This is the second in our new Donor Connect series, an initiative designed to share giving ideas and to highlight the great work of the many not-for-profits supported by the Canada Gives’ family of foundation funders. In this installment–an award program like no other in Canada.
Dennis Perry grew up enjoying the wilderness of British Columbia. As a youth he would pack horse annually into the mountain ranges of south western B.C., before embarking on a journey that would see him become a leading campaigner in the struggle to achieve protection for the South Chilcotin Mountains as a provincial park. Later, he would found the B.C. Conservation and Biodiversity Awards to support conservation-based initiatives environmental charities across the province.
But even as Perry’s business interests drove him to pursue a successful 35-year career in the investment industry, his desire to make a difference never took a back seat. A life-long passion for protecting Canada’s pristine wilderness would prompt him to become active in politics, culminating in his rise to deputy leader of the Green Party of British Columbia.
“It’s just been my calling,” Perry says. “I fall into the category of people who want to save our environment. Conservation wins don’t come every day; it’s always an uphill battle.”
A resistance to change meets a determination to succeed
Indeed, at the outset it would have been easy to dismiss his decades-long work to protect the South Chilcotin Mountains as a seemingly impossible task.
With logging and mining companies working in the area and threatening local ecosystems, Perry knew that someone needed to act to ensure that at least a portion of the ranges would be protected. Beginning in 1979, the determined environmentalist began the long, laborious lobbying process to save his beloved mountains. Difficult discussions with industry stakeholders commenced and aggressive resistance to his idea became apparent.
Companies that saw the profit potential in the land insisted they be able to exploit its resources. Perry and his conservationist colleagues persisted. Loggers and miners argued that surely B.C. had enough provincial parks; this parcel of land didn’t require preservation. Perry felt otherwise and was relentless in pursuing his goal. Letters were written to MLAs, an endless stream of calls were made to the Premier’s office, countless media interviews were conducted to help make the case.
Then, in 2010, after a five year all-stakeholders land resource management planning process, his 30-year odyssey came to a momentous end. The province introduced the nearly 57,000 hectare South Chilcotin Mountains Provincial Park and Perry could finally rest easy. Except he didn’t. He became more active than ever.
A made-in-B.C. award program
Perry enhanced his charitable work by supporting a range of non-profits and charities with a major focus on conservation-based initiatives. But funding for the environmental organizations that could help drive change was often lacking.
“There is a lot of data in Canada and the U.S. indicating that less than 5 per cent of all charitable giving by individuals is conservation based. I thought this was way out of whack and I wanted to do something about it.”
So, last year Perry founded the B.C. Conservation and Biodiversity Awards as a donor advised fund at Canada Gives. The unique program provides financial support to mainly smaller environmental organizations across the province. Canada Gives manages the administration and reporting for the BCCB Awards Foundation and issues the grants (awards) once the recipient(s) has been chosen and approved.
The conservation award program utilizes a selection committee to assess and review all qualifying applications and then recommends awards and funding. The committee is comprised of a diverse group of judges from across B.C., representing major universities, various environmental groups and community stakeholders.
“There are no significant financial award organizations that I’m aware of like this in Canada,” Perry says. “I think it fills a real need.”
Now, the enviro-philanthropist hopes to fundraise to grow the award program’s endowment, making it a sustainable, long-term source of grants to a sector always in need of funding.
The decision to partner with Canada Gives
Perry says that he chose Canada Gives to manage administration for the award program after connecting with other philanthropists and learning more about their experience working with our organization.
“I’ve been impressed ever since we started working together,” he says. “The Canada Gives team does an incredible job. They make you feel that they have your best interests at heart.”
It’s fair to say that Perry is a staunch defender of B.C.’s natural best interests. The 74-year-old’s motivation for remaining an active philanthropist and continuing to fight environmental battles long after many others would have done a well-deserved victory lap is borne of his desire to leave a lasting legacy for the next generation.
“I want my grandkids to experience what I experienced,” he says, no doubt hoping he can one day escort his two grandchildren on the same pack horse trips through the South Chilcotin Mountains that nurtured his passion for B.C.’s rugged wilderness.
“Conservationists don’t give up, they’re driven. I know what my commitment is and I want to do my part.”
The Canada Gives Team
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