to invest in the future of their communities. And they are not-for-profit, so we know that they really do maximise returns to community.”
In recent years, as Community Foundations have quietly grown and become an integral part of communities, it’s their community insight that really captures Neil Craigs’ interest. As well as building their own community fund with Acorn Foundation, Craigs Investment Partners also channels all of their Christmas giving through the New Zealand-wide network. “Our local offices work with the local Community Foundations to work out where our donations will be best put to use. Their community insight is invaluable to helping us know where our donations will have the biggest impact,” said Neil.
One of the most rewarding initiatives Craigs has adopted through the Community Foundations is their Workplace Giving programme. “We saw the benefit of building our own community endowment fund through Community Foundations, which provides a very simple way for our employees to donate money to their own communities,” said Neil.
“We have close to 50% of our 650 staff participating and have distributed nearly half a million dollars over the past three years to local communities through this programme.”
“The benefit of Community Foundations is that they have local knowledge and people on the ground, they know who is doing great work and advise what causes and charities to invest in for maximum impact. This is a real value-add to us, and has made our community giving so much sharper in recent years.”
“As a corporate it’s really hard to give well! Community Foundations make it easy and fulfilling. It’s a new way to give, for corporates as well as individuals”.