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All in the Family

18 December 2010

McGill Family Fund

Bob McGill is not everyone’s idea of a revolutionary. But this soft-spoken, self-effacing 65-year-old has changed the world for hundreds of children in Central America, and Africa. His work in developing countries, with a group called Universal Outreach, has also had a big impact on his own family here in Canada … and it all started with a golf game 10 years ago.

McGill was a VP with the investment firm Phillips, Hager & North when a friend invited him and a few others for a weekend of golf in the Okanagan. The friend mentioned he had set up this organization called Universal Outreach and had been donating some time and money to help an orphanage in Honduras. By the time the round of golf had finished, everyone wanted to contribute.

“It started in a very small way,” says McGill. We were all friends and business people. And we were intrigued to know that 99 cents of every dollar was going to the kids. First, with help from the local Rotary Club, we got a container and then shipped a bunch of stuff to the orphanage. After that, it just kept going.”

Eventually, through Universal Outreach they were putting up buildings. They built a primary school in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Now they’re going into secondary school education, with technical and agricultural learning experiences to give the children valuable job skills.

“These are either orphans or street kids,” says McGill. “It’s been hugely successful to help them become positive contributors to society. The graduates come back and mentor the kids who are there. Through the same group, we’ve also been involved in Liberia and building schools there… It’s been a wonderful experience, very positive.”

McGill wanted his own two children to have that feeling of making a contribution.

“Something that my wife and I feel very passionate about is giving back to the community. We’ve been so fortunate in our lives. It’s something that both of our parents gave to us, and we want to make sure that our kids and our grandkids gain similar values.”

McGill had set up a family fund in the early 1990s at Vancouver Foundation for that very purpose.

“We started to chat about what we would do as a family,” he says. “We tried to identify what areas were most important to all of us. And we narrowed it down to three major directions: healthcare, education, and protecting the environment… My daughter is a teacher, so the education part of it was easy. We also wanted to give locally as well.”

The McGills try to be disciplined about their family philanthropy. They meet in October every year to decide where the income from their fund will go.

According to Bob, it’s a good time to have these discussions, and it makes sense from a tax planning standpoint as well. They each vote on where they will spend the money.

“It’s interesting,” he says. “It’s been harder to draw them [his children] out as to what was really important, than I would’ve thought. On the other hand, when I think back to when I was in my 30s I was very taken up with my career at the time and my family. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about the bigger picture and the world at large.”

When the McGills started their family fund, there were few options.
“We investigated setting up our own foundation,” says Bob. “But the costs were prohibitive. Besides, Vancouver Foundation provides a structure that keeps the overhead under control. From the outset this was an important reason why we chose Vancouver Foundation.”

It’s still early days. “As a family, we want to learn more about being effective philanthropists; how other families do it. We need to know more about even just the mechanics — being effective from a tax point of view, and an estate planning point of view.”

But, for Bob McGill, the way forward is crystal clear.
“The way you change the world is through education. It doesn’t matter whether it’s kids in Honduras or your own kids.”

If you want to find out more about family giving, call Vancouver Foundation at 604.688.2204, or visit our website at

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Your Comments:

July 31, 2010
i would like all family to be all together who is struggling for a huge distress.
Rosita Dionson Hussain, Buraimi, Sultanate of Oman

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