Generous living

January 11, 2018

With an ear for the doorbell and a care for the underdog, philanthropists Murray and Sue Jones have given millions to support the less fortunate in New Zealand and abroad. We spoke to Murray about how and why they give:

For business owner, philanthropist and volunteer Murray Jones, the act of giving started at a young age. Growing up in north-west Auckland in a church-going family with a mum “who always looked out for the underdog”, one of his earliest memories was collecting for CORSO as a “wee fellow”. An experience in which he says he witnessed that the poorest were the most generous while the wealthy tended not to hear the doorbell.

It is clear those early memories made a lasting impact. After moving to Christchurch in 1976, and later setting up the successful company, Dove Electronics in 1984, he was all ears for the doorbell and established the Dove Charitable Trust. As the company has grown, so have the funds the Trust distributes—with a giving total to date of around $15 million. He says the initial goals behind the Trust were essentially Christian but they have since evolved significantly to “where support for conventional religion has no part unless the recipient organisation is actively involved in the community and poverty alleviation”.

“[We] operate on the base criteria of caring for the underdog, and that all recipients are working toward a fairer society.”

Today, Murray says their grants are focussed mainly on smaller community groups around New Zealand with a few exceptions such as Amnesty International and the Christchurch City Mission. He says there is also a significant chunk going to charitable efforts focussed on women and children in the Pacific region. A region he says “is difficult to fundraise for, difficult to make change happen, and on our doorstep.”

Dove Charitable Trust’s grants are decided by their three Trustees, who Murray says operate on the base criteria of caring for the underdog, and that all recipients are working toward a fairer society. “Without paid staff, we also rely on our relationships with grant recipients, many of which we have developed over the years,” he says.

“It’s always been a mantra of mine that we can’t expect to understand, let alone help, those around us if we don’t get among them.”

It’s safe to say Murray has learned a thing or two about good philanthropy. He says, “You’re not out to create dependants and you don’t want people to bow in your honour at your passing. For me, I want people to preserve their dignity and self-esteem while helping, and it sometimes seems to be a tricky balance.” He says being philanthropic is a necessity in New Zealand, “the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer is a very unhealthy trend. I wish to see that trend reversed, and one way to achieve that is for those with money to help those at the other end of spectrum.”

Along with grantmaking, managing funds, and sitting on the Philanthropy New Zealand board, Murray volunteers across a number of organisations. He is part of the Community Justice Panel and where recommended, he and his wife volunteer as mentors to young offenders. Another group, which he chairs, is the Book Discussion Scheme, a nationwide not-for-profit organisation which runs around 1400 book groups across the country. The focus is a strong social agenda which utilises the many benefits of reading to encourage interaction and understanding, especially in parts of society where reading isn’t so strong. One such group is at a women’s prison, where he joins the Chaplain to host a book club. Murray feels taking part and walking alongside those you are wanting to assist is hugely important, “It’s always been a mantra of mine that we can’t expect to understand, let alone help, those around us if we don’t get among them.” However, he is quick to point out that he is not “some virtuous dogooder” and feels that his contributions help him out as much as anyone else, “I reckon taking part in these groups does far more for me than anything I do in return.”

This article was originally published in Philanthropy News Issue #72, December 2017