We all know that great trees grow from tiny seeds, which makes the tree logo of the Salt Spring Island Foundation particularly appropriate. Thirty-five years ago, John C. Lees planted a $10,000 seed that has grown to a $7.5 million endowment fund solely for the benefit of Salt Spring Island charities. Since then the Foundation has granted the amazing sum of $3.3 million, with over 550 grants awarded to over 60 local charities since its inception.
In 1984, Lees first conceived of establishing a community endowment fund, and his bequest was the first donation to the fund. Lees died on March 1, 1984, just five days before the Salt Spring Island Foundation was registered as a Public Foundation with Revenue Canada in Ottawa. Alan Pierce, Colin Mouat and Richard Toynbee were the first three trustees.
The Foundation has benefitted from exceptional leadership over its 35 years. Between 1991 and 2006, under the chairmanship of Bob Rush, the community endowment fund swelled from $25,000 to $2 million. The Foundation continued to flourish and grow after Carol Biely succeeded Bob Rush as Foundation chair. Carol served from 2006 to 2015 and built the organization to become an important player in community philanthropy. Since then, Kees Ruurs has led the organization through a time of change and capacity-building, recently succeeded by Brian Lawson.
The Foundation has contributed to almost all of the island’s important community projects and charitable institutions, touching on all areas of need, which means that almost every person living on the island has been touched by a Foundation grant in some way.
While grant-making remains at the core of the organization’s work, the Foundation’s role has also evolved over the past 35 years. It now takes a more active part in assessing community priorities, such as the 2017 VitalSigns® report, and has recently engaged in grassroots granting to promote community belonging with the Neighbourhood Small Grants program, now in its second year.
Foundation chair Brian Lawson says, “The Salt Spring Island Foundation is a significant community asset. Over the last 35 years it has helped to build and shape our island community for the benefit of all. The result of countless acts of generosity, large and small, the Foundation will continue to work to strengthen our community and promote the well-being of all.”
Over the years, the Foundation has benefitted from loyal donors, as well as hard-working Board and committee volunteers and staff; close to 150 people have volunteered in some capacity. The Foundation now operates out of a downtown Ganges office with 2 staff members, 10 Board members and about 40 other volunteers.
The Salt Spring Island Foundation’s mission is to inspire philanthropy in support of local charities for the enduring beneﬁt of our community. There is no doubt the Foundation will continue to inspire and serve the people of Salt Spring Island over the next 35 years—and long after.