BC Unclaimed’s social philanthropy business model support the public good

October 10, 2018

One of the most distinctive aspects of British Columbia’s unclaimed property program is that it has a philanthropic component to it.  Each year, a portion of BC Unclaimed’s outstanding unclaimed funds are transferred to Vancouver Foundation for philanthropic purposes.

Last year, $2.8 million was transferred to Vancouver Foundation to support community programs. Since 2004, BC Unclaimed has transferred more than $35.8 million to Vancouver Foundation, which manages an endowment of $1.2 billion in assets, and grants approximately $1 million each week to support community and social initiatives.

“Over the years, we’ve had a lot of interest from other jurisdictions across North America on BC Unclaimed’s social philanthropy business model, but to date no other unclaimed property organization uses a portion of its funds for charitable purposes,” says Alena Levitz, BC Unclaimed Executive Director.

She’s quick to point out that BC Unclaimed’s social philanthropy model doesn’t mean that the pool of unclaimed funds available to claimants is being depleted.

Each year, millions of dollars of provincially regulated money goes unclaimed in dormant credit union accounts, unpaid wages, over-payments to debt collectors, unclaimed proceeds from courts, pension funds, estates and forgotten real estate deposits.  These unclaimed funds, when transferred to BC Unclaimed, are prudently invested.  The portion of funds directed to Vancouver Foundation each year is determined by the BC Unclaimed Board based on an actuarial calculation that ensures funds are available to meet future claims, operate the society and transfer funds that are ultimately unclaimed for philanthropic purposes.

Vancouver Foundation, which supports community-identified initiatives and social programs in the province, directs these funds to high-priority projects that have the most community impact. In response to BC’s opioid crisis, the Foundation recently granted $2.25 million to the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use to support the development of an addiction system of care.  Since 2014, more than $3 million has been granted for public engagement, knowledge exchange, drug checking services, clinical trials, and assisting frontline agencies to address the opioid epidemic.

Another example is the Neighbourhood Small Grants (NSG) Program.  NSG funds are distributed to qualified community-based organizations, which provide small grants in the $50 to $500 range to individuals for projects that help strengthen personal connections in the community. Funded projects such as community gardens, canning workshops, intergenerational storytelling projects, street parties, and neighbourhood book exchanges help connect and engage residents who share skills and knowledge within the community.

Funds transferred to Vancouver Foundation from BC Unclaimed are unrestricted funds – donations that can be used for any purpose. Unrestricted funds are incredibly valuable to a not-for-profit because they can be directed where the need is the greatest, providing the charitable organization with the flexibility to address emerging social issues and take advantage of opportunities as they arise.

BC Unclaimed has a long history with Vancouver Foundation.  The Society was established in 2003 as the Administrator of BC’s unclaimed property program under an agreement between the Province of British Columbia and Vancouver Foundation. Two senior executive members of the Foundation sit on the BC Unclaimed Board of Directors.

“Over the years, BC Unclaimed has greatly benefited from our relationship with Vancouver Foundation,” says Levitz.  “We’ve been able to avail ourselves of their business expertise and knowledge of corporate governance to reach the Society’s short- and long-term goals. It’s really been a win-win for both organizations.”

“Of the $36 million we’ve received from BC Unclaimed since 2004, 100% of that has gone to support charities across our province,” said Kevin McCort, the CEO of Vancouver Foundation. “It’s a partnership we’re proud of and grateful for that helps build stronger communities from the ground up, in every corner of BC.”

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