Gwaii Trust to launch new community foundation

Directors of the Gwaii Trust Society are getting set to launch a new community foundation focused on social causes.

Directors of the Gwaii Trust Society are getting set to launch a new community foundation focused on social causes.

Called the Haida Gwaii Community Foundation, it will be able to accept tax-receipted donations something the Gwaii Trust Society cannot do. It will also be able to partner with some of the 191 community foundations across Canada.

Speaking at the Gwaii Trust AGM on Saturday, Carla Lutner, chief operations officer, said it’s very early days yet, but already there are three potential donors who all want to help fund Haida Gwaii children’s camps.

Unlike grants from Gwaii Trust, which tend to fund start-ups and special projects, matching grants from the foundation could be used to support day-to-day funding for some of the islands’ 265 non-profit societies.

“Gwaii Trust can’t really do that,” said Berry Wijdeven, Gwaii Trust director for central Graham Island.

“We have about $3 million a year if we started to do that, a lot of the amount would go there.”

Wijdeven said the idea is to provide matching funds that help groups help themselves.

“If somebody does some fundraising, they can come to us and say, ‘Hey, we can double that,’” he said.

“We want to help, but we can’t say that we’re going to core-fund all these projects.”

Chief Investment Officer Errol Winter said Gwaii Trust had a “break even” year in 2016 by the end of the year, the fund was worth about $84.8 million.

Managed by three separate investment teams, the Gwaii Trust has had average annual returns of between six to 12 per cent over the last 20 years, with a relatively low management cost that is now less than half of one per cent.

The trust earned $5.4 million last year, a seven per cent return that nearly matched that of 2015.

About 60 per cent, or $3.2 million, went to Gwaii Trust grants that supported everything from a new community trail in Port Clements to the Skidegate Unity Pole, the short film RedGirl by Patrick Shannon (Nang K’uulaas), the first all-island healthcare providers’ forum, and a large part of GwaiiTel’s $10-million fibre-optic upgrade.

During a question-and-answer session at the AGM, Gwaii Trust Society directors were challenged to take on bigger, bolder economic development projects rather than waiting for the islands’ non-profits to approach them for funding.

Echoing comments made at an all-island Economic Forum held in 2014, Jason Thompson, a Masset village councillor, noted that in other communities, similar trusts have been used to take quite bold steps, such as buying a small airline.

Directors responded by saying the Gwaii Trust is preparing to move in that direction, but it takes time, noting that the volunteer board took 18 months to carefully develop a strategic plan.

“It takes a lot for an institution to transform,” said Wijdeven.