Growing up in tiny Eston, Sask., Frederick Mulder knew the value of hard work and the need to help others. In the heat of the Prairie summers he sold Christmas cards to housewives and mixed Kool-Aid to sell to crews raising grain elevators. He made enough money to attend the University of Saskatchewan, yet 10 per cent was always set aside for charity.
After earning a doctorate from Brown University, studying at Oxford and establishing himself in London as an art dealer specializing in European printmaking from 1470 to 1970, particularly the works of Picasso and Munch, he never forgot the importance of philanthropy – or his Prairie roots.
Today he continues to sell art, but Dr. Mulder, 73, is also chair of the Frederick Mulder Foundation, an £7-million ($11.6-million) charitable trust he runs with his three children that finances organizations focusing on climate change, global poverty and social causes. Groups that the foundation supports include Greenpeace, the Environmental Defense Fund and Academics Stand Against Poverty.
He is also founder of the Funding Network, an organization active in 15 countries that arranges live crowdfunding events to support social change projects. The organization has raised more than £10-million, held more than 350 events around the world and supported more than 1,500 charitable projects that aim to achieve social change, including StreetDoctors and Bees for Development.
He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen four years ago for services to philanthropy, yet Canada remains close to his heart. In 2012 he sold 405 original Picasso linocuts and working proofs valued at $20-million to Saskatoon philanthropist Ellen Remai, who donated them to create the Remai Modern, a gallery set to open in the city this year.
Dr. Mulder donated half the value of the sale to his foundation and has given an additional linocut as well as 23 ceramic pieces by the artist worth about $1-million to the gallery. It will house one of the most extensive and important collections of its kind in the world.
How did your modest background in Canada's Prairies teach you about philanthropy?
My mother was a war widow, my father was killed when I was a year old, in France. At age 7, I started selling Christmas cards door-to-door in this little town; I did that until I left for university. I certainly knew even then that I had to help support my mother and me, and I always liked having little businesses. I belonged to a church that practised tithing in those days, so from a very early age I had the idea that you should give 10 per cent for some other purpose. Even when I stopped being a churchgoer, I kept up the practice. I just moved more to social issues, in my case the developing world.
Why do you give?
The first answer is because I can. Mind you, we all can, really, it's just a question of how much. It seems to me the most natural thing is to use some of your resources to do what you think needs doing. It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. I don't understand why more people don't do it.
What do you hope will come from your giving?
I give because I think there are things that need to be changed, but I can't do it myself. I'm running a business, I don't have those skills. So I give to people who can do it. To me, it's an investment in a different kind of world.
In some cases you give well over 10 per cent, like you donated half of the proceeds of the sale of the Picassos in Saskatchewan. Why so much?
I knew that being able to put $10-million into a foundation would allow me to play at a rather different level. And I thought the world needed it more than I needed it or my kids needed it. I've helped my kids, I've helped put them through school, they don't have debts. But I don't want to give them so much that they don't have to work.
Is creating a foundation a good way for people of high net worth to be able to manage their philanthropy?
I think so. First of all, you only need to make one decision a year about how much money you're going to give away. After that, it's just a question of distribution; it insulates you from feeling besieged by every needy cause. And once it's in the foundation, you can't take it back. I have a paid, part-time director for the foundation, so if I have a funding request I usually refer it to her, so she takes the first call or has the first meeting. Only then does it come to me. Mind you, we have already developed our focus, so we have a good idea whom to see and whom to say a very polite "no" to.
You also encourage other people of means to give. How?
That's partly why I set up the Funding Network, which does live crowdfunding. The crowd varies in size, sometimes there are 15 people, sometimes there are 250 people, depending on the "ask" and what kind of projects there are. So what I call the "mass affluent" – but also the rather wealthy – can come and hear a variety of presentations, usually three to four. It all happens quite quickly; you talk about the projects and you try to make each project happen, together.
Why is this sort of thing becoming popular on the philanthropy scene?
There's a growth of giving circles, and crowdfunding, either online or in person, because I think we've realized that the really wealthy were always well catered for, they could hire staff and charities paid them a lot of attention. But there's a whole class of people below that who aren't very wealthy, and who sometimes aren't giving at the level that they could be, because they're not privy to the right amount of information or the right stimulus.
It's really helpful to have a peer group, because giving money to social causes is still kind of countercultural. It runs against the grain of capitalist culture, particularly to give to rather unpopular causes like prisoners or refugees or to the developing world, not to the symphony or the local art museum.
You primarily give to social causes, yet you gave a major donation yourself to the art gallery in Saskatoon. Why Picassos on the Prairies?
That was really a very special one-off. I wanted to do something for the province and the city in recognition of growing up there and all that it had given me. And so I put together a Picasso ceramics collection to complement the Picasso linocut collection that Ellen Remai had given them. It wasn't making a change in the world, it was a thank you gift to the city.
Philanthropy at your level can be challenging. Do you have advice for givers in the wealthier set?
First, join a giving circle if you can find one, a network of givers. The other piece of advice is to do a philanthropy training, something that teaches you how to do strategic philanthropy. You visit charities, you do case studies with them, and you learn how to develop your own vision of philanthropy. It's really useful to treat it like a skill. There are things to learn.
What is in your future in terms of philanthropy?
I hope for another 10 good years of giving, maybe a little more, up to my mid-80s. It would be nice to be more or less spent out then, and I can take time off.
Is it better to give while you're alive?
There are needs now, so why not have the enjoyment and the fun of using the money now, rather than putting it in the bank to be given at a later date by your children or by people for whom it might be a burden, and who aren't necessarily going to have your vision?
Is it fun?
There are aspects of it that are a good deal of fun. It's got to be enjoyable, you've got to find a way to make it really interesting for yourself.