British Columbia

Years of stewardship needed to land donations like Jim Pattison's $75M for St. Paul's Hospital

Mega-gifts like billionaire Jim Pattison's $75 million donation to St. Paul's Hospital might be announced overnight but they're not negotiated overnight.

These types of gifts 'don't come out of the blue' say fundraising professionals

B.C. billionaire Jim Pattison has made the largest donation in Canadian history by a private citizen to a medical facility. (Glen Kugelstadt/CBC)

Mega-gifts like billionaire Jim Pattison's $75 million donation to St. Paul's Hospital might be announced overnight but they're certainly not negotiated overnight. 

Gifts of this size and nature typically take two, three, even four years of process according to fundraising professionals. 

"It usually starts with a pretty broad conversation between an organization and a potential donor to see if there's alignment between what the organization is trying to accomplish and the values of the donor," said Jeff Norris, president and CEO of Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation (RCHF), in New Westminster, B.C. 

Once that alignment is found, there's usually lengthy back-and-forth discussions about opportunities for a gift . 

"There's a lot of work that typically happens before someone sits down and says 'we'd like to give you X amount of dollars," said Norris.

New trend

Massive contributions in the seven, eight, nine figure range are a relatively new phenomenon on the Canadian philanthropic landscape. 

In the last 20 years, according to Norris, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of big donations and they're taking up a much bigger segment of overall fundraising among charities.

About 85 per cent of all revenues that came into charities last year in Canada came from just 25 per cent of the donors, said Norris.

"There are more of the ultra-wealthy in Canada who have the opportunity to make these types of gifts," he said.

"And I think charities have done a better job of being able to communicate their very specific needs to these types of donors."  

Tax benefits 

Those who give also receive — in the form of tax benefits that vary depending on the nature of the monetary gift. 

"People can use charitable receipts to reduce their taxes by up to 75 per cent of their income," said Jennifer Johnstone, the Association of Fundraising Professionals' board president. 

"It's possible for folks to make a large gift and then carry forward the tax benefit of that for five years." 

Canada Revenue Agency charitable donation tax credits are calculated province by province. 

"In B.C., for instance, if you give $1,000, you get combined tax credits worth a little under $400," said Johnstone. 

Counting on donations 

Pressure on fundraisers to do more is coming somewhat from reductions in government funding said Johnstone. 

"In health care and for hospitals, we're seeing the growth of large hospital foundations that are responsible for a good deal of capital," she said. 

"Capital fundraising — not all of it but a good portion of it — comes from private philanthropy." 

There's been a long history of charity playing a role in health care in Canada agreed Norris. 

"Typically, the nuts and bolts of operating a hospital are going to be covered through government funding," he said. 

"Where charities and donors can play the best role is when they're able to target money towards innovation.

"Towards ways that we can push the health care system forward in bigger leaps and bounds than what the government can fund." 

Norris continued to say — as a taxpayer, not a fundraiser — he feels it makes sense for governments to be conservative in the way they make investments and for donors to take on projects with more risk attached to them. 

It's exciting news to see a big donation like Pattison's, he said. 

"Anytime the spotlight is shone like this — on the idea of charity happening — we'll see an uptick of people coming to their own local hospitals to give." 

Belle Puri is a former member of the RCH Foundation board of directors and was board chair from 2009-2014. 



Belle Puri


Belle Puri is a veteran journalist who has won awards for her reporting in a variety of fields. Belle contributes to CBC Vancouver's Impact Team, where she investigates and reports on stories that impact people in their local community.