NBR RICH LIST 2016: The business of giving - how NBR Rich Listers are helping out

One characteristic New Zealand’s Rich List philanthropists tend to share is they shun the limelight.

Neal and Annette Plowman, for example, reportedly had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the launch of the $100 million foundation they founded two years ago and the pair took self-effacement to the nth degree by not even naming Next Foundation after their family.

The Todd Foundation, another of New Zealand’s private family-funded charities, might have put the family name on the organisation but politely said “no thanks” when asked to be interviewed for this story.

Another shrinking violet is John Holdsworth of Datacom fame whose Holdsworth Charitable Trust gives to IHC and the Special Olympics.

But there can be no doubting that New Zealanders as a whole are a generous lot on a per capita basis and that wealthy families are no exception to the rule.

A study by Berl commissioned by Philanthropy NZ and published last December found New Zealand ranked third of the top 20 most charitable countries in the five years ended 2014 – behind only the US and Ireland and one place ahead of Australia.

It estimated total private giving in 2014 amounted to $2.8 billion and $263.8 million of that came from voluntary trusts such as Next, Todd and the Tindall Foundation, founded by Sir Stephen Tindall.

(Some $1.53 billion came from individual New Zealanders and $905 million from statutory trusts such as the 12 community trusts set up in 1988 and which eventually become Trust Bank, since sold to Westpac, the 25 energy trusts set up when the old electricity boards were dismantled and the Lottery Grants Board.)

Businesses might appear a little miserly, accounting for just $77.2 million, or 3% of the total, but Berl noted for every $1 of cash businesses give, they give an estimated $1.43 worth of sponsorship and $3.27 worth of in-kind goods and services.

“New Zealand is definitely a generous nation by comparison with others. That said, I think we sometimes do better at giving in kind than in money and, no question, there’s room to improve,” says Kate Frykberg, chairwoman of Philanthropy New Zealand.

Ms Frykberg bemoans the tendency of New Zealand’s benefactors to duck for cover.

“It would be nice if more of us would be prepared to be more open about our giving. I think that in turn would encourage other people to be more generous,” she says.

But Ms Frykberg has close-up experience of that wishing to duck for cover – she was Todd Foundation’s executive director for 10 years until 2015.

The Charities Commission shows the Todd Foundation had $25.5 million in total assets in December 2014, the latest figures available, and paid out $4.6 million in grants that year. 

Founded in 1972 (various other charitable Todd family organisations pre-dated it), the foundation’s website says it has given away more than $59 million since inception.

Although the Todd family still makes an appearance on this year’s Rich List, other previously prominent families have long since slipped below the radar. Nevertheless, some of the charities they established haven’t.

The JR McKenzie Trust, founded in 1940, is a prime example of how such family philanthropy can become multi-generational.

Its major asset is 51% of Wellington’s Rangatira Investments and, with total assets of $108 million, the JR McKenzie Trust distributed $3.6 million in the year ended March 2015 to groups dealing with child poverty, education, the deaf, Maori development and refugee services.

Chris McKenzie, the great-grandson of the founder, Sir John, sits on the trust’s board. He says the trust’s activities have changed dramatically over the years from a rather scatter-gun approach of giving small amounts of money to many causes to narrowing the focus to just a few.

McKenzie says he doesn’t think his great grandfather would recognise the trust these days and he fully expects it will continue to evolve over the next 75 years.

“I can’t imagine what issues we will be trying to address but I sincerely hope we’re continuing to be thankful for the past but not bound by it,” he says.

McKenzie says life dealt him “a lucky hand,” giving him the good fortune to be born into a wealthy family.

“I had an absolutely picture-perfect childhood, but as I grew up, I realised not everybody has as easy a life,” and he says he feels an obligation to help those not so fortunate.

His two children, four-and-a-half year old Clementine and two-year old Matilda, are being brought up in the same tradition.

One of New Zealand’s largest family-backed charities is the Tindall Foundation established by The Warehouse founder Sir Stephen Tindall in 1994.

With assets of $180.5 million, the Tindall Foundation gave away more than $135 million in its first 10 years and made an added $10.6 million in grants in the year ended March 2015.

Another example is the Fletcher Trust, established by Sir James Fletcher in 1943 and which had $28 million in assets at June 30 last year. 

The Hugh Green Foundation, established in 1998, by that same Hugh who went from being born in poverty as the fifth of eight children in County Donegal in Ireland to amassing a fortune in New Zealand before dying in mid-2012, also continues to give, despite the squabbles amongst his descendants.

With assets of more than $73 million, the foundation focuses on poverty, medical research and community development and specifically eschews funding sports or the arts.

Another benefactor who is very much still alive and kicking and not as shy as some is former New Zealand Stock Exchange chairman Sir Eion Edgar, 71, who says he still works a 60-hour week and devotes about a third of that to things such as helping to link up all the walking and cycling trails in Central Otago.

Sir Eion, who also chair the NZ Dementia Prevention Trust, says as well as devoting his time and fund-raising skills to such causes, his family gives away about $500,000 a year.  

With his wife, Lady Jan, Sir Eion is also a funding patron of the Arts Foundation, says his criteria for giving are “what interests us and will help the community.”

New Zealand isn’t missing out on the trend of IT developments creating billionaires faster and leading to much younger benefactors – think Bill Gates of Microsoft, reputedly the world’s largest charitable giver, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg.

Sam Morgan, who made his fortune when he sold the now-listed Trade Me, has established the Jasmine Charitable Trust which, with nearly $28 million in assets, gave away more than $4 million in the year ended March 2015, most of it to overseas projects such as Educate Girls. 

For full Rich List 2016 coverage, visit the NBR Rich List 2016 home page here. For full Rich List access, get a 30-day free trial to NBR here.

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