‘You couldn’t ask for a better job’

Margaret Rickard, signing off from her very public role as executive officer for Advance Ashburton Foundation.
Photo Sue Newman


For seven years Margaret Rickard has had a hand in giving away more money than most people will see in a lifetime, but this week the Advance Ashburton executive officer is stepping down from a job she tells reporter Sue Newman provided the ultimate in personal satisfaction.


When it comes to fundraising, Margaret Rickard has to go to the top of the class. Over a seven-year period she’s been the driving force behind raising almost $10 million dollars.

She won’t see a cent of that herself and she couldn’t be happier.

But this week, Margaret called time on her fundraising efforts on behalf of the Advance Ashburton Community Foundation. It’s time to hand over the reins to someone with new ideas and that’s not going to be easy she admits; working in the philanthropic sector gets under your skin and into your heart.

“I see that one person can have a huge impact, but you have to make room for the next person to come in with their flair and put their stamp on it,” she said.

The foundation was formed in 2003 and for seven years its board was the driving force that established its framework, sold the concept to the community and started accumulating bequests and donations.

Seven years down the track, the groundwork was done and it was time to let the foundation fly by appointing an executive officer to become its public face.

That person was Margaret and for her the timing was perfect.

“I’d been involved in agriculture industry training for 17 years. Twelve of that was locally but the last five was as part of a national project.

“It was a great job but I was travelling two or three days every week,” she said.

And that time away from home meant she lost touch with her community and the organisations dear to her heart.

“I found myself desperately wanting to be involved with my community again,” she said.

Margaret was aware of the foundation and its work, and admired its philosophy. She applied for the newly-created executive officer position and when it was offered, had no hesitation in saying yes.

“The board has always had a very important role. They’ve had to be very hands-on and very involved  at much more than a governance level. Neil (Sinclair) had done such a wonderful job. He had the determination and the belief that it would work,” she said.

While Margaret became the foundation’s front person, its board was still passionately involved.

She took over the role of promoting Advance Ashburton and working with current and potential donors, and that, she said, brought her into contact with some pretty wonderful people.

“Those amazing donors are people who want their community to be a better place. They come from all walks of life and they’re pretty special people.”

Margaret’s work has focused on creating awareness, letting people know about the foundation and how they can make a donation or leave a bequest.

“I just give them the information and let them make their minds up. I think people trust us now and they know if we’re involved with a project it will work,” she said.

It took time for that trust to become established, however, as in its early days it was a concept with no track record and very little in the way of assets.

Since the foundation was established it has accumulated $10.4 million in assets. It hit a high at just shy of $12 million, but $1.5 million was tagged to be given to the Ashburton Hospital rebuild.

The asset base continues to grow. Money is invested and interest earned given in scholarships and grants.

And it’s not just for the rich. Advance Ashburton will accept donations of any size.

“You could give $5, it doesn’t matter.

“Every amount is welcomed.”

Those of $50,000 or more can be set up as a named fund and donors can indicate where they’d like interest to be distributed. Amounts of less than this become part of a general fund that supports health, arts or heritage projects.

Looking ahead, the foundation is assured of a continuing flow of money through bequests. Seven years ago money tagged in wills sat at $2.5 million; today there is the promise of $24.4 million in the future and that’s just the money the board is aware of.

“With people who are giving in wills we say, ‘let us know so you can become involved in what is going on’.

“We visit our donors regularly to keep contact going, that’s important to us.”

People give for many reasons, but often because they say their community has been good to them over the years. Others may not have any direct descendants and want their money to benefit people in need.

When funds are distributed, recipients are told where the money has come from and, with scholarships, donors meet recipients and often keep in touch over the years.

“There’s such a huge amount of feel-good stuff. It’s been a wonderful job, a whole group of people working to make a big difference in the community.”

As she signs off as Advance Ashburton’s first executive officer Margaret rates the job as one of the best she’s ever had.

“It’s been an utter delight;  you couldn’t ask for a better job. There’s been so much pleasure and so many rewards in watching it grow and do so much good.”