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Charitable Family Trusts: Hugh Green and Rua and Clarrie Stevens

 

“To have a dream is an admirable goal in itself. To actually bring it
into reality is quite another exercise

To have a dream is an admirable goal in itself. To actually bring it into reality is quite another exercise.

Charitable Family Trusts are as treasured and unique as the family members who inspired them. Each one  represents an extraordinary story about generosity, love, patience and inspiration but also trial, error and very hard work. They begin with hopes and dreams, mature with wisdom and experience, and are handed on to the next generation as a living legacy. The Rua and Clarrie Stevens Charitable Trust and the Hugh Green Trust are excellent examples of how very different circumstances have created two very successful family trusts. Hugh Green’s life story is a classic rags-to-riches tale. Born in Ireland to a family who struggled to make ends meet, he left school at 12 to become a cattle drover. Seven years later he left for Australia where he was able to save enough to set sail home again, via New Zealand and Canada. However, he never did make it to Canada, and it took another 11 years before he saw Ireland again, because New Zealand quickly provided him with a pot of gold in the form of Green & McCahill Contractors. The company became a major operator in infrastructure projects throughout the country, which subsequently gave Hugh the ability to give much more than his regular,generous gifts of time, labour and resources; he was also able to give substantial amounts of money. Hugh recalls one of his first financial gifts:“Over forty years ago my business partner and I went to court because someone owed us money. We never thought we’d win, but we did; a few thousand pounds or so, which was a lot of money back then. Because I hadn’t expected the money, it was a bonus, I approached the Little Sisters of the Poor and told them they had some spending money now, so they’d better go out and buy something. Not only did they take me up on my offer, they also came back to ask me for an extra 1000 pounds! I gave it to them, of course.”

When Lee and Clarrie Stevens decided to set up a family trust in memory of their dearly loved mother and wife, Rua, a shortage of funds was simply “one of many challenges to overcome” as they worked towards their goal. “To have a dream is an admirable goal in itself. To actually bring it into reality is quite another exercise; more-so when your own personal financial circumstances are also relatively modest,” says Lee. Forty years on, total distributions from the Trust have exceeded $1million – a tremendous achievement that aptly honours the memory of Lee’s parents, who had always given their time, money and services to the community. Rua trained as a Kindergarten teacher and when she gave up work to raise her family she continued to help fundraise for Dunedin based kindergartens. Lee laughs as he recalls a social event where Rua approached a wealthy Dunedin man and asked him to donate to a kindergarten: “He told her he hated kids and refused to give her anything. Rua replied, ‘I wouldn’t take money from a man like you,’ and walked away.”Lee’s father had a similar disregard towards misers. In the early days of the Trust, Clarrie was approached by several charities for which he had previously served as an honorary solicitor. When he asked them whether their current solicitor was “putting his own hand in his pocket to help you”, their response was always “no”. Clarrie would then tell them to go back and ask their own lawyer to give before asking him for money. He would never hear from them again. Lee and his wife Penny say people with the means to give who choose not to “miss out a lot in life by not helping others.”

Hugh and his wife Moira also share this sentiment and have instilled their giving philosophy into each of their five children. Eldest daughter Maryanne agrees that she can’t imagine another way of life. “Since I was born my parents have taught usto give. It’s part of our lives. I just love the giving side of the business. ”Maryanne is a director and the CEO of the Hugh Green Group.  Until 18 months ago she was also managing the Trust, but the increasing publicity about Hugh and the Trust during the last few years has seen a substantial increase in applications and workload. When she asked elder brother John to come on board as Donations Manager in August 2009, to help formalise systems and create a website, it was intended that the role be part time so that John could fit it in around his racehorse training business. However, John says he often works up to 40 hours a week and is extremely grateful that he has staff to manage his business for him. 

“When I first took on this role I had no idea I’d learn so much and meet so many amazing and inspirational people. And the amount of stuff  I’ve learnt! There is such a wide variety of needs out there, from low decile  issues to medical research. I always investigate each application and many,  especially the medical research ones, have a lot of information to absorb –  it’s like being back at school again! It’s so important to assess the people  too, rather than just bits of paper.” 

Lee says that because they are a small family trust they don’t need to  be as process-driven as government and corporate trusts do: “Government  funding is process-driven but philanthropy is outcome-driven.” Maryanne and John agree that a family trust offers more freedom and  flexibility: “The benefit of having a family trust is that there are no set rules:  the people are important, the relationships are important.” They say that Hugh goes about his daily life listening to people and  hearing what they need, and if he believes in the person or the cause he  will support them there and then. Maryanne says it’s not uncommon for  Hugh to ring her and ask her to send “$10k here or $20k there” – and she  does so without question.

“He is an excellent judge of character; he has always been able to  read people perfectly. He has never been wrong and so I have no reason  to question him when he asks me to send someone money.” At the same time, she and John will be assessing the written  applications received to sort out which ones to recommend to Hugh.  Sometimes, rather than offering money, they offer to help with  resource consents or by supplying engineers or labour, thereby saving an  organisation both time and money. John says that fundees who want their  help and advice are definitely more attractive.

“When I first took on this role I had no idea I’d learn so much and meet so many amazing and inspirational people. And the amount of stuff I’ve learnt! There is such a wide variety of needs out there, from low decile issues to medical research. I always investigate each application and many, especially the medical research ones, have a lot of information to absorb – it’s like being back at school again! It’s so important to assess the people too, rather than just bits of paper.” Lee says that because they are a small family trust they don’t need to be as process-driven as government and corporate trusts do: “Government funding is process-driven but philanthropy is outcome-driven.”Maryanne and John agree that a family trust offers more freedom and flexibility: “The benefit of having a family trust is that there are no set rules: the people are important, the relationships are important.”They say that Hugh goes about his daily life listening to people and hearing what they need, and if he believes in the person or the cause he will support them there and then. Maryanne says it’s not uncommon for Hugh to ring her and ask her to send “$10k here or $20k there” – and she does so without question.  “He is an excellent judge of character; he has always been able to read people perfectly. He has never been wrong and so I have no reason to question him when he asks me to send someone money.”At the same time, she and John will be assessing the written applications received to sort out which ones to recommend to Hugh. Sometimes, rather than offering money, they offer to help with resource consents or by supplying engineers or labour, thereby saving an organisation both time and money. John says that fundees who want their help and advice are definitely more attractive.

Lee and Penny say they are always amazed by human nature. Recently they couldn’t afford to give money to one of their regular donees, due to the financial crisis. Not only did the organisation take the news extremely well, they also asked Lee and Penny to continue coming to sponsor events as though they were still giving.

“We were still appreciated and respected. Often when the cheques stop, they drop you.” They will be able to resume giving to that organisation this year. This also exemplifies a successful and valued philanthropic relationship, something that Lee and Penny say is critical.  “You must build relationships. We learn so much from our donees; we share any concerns. Even in bad times they know that the money will still keep flowing.”The Greens couldn’t agree more. Hugh says it’s simple: you have to look after other people. “I give because I think I should and because I like to. Too many people give to get something in return. A letter of thanks makes my day and is all I need.”  Maryanne and John would like to see more business collaboration. “If everyone gave we could solve so many more problems.” They have started this process by networking with associates and organisations they already know. Both families encourage others, who can, to give. John says:“Once you meet some of the people you won’t look back because what you get back – self satisfaction, the buzz – is amazing. This work excites me every day. I am so involved in it that I actually take it personally when the Board decides to turn down an application that I have recommended!”Lee and Penny agree:“As a nation, in this day and age, we need more than ever generous folk with big hearts and great dreams – and the sturdy resilience to see through those great dreams.”