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Dr. Sukh Brar, an anesthesiologist at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., is pictured on Dec. 11, 2015 using the ROTEM (short for rotational thromboelastometry) which was donated to the hospital. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)
Dr. Sukh Brar, an anesthesiologist at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, B.C., is pictured on Dec. 11, 2015 using the ROTEM (short for rotational thromboelastometry) which was donated to the hospital. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)


Philanthropy bankrolls research and innovation in British Columbia Add to ...

Sukh Brar figures up to 800 lives have been saved in part because of a new cardiac ultrasound machine that allows doctors to better track heart conditions during and after surgery.

It’s one of three high-tech machines that have come to Dr. Brar and the cardiac intensive-care unit at Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster, thanks to private giving. The others are an automated CPR machine and a machine that monitors blood quality levels and is expected to reduce the need for blood-transfusion by up to 50 per cent during open-heart surgeries.

As British Columbians head into the giving season, many of them have already opened their wallets this year to myriad hospitals, arts organizations, universities, private schools and other worthy causes that increasingly rely on donations. The money gets things done, but it throws those organizations into fierce competition, especially in times of economic decline, and leads to unavoidable regional disparities.

In health care, the provincial government has worked over the past four years to bring explosive costs down to a 3 per cent annual growth rate from the almost 6 per cent rate it was climbing at in 2012, increasingly devoting public dollars to basic services in acute, residential and community care and general wellness. Funds for enhancing equipment and facilities at hospitals often take years to be doled out through government avenues.

But with medical technology advancing more quickly than governments can approve funding, hospitals officials say they need foundation funds to meet the demand.

“If we want to get anything that’s cutting edge we have to partner with the foundation to create those relationships [with donors] to get those technologies,” said Dr. Brar.

Private donations play an even larger role in bankrolling the arts in British Columbia. Almost a quarter of the revenue gathered by arts and culture groups in B.C. in 2014 came from private donors, one of the highest proportions in the country. That might be because such groups in B.C. get the lowest amount of provincial funding and rank the second-lowest in terms of federal contributions.

“The fact is we now live in an environment where taxpayer resources are constrained,” says Barbara Grantham, president of the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC Hospital Foundation.

“In order to bring enhancements and improvements to the system and in order to fund research in particular … taxpayer money doesn’t generally go to research. All of that work that drives excellence in the system, that drives innovation – most of that [is] at least in part reliant upon philanthropy.”

Since 2010, hospital foundations within the province’s six main health authorities have funnelled almost $685-million to health-care facilities across the province. In the same period, the provincial Health Minister has given those same health authorities $60-billion for hospital facilities.

Those hospital foundations brought in more than $161-million in contributions this year – 50 per cent more than they did in 2010, according to audited financial statements of the six main health authorities in the province.

Over the same time, provincial government funds have increased by roughly 23 per cent.

The money brought in by the foundations primarily comes from donors and sponsors. Most of that money helps finance new equipment, construction projects and enhancement of the quality of existing services.

Laura Heinze, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, said in an e-mailed statement “it is important to recognize that our publicly funded system is responsible to the taxpayers, and must stay sustainable and efficient.

“Philanthropic giving helps us to supplement that system.”

But the increasing reliance on private money can mean disparities and a leg up for those regions with wealthy patrons.

The Vancouver Island Health Authority collected 80 per cent more in donations in 2015 than it did in 2010, totalling $58-million over five years. Some of that money helped fund the construction of a new patient care centre at Victoria’s Royal Jubilee Hospital and a new emergency department at Nanaimo Regional General Hospital.

“We’ve been fortunate that we’ve had a number of significant initiatives that have had a fair amount [of] profile,” said Brendan Carr, president of the health authority.

“It’s allowed our foundation to do what they do well, which is to mobilize around things in the community.”

But the Northern Health Authority saw a 9 per cent decrease this year compared to 2010, with total contributions teetering around $20-million. Officials said the lack of private funding poses an issue for health-care facilities across B.C.’s northern region.

“We’re trying to work toward having a consortium of foundations working together so that they can ask for some of the bigger gifts from some of the larger corporations,” said Dr. Charles Jago, Northern Health’s board chair.

“But I do want to put it in the context that we’re delighted with the amount we’re getting. … It’s very important money.”

The competition for dollars among charities and non-profits has surged recently, owing to the fall in commodity prices and the low Canadian dollar, which has tightened the purse strings of major donors and sponsors. The struggle is particularly felt in rural areas.

“Everybody gets tapped out,” said Leonda Clarke, executive at Fort Nelson Hospital and Healthcare Foundation.

“We’re cognizant of that so we’re not asking the same people for support at every event.”

Out of necessity, private donations are also hotly pursued among arts organizations in British Columbia.

Roughly 22 per cent of a total $253-million in revenue acquired by B.C. arts and culture groups in 2014 was secured through private sources, according to a report compiled by the Vancouver-based Alliance for Arts and Culture.

About 41 per cent came from earned revenue such as admissions fees and gift shop sales, while the rest came from municipal grants and other sources.

The figures were pulled from CADAC, a web-based application organizations use to report funding levels when applying for grants from the BC Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts. More than 1,800 groups were included.

The figures are in spite of a November report released by Hill Strategies Research that shows B.C. is home to the most artists per capita among provinces. The same report also indicates B.C. residents comparatively display one of highest engagement levels with arts and culture per capita.

“I think the provincial government owes it to British Columbians to not only understand but to also invest in the research and understanding of the impact of governments’ relationship to culture,” said Rob Gloor, executive director for the Alliance for Arts and Culture.

“It would seem to be a wise place to steer new investment. There’s an opportunity to activate a work force that is potentially underutilized at the moment.”

The Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development said in an e-mailed statement the provincial government has committed more than $60-million in arts funding in 2015-16, in order to “grow this sector and to build on the strength of our existing creative economy.”

But for the Kamloops Art Gallery’s acting executive director Margaret Chrumka, meeting expenses to date has often relied on “a wing and a prayer.”

Roughly 30 per cent of the gallery’s budget relies on non-government funding, which Ms. Chrumka said the gallery often covers through donations and sponsorships. But with the decreasing value of the dollar and the economic crisis in Alberta, most are tightening their belts.

“It’s an ongoing and relentless process,” she said.

The Vancouver Maritime Museum’s director of development Catherine Butler agreed. Roughly 57 per cent of the museum’s budget comes from grants and donations.

It’s a precarious position to be in, Ms. Butler said.

But the competition for funding should encourage arts and culture groups to be more entrepreneurial, said to David Alexander, president of the BC Museum Association.

“Government funding is what government funding is,” he said.

“We can promote the benefits of culture but I think we as institutions need to go out and find alternate sources of funding, whether that be donations or alternate sources of revenue.”

Richard Fisher, chief communications officer for development and alumni engagement at the University of British Columbia, said the key across all sectors is relationships.

Just over one in every 10 UBC alumni donate to the university. In the last four years, the school has raised $1.6-billion for its Start an Evolution campaign, launched to enhance services at the university, a record-breaking amount.

“We are in touch with a lot of people, a lot of the time,” Mr. Fisher noted.

With a report from Jon Hernandez

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