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Pelmorex Media chief Pierre Morrissette has donated $5-million to Ivey Business School, from he graduated in 1972. ‘It’s an opportunity to basically contribute back to tomorrow’s leaders.’J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail

Every year, Canadian business people hand over big cheques to the country's business schools to go toward scholarships, construction projects and overall program improvement – some schools are even named after big-money donors.

But what motivates donors such as Pierre Morrissette, who gave $5-million ($2.5-million in 2006 and another $2.5-million in 2010) to the University of Western Ontario's Ivey Business School in London, Ont.?

Well, it's personal.

"[Ivey] has been a major contributor to my success and increasingly so, as time goes on," says Mr. Morrissette, the 66-year-old founder of Pelmorex Media Inc., which purchased The Weather Network and MétéoMédia in 1993. Mr. Morrissette earned his MBA degree from Ivey in 1972.

His education experience was more than 40 years ago and yet Mr. Morrissette says his connection to Ivey as an alumnus has proved invaluable throughout his career. "It's got a very significant network of alumni in all parts of the country, in fact in all parts of the world, who have been very successful in their various walks of life and you become part of that network, which is just priceless," he says.

Donors, such as Mr. Morrissette, have personal motivations behind their million-dollar contributions – they feel gratitude toward these schools and are inspired to help the next generation.

"It's an opportunity to basically contribute back to tomorrow's leaders who are currently enrolled in the program, to enable them to get equipped with all the tools that I would have, and other graduates would have, so they in turn can go out and lead and succeed," he adds.

There are many theories of why donors give away millions to the country's business schools. Behavioural psychologists call it "prosocial spending," which is the act of giving money to benefit the well-being of others, and research has shown that the positive emotional experience evoked from this act can lead to a happier existence.

There's also a person's ego playing a role, but as Mr. Morrissette tells it, it goes beyond this to something deeper – something that moves beyond the present recognition and plays a role in one's legacy. He says he navigated the entrepreneurial world for decades and knows the value of improving the teachings in this area and that's where he wanted his money to go.

"By combining my passion for Ivey and entrepreneurship, it basically allowed me to create a win-win situation, because entrepreneurs or business owners really are the dominant part of the engine of the Canadian economy."

Through her doctorate research at Queen's University, Jacline Abray-Nyman, now the chief executive officer of United Way Centraide Canada, studied what she calls "transformational" donors ($5-million or more). The more than 30 donors and fundraisers interviewed for the research cited their ability to give through personal wealth and the desire to give back, community engagement, value creation, and legacy making as reasons to give to Canada's educational institutions.

Dr. Abray-Nyman found these philanthropists were "not interested in funding the status quo," and part of engaging donors is to have them involved from the early stages of the organization's vision or development.

That's where people like Kelly Cole, executive director of advancement at Ivey, come in.

If people are motivated to give, a positive, active alumni network is a way to form a bond between graduates, the business school and the current students. The donations are a side effect, Ms. Cole says.

"We spend a lot of time cultivating relationships between the school and each other. …[Donors] care about the school, they care about the reputation of the school, they care about the quality of the education and the students getting the same kind of experience they got."

In Ms. Cole's experience, the majority of donors are alumni like Mr. Morrissette, who attach the business school to their current achievements.

"They are individuals who, as they get out and into their careers, they reflect back on their education, and most alumni will talk about how impactful their education has been on success in their career," she says. "And there is a commitment back to the school."

But it's not always the school itself that evokes the desire to give, explains George Karaphillis, dean of Cape Breton University's Shannon School of Business. It could be the geography.

In the case of Joseph Shannon, the school's namesake who helped raise millions toward its construction, Cape Breton in Sydney, N.S., is where he lives and has his business, and the community he participates in, explains Mr. Karaphillis.

"[Mr. Shannon] basically made his own living, his own business success by himself, and he started giving back to CBU because it was the only university in Cape Breton," he says.

"Then he raised all the money for the building from private donations, different corporations," Mr. Karaphillis adds. "And we have every single classroom in here with somebody's name on it."

The business school building, which opened in September of 2012 and cost about $9-million, was completely donor funded – and many of them did not attend this particular school, but, like Mr. Shannon, had an attachment to that part of the country.

According to the dean, "All these people have a connection to Nova Scotia, so that's why they're so passionate about it."

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