Victoria’s new philanthropic frontier

City considers asking for donations toward capital projects

Crews work on improvements to Fisherman’s Wharf Park last month. Capital projects that improve quality of life

Call it a sign of the times.

Victoria residents will soon have the opportunity to make a donation toward their city’s capital projects, if a new legacy fund gets the green light from city council.

While endowment funds are typically directed to a social service or centre for the arts, the proposed Shape Your Future Legacy Fund will direct citizen donations to such projects as bike lanes, playgrounds or bus shelters.

“In the long term we could use this fund to build a new swimming pool, or do anything that citizens want to do,” said Coun. Lisa Helps.

She is scheduled to introduce the idea to council at its governance and priorities committee meeting tomorrow (July 19).

At a time when the city faces an infrastructure deficit of approximately $500 million, the fund could help the city achieve the types of things that improve quality of life, freeing up money to deal with necessary infrastructure projects, such as sewers and roads.

If council approves the fund – alongside a $7,500 contribution – it would likely be the first in Canada. It could prove to be the new frontier of philanthropy as municipalities across North America find creative ways to deal with crumbling infrastructure and declining revenues.

Whether Victoria residents will have an appetite to donate is another question. Taxpayers have come to expect their tax dollars will pay for the types of projects that this legacy fund targets.

“It may very well have some appeal, but it’s hard to say,” said Sandra Richardson, CEO of the Victoria Foundation. “It’s perhaps not as appealing (as other endowment funds), but if you think about all the wonderful things that are in the city and if people think ‘my goodness, the city can’t afford to do this, maybe if I left something of my estate, the Crystal Pool could continue to exist.’”

When Richardson first heard of the idea, she called Helps and offered to partner with the city to manage the fund.

The Victoria Foundation has offered $7,500 on condition the city matches the contribution.

People could make a small monthly donation, or make a large one-time donation, Helps said.

Crystal Pool, she pointed out, was built thanks to a legacy from the McPherson family. Today, the pool is nearing the end of its serviceable life, but the city has no funds allocated to replace the facility. A new campaign through the Legacy Fund could put donations to work to build its replacement.

Embracing this type of fund will take an attitude of ownership, said Richardson.

“It should be more about ‘If this is our community, how do we keep it to be this beautiful, vibrant community?’ Funding in all three government sectors has really been pushed back, so it does cause people to say, ‘how can we work differently?’ It will be quite interesting to see the result of this.”

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