A stock-picker's guide to charitable donations - MoneySense

A stock-picker’s guide to charitable donations

Where are like-minded investors donating this year? Norm Rothery finds out


At this festive season of the year it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts.

Those are the slightly paraphrased words of one of the “portly gentlemen” in Mr. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. They asked Mr. Scrooge for a donation and got an earful in exchange. But, now that Christmas has passed, its spirit has no doubt inspired even the meanest of us to spare a few thoughts for the less fortunate.

When you’re thinking about giving to a good cause you should consult the MoneySense Charity 100, which grades some of the largest charities in the land.

But, as is my habit, I recently asked around for a few less formal recommendations at a couple of online investment forums.

The index-oriented crowd over at the Financial Wisdom Forum favoured giving to the Mennonite Central Committee and Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières.

There were also variety of good suggestions from the well-healed stock pickers at the Corner of Berkshire & Fairfax Message Board.

But I want to highlight a letter posted by the board’s founder Sanjeev Parsad, which tells the story of his path to philanthropy. I hope it will inspire you to dig a little deeper this year. (The text that follows was lightly edited from the original and approved by Mr. Parsad)

Sanjeev’s Christmas Letter

I’m writing this to you at 6am Christmas morning…how fitting!

I recommend donating wherever your heart may be, as well as where you think they need help. Giving has become a big part of my life thanks to the example set by Warren Buffett and Prem Watsa.

Crohn’s & Colitis Canada

JoAnn Butler (Prem Watsa’s executive assistant) passed away from colon cancer in 2009. JoAnn had suffered from Crohn’s for most of her life. She, along with Francis Chou, were the ones who originally set up my lunch with Prem Watsa back in 2005, which changed the trajectory of my whole life! She became a good friend after that. When I came back to Vancouver in the early years of our Toronto dinner, I would give the funds to their BC representative, Alison Obrecht, who also became a good friend. Alison eventually moved to Cystic Fibrosis.

Cystic Fibrosis Canada

Shortly after Alison arrived there she mentioned that they were being evicted from their regional offices because the building was being sold and developed. As it happens, I had just taken over at Premier Diversified Holdings and wanted to sublease some of our offices. They took the space for the next five years. I also joined the Vancouver office’s board of directors and helped them raise money. Alison moved again. This time to help Simon Fraser University’s Endowment.

Simon Fraser University

My father passed away in 1991 when I was 21 and was a third year student at SFU. My father, Tony Parsad, was one of the first employees hired by SFU when it opened in 1965 as a Chemistry lab technician and he worked there until the day he died.

I had a love/hate relationship with SFU. I used to go there as a young boy and much of my formative years were spent enjoying what the campus had to offer. My father set up chemistry experiments for me. I played on their soccer fields at various sports camps and enjoyed nice lunches with my father at the cafeteria or faculty club.

But when I went up there as a student after high school, I kind of hated school. I was a biology major, but my true interest lay elsewhere. After he passed away, it became even more difficult, simply because the faculty knew me and every day I could imagine my father coming around a corner – even though he never would again. When my father died I helped to raise my brother, who was 9, and helped my mother who had become a young widow.

I never had the opportunity to do anything for my father as he died suddenly, but always ached to do something for him after his passing. I spent many years building Corner Market Capital while living frugally until the business finally worked out. About two years ago I was able to fund an endowment in his honour. It was one of the most important and personal things I had ever done and it probably wouldn’t have happened if I had not become friends with Alison.

The endowment will live on long after I’m gone and I plan on doubling its size every 5 years. I signed the paperwork for the endowment at the faculty club where I had lunch with my father. Life is a full circle!

The Dakshana Foundation

Mohnish Pabrai is a friend, but that’s not why I try and help them out. Dakshana is an organization that uses an intelligently-designed approach to educate young, underprivileged, but gifted, students who will hopefully go on to make an exponentially positive impact on the world and their own communities. It just made sense. I’ve donated small amounts so far, but will increase that over time and as the need increases at Dakshana.

Surrey Christmas Bureau and Surrey Food Bank

Surrey is the fastest growing municipality in all of North America. As such, the needs at the Christmas Bureau and Food Bank are relentless. While the organizations don’t teach a person to fish, sometimes you just need to feed someone for a day. It is a sentimental choice, as our family is fortunate enough not to go hungry while others do. I moved to the area four years ago and it’s a dynamic city going through huge changes. I felt I needed to help the community.


Run by the Vancouver Sun, this non-profit provides funds to various elementary and high schools beyond government funds in the Vancouver/Lower Mainland area. Many children go to school and don’t have breakfast or lunch because their families are struggling. As a student, it is awful to try and learn when your stomach is growling or you are tired from going hungry.

Donations on a whim

Sometimes I might just pay for a young family’s dinner I see somewhere when dining with my family, or for someone’s coffee. It’s a “pay it forward” type of gesture. I normally wouldn’t really talk about these things, but I figure there are plenty of people who have the ability to make a difference and maybe it will give them an idea or motivate them.

I feel very, very grateful for my life and what I have now. I’m living the exact dream I always had in the back of my mind, but didn’t know it existed until Buffett and Prem showed up. I’ve only started on this endeavour in the last few years, but it’s now a huge part of my life and being.


Sanjeev Parsad
President & CEO
Premier Diversified Holdings Inc.

And don’t be alarmed, the Safer Canadian Dogs will return in January.