www.thebermudian.com 20 | THE BERMUDIAN
Building a Foundation
A new approach to philanthropic giving in Bermuda
LEADERS • HEROES • ICONS
Middlemen, facilitators, long-term planners, the Bermuda Community Foundation is a relatively recent
addition to the charitable-giving landscape on
the island. Where the foundation, in existence
for little more than 18 months, fits in to that
landscape is something the foundation—and the
community—is still trying to figure out.
Not that charitable giving, nor the concept
of philanthropy, is anything new to Bermuda,
but to talk to Myra Virgil, the foundation’s chief
executive officer, is to appreciate the inefficiency
which has surrounded the sector in the past.
According to the foundation, the island has
some 600 charitable agencies (not all of them
registered), all of whom end up chasing money
from the same 22-square-mile pot.
But what if the pot was a self-sustaining one?
A pot with multiple donors; a pot invested,
managed and distributed from one place. A pot
which donors could rely on being used wisely and
charities could tap for funds when necessary.
Born out of the ashes of Atlantic Philanthropies, which is winding down its global operations, and with backing from the likes of Renais-sanceRe, XL and Bloomberg Philanthropies,
the foundation’s mission is largely just that, to
benefit donors, communities and charities alike.
That’s why Virgil objects to the term “
middle-men” when it comes to the foundation’s place in
the sector—a term she believes “implies that you
put yourself in the way.” For Virgil, “facilitators”
would be closer to the mark. In many ways she
views the foundation as a one-stop shop.
“We like to think we assist where people feel there
is a need, where something is preventing people
from doing the kind of giving they want,” she says.
“We help create a sustainable legacy for donors.”
The foundation is not intended to replace the
fund-raising that already happens; the tag days,
However, with 600 or so non-profits, a dona-
tion intended to help a specific cause might not
always have the impact hoped for, nor achieve
anything more than give the beneficiaries a
short-term boost. And even that comes after the
donor has found the right place for their gift—
no easy task in itself.
As an example, a quick search on the internet
for youth development agencies in Bermuda
brings up a myriad of options, and very little
easily accessible information regarding who’s in
charge, what they do, and how to give to them.
“We’re about providing a service that helps
that interaction in the short term, but our
number-one mission is to grow funds for the
longer term,” explains Virgil. The foundation
started with a $1 million base in December last
year; they hope to grow those assets to $20 million by 2019.
For Virgil the opportunity to work at the
foundation was part of a “lucky career progression” that has taken her from studying sociology
at Mc Gill University in Montreal and working
on the frontline with non-profits in Quebec, to
dealing with the practicalities of paying for those
programmes during her work with Atlantic
“The next two years is about helping people
understand how the concept works for them
and how it works for Bermuda,” Virgil says.
“Community foundations, especially in the
beginning, the grants don’t tend to be large, they
tend to $500–$2,000, but if you get to the kind
of growth in the millions, then you start to see
a big grant pool and you can start to do more
sustainable, more impactful, stuff.”
WRITTEN BY JOSH BALL | PHOTOGRAPH BY ANN SPURLING