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$8m pledged for new philanthropic foundation

  • The Bermuda Community Foundation: From the left are Stanley Lee, Myra Virgil, Peter Durhager, Kevin O’Donnell and Christopher Oechsli.

A new grant-making charitable organisation which hopes to distribute $1.5 million to $2 million a year by 2018 has been unveiled.

The Bermuda Community Foundation (BCF) is an independent funding organisation designed to “serve as a permanent philanthropic resource as a liaison between non-profit organisation and future donors in Bermuda”.

With starting pledges of approximately $8.4 million from global organisations Atlantic Philanthropies, RennaissanceRe, Bloomberg Philanthropies, XL Foundation, as well as individuals, the BCF will provide funds to charities, community organisations and non-profit groups.

It aims to ensure more effective sustainable funding for the charitable sector and also strengthen and grow new sources of funding.

The BCF will also help shape funders’ grant-making strategies and provide professional guidance for institutions’ grant-making to ensure they have the greatest impact on the communities and people they serve.

Much work has been done since January 2013 to prepare for the launch, said BCF chairman Peter Durhager.

“Some people may be wondering why start this now when Bermuda’s been mired in the worst economic conditions in living memory for most of us,” he said.

“And I think a good analogy for that is the adage the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. But we didn’t so the next best time to plant that tree is now.”

Mr Durhager added: “In a few years time it will be bearing fruit and Bermuda will without doubt benefit from the thoughtfulness and advanced planning.”

Describing the BCF, he explained: “In its simple form, it’s a vehicle for raising money, investing it and then directing the funds that those investments earn, back into the community.”

Mr Durhager said there are multiple ways for people to get involved, such as families who set up funds for a loved one which would help a cause that person cared about or was involved with.

“Individuals who may want to leave money to a non-profit to be disbursed over time, perhaps through their will. Others want to give anonymously and may not wish to navigate the complexity of setting up their own trust structures,” he said.

“Groups of friends may want to set up a giving circle fund that represents their common interests. Charities can establish their own agency fund for donors committed to their long-term sustainability.

“Businesses may want to direct some of their charitable giving through the foundation to collaborate with other funders on programmes of similar interests or directly to the endowed fund for the benefit of all of Bermuda forever,” he added.

“The BCF embraces the generosity already alive and well in Bermuda and provides a structure for giving and for planning those gifts long into the future.

“The BCF isn’t just about corporate giving to Bermuda but improving opportunities for everyone to give.”

Describing the initial pledges for the BHF as “a fantastic start”, Mr Durhager added: “These funds will enable us to begin building the endowment and also commence grantmaking as soon as possible.”

Fittingly, the lead sponsor for the new institution is Atlantic Philanthropies, which was established in Bermuda in 1982.

It was formed to advance US businessman Chuck Feeney’s “giving while living” philosophy.

In the 1980s he was one of the richest men in the world, having amassed a fortune after co-founding a global duty-free business.

During the past 30 years Atlantic has made charitable donations and grants totaling $6.4 billion worldwide. It aims to give out its final grants by 2016 and end operations by 2020.

In Bermuda, Atlantic has invested upwards of $22.3m to support non-profit organisations.

Commenting on its $6m pledge to the BHF, Atlantic’s president and CEO Christopher Oechsli said: “Our contribution is not so much a one-time gift as it is a final embrace that will last deep into the future and beyond our own philanthropic lifetime.

“It’s a day of looking forward as well as a day of looking back. Bermuda was our first and will be our last home so there’s a special meaning, a special value to us for this initiative today.

“We feel a great sense of responsibility to Bermuda and its people, and we are pleased to help launch and support a community foundation that embodies (founder) Chuck Feeney’s spirit of giving and ensures local organisations have a steady and sustainable source of future funding.

“The Bermuda Community Foundation is its final grant in Bermuda,” he added.

Kevin O’Donnell, president and CEO of RenaissanceRe, said: “The BCF offers donors the opportunity to help build a permanent philanthropic endowment for Bermuda, plus flexibility in the ways their donations can be structured. Our company’s $2 million donation will be directed towards a number of purposes, including annual grants under the direction of the RenaissanceRe Charitable Contributions Committee and special initiatives, including the Bermuda Sloop Foundation and the Railway Trail Initiative.”

Stanley Lee, CFO of XL Insurance (Bermuda), and a member of the XL Foundation Board of Directors, said: “We should never underestimate the importance of the well-being of Bermuda and its impact on all aspects of our lives; it is part of what makes Bermuda such a wonderful place to live and work. For the future, the XL Foundation will continue to operate as it currently does, and we are delighted to have a new partner in the philanthropic field.”

In the future, BCF will have two grant cycles per year which will be advertised to ensure a transparent process.

BCF CEO and managing director Myra Virgil said: “It will take time to grow the endowment and produce returns on investment of the funds. However, in April we will start to make grants from some of the donor-directed funds.

“Understanding how and when to resource these efforts, and how all of these services fit together has to be the new way of thinking about the sector,” she added.

“There may even be possibilities for providing start-up capital for a promising idea where funds have been particularly hard to get.”