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Burnbrae Farms, a family business in which three generations are involved, has a long legacy of giving back to the community through supporting first local and now national philanthropic endeavours.

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Many Canadians are familiar with family enterprises operating in their communities: the bakery next door, the manufacturing plant at the edge of town, the multinational household brand. Yet few are likely aware of the extent of the philanthropic contributions business families make.

Although their enterprises operate in different sectors, there are powerful similarities in how Carol Newell, co-founder of Renewal Partners, and Margaret Hudson, president of Burnbrae Farms, approach philanthropy. Both have strong philanthropic roots and credit professional advice and next-generation involvement for enhancing their journey to advance health and sustainability across the country.

Philanthropic roots

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Ms. Hudson leads a sixth generation family business, in which three generations are currently involved. “My great-grandparents purchased our farm in Lyn, Ontario, in 1891,” she says, adding that when her father brought chickens to the family’s farm in the early ’40s, this set the direction for what is now a large-scale national egg business.

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“When you’re farming in a community where people have needs, you help out. That’s the kind of tradition that, once established, gets carried through generations,” says Ms. Hudson. “My great-aunt started the Hudson Burnbrae Foundation in the early ’70s. And when we expanded our operation to other communities, we established the Burnbrae Farm Foundation, which allowed us to take our giving policies national.”

Similarly to the Hudsons, the Newell family has a long history of supporting community causes. “My family has always actively contributed to the well-being of the small town where Newell Mfg began four generations ago,” says Ms. Newell. “A few years after my father died, my mother began making larger strategic donations, which were more reflective of our increased philanthropic capacity and likely prompted by professional advice.”

Watching her mother maximize charitable giving inspired Ms. Newell to create her own foundation. Through her investments via Renewal Partners and philanthropy via Endswell Foundation, she has nurtured a wide variety of broad-spectrum solutions to the ecological and social problems facing her home province, British Columbia.

I began my major philanthropy at 37 and released a huge amount of capital for common benefit before age 57. My goal was to effect systemic change. I wanted to try and understand the root causes of an issue – and then find ways to address them.

— Carol Newell, co-founder of Renewal Partners

“I began my major philanthropy at 37 and released a huge amount of capital for common benefit before age 57,” she says. “My goal was to effect systemic change. I wanted to try and understand the root causes of an issue – and then find ways to address them.”

Partnering for greater impact

Leveraging capital for generative investing enabled Ms. Newell to “seed exciting new ideas and projects, and watch amazing initiatives and experiments take shape and interconnect.”

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Carol Newell also comes from a business family well versed in giving.

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For maximizing impact, she suggests enlisting advisers and allies with shared values who can leverage their dedication and experience to allow initiatives to succeed. “The ingenuity, drive and passionate vision of our community partners gave us all the thrill of investing in a healthy future we could believe in,” says Ms. Newell, adding that among the lessons she learned was to "give people the latitude to make mistakes.

“Overzealous diligence and mandates to be perfect can hold us back,” she says. “This is a time to give flight to new thinking.”

Partnerships have also been important for Ms. Hudson, who says events of 2020 – and the global pandemic – have reminded her of her father’s accounts of the times of the Great Depression. Then as now, the importance of food has come to the forefront.

“Since we’re in the food business, it is natural that we leverage our strengths for pursuing philanthropy,” she says. “This year, when the needs of food banks went up, we donated almost four million eggs into the system with our partners.”

Engaging the next generation

In addition to advancing food security through a number of initiatives, Burnbrae Farms' extensive philanthropic portfolio includes causes related to the environment, health, culture, sports and more – reflecting the passions and priorities of different generations of family members.

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For ensuring continuity for both the business and philanthropy, the next generation needs to be at the table, believes Ms. Hudson. Having the right structures and processes in place – as well as drawing on professional advice – can help drive engagement and manage through conflicts that might arise.

A family council provides the framework for managing the three circles: ownership, business and family, explains Ms. Hudson. “Integrating our gifting strategies and foundation into the family process helps us gain insights into what is important to family members and channel our initiatives into such areas.”

This engagement builds value and creates alignment. “Directing the activity of the foundation together will help with succession and integrating the next generation into our shareholder group,” she says. “Our parents built the business, and our generation is focusing on the infrastructure that will support our family in continuing to own the business and work together. Ultimately, we feel very strongly that the foundation is integral to our legacy as a business family.”

Ms. Newell also draws inspiration from the next generation. “It is obvious that youth are clamouring for us to go forward,” she says. “Let’s up our game and shift our behaviours on behalf of the generations coming.”


Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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