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'Leading a philanthropy movement', Jenny Gill

Jenny Gill joined Purposely to share her career journey leading New Zealand’s largest and most respected charitable foundations as CEO, advisor and Board member.

Jenny is one of the pioneers of philanthropy in New Zealand, from her first role in the eighties to now she has led the way for wealthy and generous individuals, foundations and companies, helping them to give more effectively and ensure they make a positive and lasting difference.

In 1985 Jenny took on her first role in philanthropy as Executive Director of a private foundation to give away all of its funds over a set period of time. A fairly rare phenomenon in the eighties this type of philanthropy is described as ‘spend down’. The theory being that you donate all of the money you have to a good cause/s as quickly as possible to ensure you make a transformative difference as fast as possible. The organisation or the Foundation is merely a means to an end to deliver effective philanthropy during a specific time period. The Roy McKenzie Foundation with Jenny at the helm donated a total of $7 million over 9 years.

“I went to meet him in his office in Wellington and I came out with a job offer, with no job description, no discussion about salary (however) an agreement that I would start work the next day. Well, I went to his office the next day and he handed me a blank pad of paper, a pencil, a copy of the trust deed, a check for a million dollars and said okay, let's go”

Jenny describes the role she had as her becoming a ‘philanthrocrat’, a profession helping the generous and wealthy to give effectively and efficiently, in fact she was one of the very first professionals working in this way in New Zealand.

Jenny continued to play an instrumental role in philanthropy and in 1990 Jenny and Roy used their experience to start the Association of Grant Givers (now Philanthropy New Zealand). Based on similar organisations overseas it helps to encourage others to give and provides a forum for individuals and organisations to share their experiences with others. Sharing know how and experience at the same time helping people to collaborate on projects to have greater impact.

Roy McKenzie was the only surviving son of John McKenzie, two members of one of New Zealand’s richest and most generous families. They owned a chain of general stores in Australia and New Zealand before they were taken over by LD Nathan in 1980. The funds they have donated to good causes over the years come from the wealth generated by those stores as well as through investment firm Rangatira Ltd which was founded in 1937.

In 2004 Jenny moved further north to Auckland to take on the role of CEO of Foundation North, known then as the ASB Charitable Foundation it is the largest of the 12 community foundations in New Zealand with almost $3 billion in an endowment with the interest benefitting people and causes in Auckland and across Northland. Jenny and her team were responsible for granting over $50 million to good causes on an annual basis.

Jenny enjoyed 16 successful years in charge of Foundation North, deciding to step down in 2019 to spend more time with her family. This proceeded the arrival of the global pandemic and a crucial period for all funders as they responded to the crisis. This was certainly the case for Foundation North and the other community trusts as they responded to COVID-19 and the significant impact the pandemic was having on people living in poverty and on the margins. Jenny talks about being less optimistic these days compared the 'heady days of the 70's' particularly around the effects of climate change and what this will mean for her five grand children. Pointing out that it is much harder for individuals to influence meaningful change compared to past generations.

As Jenny's attention shifts to the future of philanthropy and charitable giving she makes it clear that she would like to see more philanthropic money going into addressing climate change and environmental degradation.

"the philanthropic sector needs to take a good hard look at itself because a tiny proportion of philanthropic money in New Zealand goes into the environment sector."

Jenny is currently Chair of MAS Foundation and a trustee of both Prince's Trust New Zealand and Vodafone Aotearoa foundation's.


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