Benevolent businesses


Corporate philanthropy is on the rise in Waikato.

Waikato business is growing up.

That’s Tony Egan’s explanation for a noticeable increase in philanthropic thinking within the region’s business community.

Mr Egan is managing director of Greenlea Premier Meats which through its six year old Greenlea Foundation this financial year gave $750,000 to individuals and needy organisations in the greater region. The family-owned exporter, which turns 25 this year, also sponsors the rescue helicopter that serves the central North Island.

Mr Egan says he’s noticed an upturn in corporate philanthropy and attributes it to commerce maturing, in Hamilton city in particular.

“If you look at Hamilton as compared with Auckland, it’s a younger city and there are many companies coming of age. You also see it in the broader Waikato community.

“There’s a growing vibrancy and people are keen to give back. Also we all know each other, particularly at a business level so there’s a lot of common understanding. When you see (benefactor) families like the Perrys and Gallaghers, you ask yourself the question should we be doing the same sort of thing?”

Hamilton’s Foster Construction Group and global infant food exporter, the Dairy Goat Cooperative recently joined the ranks of Waikato’s other philanthropically-minded enterprises, which include Pro-Life Foods, WEL Energy Trust, DV Bryant Trust, local McDonalds franchisees Debi and Mark Rush and Hamilton recruitment service Agoge.

The Foster Construction Custodians Trust will receive a percentage of Foster Group profits for distribution to the community, in line with the company’s philosophy of “creating a great community”.

Dairy Goat Cooperative’s new trust is modelled on the Greenlea Foundation, says outgoing chief executive Tony Giles. Tony Egan is an independent director on the co-op’s board.

Again, maturity is said to have spurred the farmer-owned co-op’s initiative.

“The business is becoming a sizeable employer and entity in Waikato and along with that maturity comes the time to make a more substantial contribution to the community,” says Mr Giles.

It’s an unusual move for a co-op, he says, and was enthusiastically supported by the board, shareholders and staff.

St Vincent de Paul - Dallas Fisher

Dallas Fisher

The idea of a trust very much reflects the co-op’s family-type values and the focus of its products which provide care for families and future generations, he says.

“We expect to be supporting organisations with similar objectives.” The trust will operate separately from the co-op board and will have five trustees – two shareholders, one staff member, one board member and one independent.

Waikato Chamber of Commerce chief executive William Durning says community service is nothing new for many businesses, but philanthropy is now getting talked about more.

“WEL Energy Trust has long had a big commitment to the region and Sky City has also contributed to the community. But there are also others which have made a conscious decision to invest in the community like Café Agora in Frankton, a wonderful business with great coffee and Agoge which used the Waikato Business Awards to demonstrate how to contribute to the community.”

Mr Durning says there’s a growing understanding among businesses of all sizes that investing in their communities is part of being a responsible business, “and it’s good business”.

Philanthropy New Zealand says businesses that invest in their community build greater staff loyalty and engagement; build brand and customer loyalty; enhance their company reputation; strengthen their competitive edge while strengthening the community; and have a great story to tell.

Giving by business makes up a small part of all giving in New Zealand, says the organisation. According to its most recent survey in 2014, businesses gave just three percent of all cash donations.

“However while the amount of philanthropic giving by businesses is small compared with other types of donors, businesses also give in other ways. Giving New Zealand (the survey) found that for every $1 they give in cash, they give an estimated $1.43 in sponsorship and $3.27 in donated goods and services.”

Financial support is certainly what St Vincent de Paul – better known as Vinnies – needs more of, says the society’s local general manager Mike Rolton.

St Vincent de Paul 2
Demand for Vinnies food support services in the greater Waikato area he oversees doubled last year, he says. “We need financial help.”

Vinnies has an annual budget nudging $1 million. Around 75 percent of its income is from the society’s five op shops in Hamilton and the rest must be raised from donations.

Five or so local businesses and trusts are Vinnies’ support mainstay, says Mike, who has a corporate background. Greenlea Foundation, ProLife Foods and McDonalds Hamilton have been strongly committed for several years and WEL Energy Trust and the DV Bryant Trust are regular donors.

A good deal of Rolton’s time is spent talking to community groups and sectors about Vinnies work and support needs. As a result of a recent presentation, New Zealand Home Loans indicated it wants to be involved this year, he says.

Vinnies has seven paid staff and more than 260 volunteers. It provided 90,000 school lunches last year and its vans nightly visit some Hamilton suburbs to distribute Milo drinks, fruit, sandwiches and bags of food.
The tax system encourages charitable giving by offering tax benefits for individual and corporate giving.

Prominent business leader and Waikato Means Business chairman Dallas Fisher says the region has “some amazing benefactors”.

“They continue to be extraordinary people but my sense is that others in Waikato Inc are not at that level yet.”

But this is changing, Mr Fisher believes, with a Momentum Community Foundation dinner last year raising $320,000 for the Waikato Hospice, significantly more than was raised on previous occasions.


About Author

Andrea Fox is a business journalist, a former Waikato Times business editor, Fairfax Business Bureau journalist and author.