A sleigh full of holiday cheer was brought to a West Coast pancake house this month. The well-aged regulars were treated to flapjacks by an anonymous benefactor who picked up the tab. He had the staff wish them a merry Christmas and asked if they could pay it forward.
It was an unexpected story that emerged when I asked the value investors at the Corner of Berkshire & Fairfax Message Board for their favourite charities. Normally its inhabitants discuss out of favour stocks and market strategies. Just the sort of thing that would warm the heart of Ebenezer Scrooge. But the generous spirit that infused his life at the end of Mr. Dickens' tale was also plain to see.
Many of those who posted comments were inspired to protect the great outdoors. Several pointed to the Nature Conservancy of Canada as their favourite cause.
The charity acquires important natural areas in an effort to protect them from development.
Another suggested the Bruce Trail Conservancy, which aims to secure a conservation corridor along the Niagara Escarpment. The area contains the famous Ontario Trail, which starts near Niagara Falls in the south and stretches to Tobermory in the North. I've hiked the northern section myself and it's spectacular. I'm thankful for the efforts of all the people who help maintain it.
David McLean, who runs the ROMC fund, suggested giving to the Toronto Brigantine Bursary Fund. It helps poor teenagers sail the Great Lakes on tall ships in the summer. He says it gives kids independence and teaches them real life-skills through adventure. Hopefully they pick up a dash of derring-do along the way.
One out of this world suggestion was the B612 Foundation. It endeavours to protect the Earth from asteroid strikes. It's developing a satellite to track near-earth objects in order to be able to raise the alarm before we go the way of the dinosaurs.
Health-related charities were also popular. For instance, Ronald McDonald House was mentioned by one long-time member. He's currently using their services because one of his daughters is in the neonatal intensive care unit. My thoughts, and well wishes, go out to everyone in similar circumstances.
The Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of Canada is perhaps the lead charity of the message board and it's founder Sanjeev Parsad. He organizes a dinner for those attending the Fairfax Financial annual meeting each year and uses the opportunity to raise money for research into inflammatory bowel disease. It's an overlooked malady and a little extra money might go a long way.
Mr. Parsad also likes the Dakshana Foundation, which was founded by the famous U.S. value investor Mohnish Pabrai and his wife. It helps gifted, but impoverished, students in rural India to get into top-tier universities. It represents a novel way to lift families out of poverty.
But I didn't stick to the value crowd for charitable ideas. I also turned to the thrifty folk at the Financial Webring Forum, which is a well known haunt of index and dividend investors.
They ranked the Mennonite Central Committee highly. It's a relief and development agency that helps people suffering from poverty, conflict, oppression, and natural disasters around the world.
Bruce Cohen, author of The Pension Puzzle, is a regular contributor at the site. He suggested the Ontario Association of Food Banks, which helps support and co-ordinate the supply of food to needy people in the province. (Food Banks Canada helps countrywide and similar associations are present in other provinces.)
He also pointed out that many people aren't aware that Schedule VIII of the Income Tax Act lists many foreign universities that are essentially deemed to be Canadian charities for tax purposes. That's good news for Canadians looking to support research at foreign schools or who simply want to donate to their alma mater.
But this list is hardly exhaustive, please let me know about your favourite charities in the comments section.