His generosity, and the way he shares his philanthropy with the family, is what impresses Stephanie Trussler most about her father, billionaire philanthropist and chairman and chief executive officer of Mattamy Asset Management Inc., Peter Gilgan.

When Gilgan established their family’s foundation in 2006, the Peter Gilgan Foundation, his focus was on health care, to which he has donated several hundred million dollars. As the next generation got involved, it was a matter of give and take for family members to respect each other’s passions and expand the focus of the foundation, says Trussler, who is executive director of the foundation. Last year, the foundation distributed more than $40 million, and that number is climbing.

Gilgan founded Toronto-based home construction company Mattamy Homes in 1978 and built it into the largest privately owned homebuilder in North America, with operations across Canada and the United States. In 2018, he set up Mattamy Asset Management, as the parent company of Mattamy Homes Canada and Mattamy Homes U.S. and in order to diversify into other asset classes.

How did the Peter Gilgan Foundation come to be?

“The Peter Gilgan Foundation was established in 2006. It was formed because Peter and the Mattamy Homes leadership team felt compelled to give back to the communities and the homebuilding business had been supported by.

For the first several years, gifts were mostly given to hospitals, as well as other infrastructure supporting communities.

In 2014, Peter and several of his family members took a trip to Kenya with an international development organization. This trip, combined with other family conversations, led to the inspiration that the foundation could and should be supporting other types of initiatives.

After in-depth consultation with family, board members, and key stakeholders, a second version of the foundation emerged in 2016, with the priority areas of: children, youth and families; environment and sustainability; and international development.

After five years, another strategic review led to further refinement, as well as some expansion of funding priorities.

The funding priorities today include: climate change; children, youth and families; indigenous youth; and international development, with detailed subthemes.

We continue to support hospitals and the healthcare sector through what we call ‘special opportunities,’ while much of the time and energy of the foundation team on a daily basis is spent overseeing the additional funding priorities.”

How have you honoured the family’s original mission, while moving the foundation forward?

“I think the key has been conversation, compromise, and respect for each other’s passion. I really give my dad credit for how much voice and decision-making authority he has given to me, my siblings, and the foundation team. While his first passion is giving to healthcare, I think he’s inspired to see the passion of his kids, and, in turn, becomes more interested and inspired to support those areas, as well.

The flip side is that in my generation, there’s respect for our dad to continue to give in the ways that are most meaningful to him.

We have a budgetary plan in place that will soon see 50 per cent of funds being allocated to hospitals and healthcare, which tend to be fewer, larger gifts, and the other 50 per cent being allocated to the funding areas that were identified as priorities for my generation.

Respecting and seeking to understand the motivations for each other’s areas of interest allows us to find the common values we share that root our desired giving.”

Why is it important to the family that it supports children and families, the environment, and international development?

“We have a large family, which has resulted in a broad mandate representing many different interests. I’d say generally there’s an appreciation for the opportunities and resources that we have and a sense of moral duty to share that with others.

Supporting children and youth is so important because the education, care, and opportunities that one receives in their formative years impacts the rest of their life. In a perfect world, all children and young people both in Canada and around the world would not only have all of their basic needs met but have access to opportunities and supports that allow them to thrive.

We want to contribute to that goal in whatever way we can, both domestically and internationally.

The family also cares deeply about the environment and concern for the climate crisis is exacerbated by the recognition that the family business of homebuilding has been a contributor. As we continue to learn, increasing energy, attention and resources are being allocated to supporting the environment through not only the foundation, but the business as well.

How do you involve the next generation in philanthropy?

“So far, I’d say the best education is by modelling. The young children in the family hear about the foundation and know that their ‘Papa’ is very generous. They also see many family members contribute to the foundation on a staff, board, or volunteer basis, as well as through family council. I think they sense that there’s a lot of interest, energy, and optimism at the foundation and know that it’s important to do what you can to help others.

Second-and third-generation family members are also given an opportunity throughout the year to allocate some funding from the foundation to a cause that they care about. This is an additional way for them to feel connected to and have some influence on the work of the foundation.

What challenges are you most proud of overcoming as a family over the years?

“In a big family, there are a variety of opinions and personalities. I’m most proud that we’ve managed to find common ground in the work of the foundation and that we share a sense of pride throughout the three Gilgan generations.”

What projects or initiatives are you excited about?

“We’ve been in a growth period, bringing staff on board with in-house expertise. This allows us to strengthen our relationships with grant partners and make more informed decisions. It has also allowed us to expand into new funding areas, as well as deeper into existing ones.

There’s increasing conversation happening between the foundation and the homebuilding business, which is leading to some exciting support of climate change initiatives.

We’ve entered the youth mental health space and are also getting more strategic in our food security and systems support.

We’re in the second year of our GTA community grants program and are continuously learning from the Indigenous youth program that we launched late 2022.

International development has always held a special place for me, and I’m very excited that we have an international development advisor to help us assess projects and programs and dive deeper into that work.

There are so many exciting initiatives, projects, and amazing partners, it’s hard to pick just one. We are all so grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such important work.”