Outgoing Board Chair Nicole Geyer on Her Work at SVP Vancouver and Her Vision for the Future

Nicole Geyer, outgoing board chair at SVP Vancouver and passionate advocate for philanthropy and community engagement, reflects on her journey from viewing philanthropy as a stuffy concept associated with wealth to embracing it as a personal commitment to giving back.

  • May 22, 2024

  • SVP Vancouver

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Outgoing Board Chair Nicole Geyer on Her Work at SVP Vancouver and Her Vision for the Future

Nicole Geyer, outgoing board chair at SVP Vancouver and passionate advocate for philanthropy and community engagement, reflects on her journey from viewing philanthropy as a stuffy concept associated with wealth to embracing it as a personal commitment to giving back. Inspired by her mother’s example of service and inherently inclined to help others, Nicole’s philanthropic efforts gained a new focus after her husband Paul’s career milestone allowed them to establish a family foundation. This enabled them to take a more strategic approach to their philanthropy, supporting places they enjoyed as a family when their children were young, such as Science World and the Vancouver Aquarium. Throughout her time at SVP Vancouver, Nicole has held various roles, including Board Chair, Lead Partner to several organizations such as Red Fox Healthy Living Society, Backpack Buddies, The Treehouse, and the Deaf Children’s Society of BC, as well as Governance Committee Member and Opportunities Committee Chair. 

Q: What are you most proud of from the last few years as chair of the board of SVP Vancouver, which happens to have been a really challenging time in the nonprofit sector in the face of the pandemic?

 I’m really proud of how the whole team handled everything through the COVID-19 pandemic: being able to support our organizations early on made such a difference. And I don’t know if there’s any one thing, to be honest with you, but I think under Helen’s leadership, we’ve made tremendous headway in trust-based philanthropy, rejigging our language, just a more equitable lens to the way we do things. We still got a lot of work to do—but I’m really proud of that, too. It’s been a transitional period of time, just in our world history. So I think we’ve just embraced it and stepped up to the challenge.

Q: What does philanthropy mean to you?

For me, personally, I think that philanthropy means being engaged in the charitable not for profit community, and really focusing on giving back, whether it’s with money, time, or both. For Paul and me, it’s very much both. But I actually don’t get hung up on that term “philanthropy” because it often carries connotations of wealth, which can be limiting, but by dictionary definition, that’s not what it means. It’s about recognizing the value of giving, whether it’s through time, money, or other means. Everyone has something to offer, and while money is valuable, so is the commitment of time and energy. In my view, everyone should give back in whatever way that they can, and those who have more should give more.

Q: What’s something you would like to see change about the sector?

I think a pivotal moment for me was listening to Dan Pallota’s Ted Talk a number of years ago, and that was my first wake-up call. At the time, I didn’t look at things the way that he looked at things and it took me a while to get my head around it. What really hits home for me is: how can you expect these small charitable organizations to change fundamental societal issues and not give them the resources to do so? It’s really nonsensical. I get incensed by the commonly held perspective that because someone has made the decision to go and work in the nonprofit sector, and because they’re passionate about the cause, that they don’t deserve to be appropriately compensated. This is something that made SVP Vancouver so intriguing to me, because we get to use our skill sets to help enable so many incredible organizations to create significant positive change in our community. How beautiful is that? 

Q: In a session that SVP held on Fostering Belonging through Diversity, Equity and Inclusion back in October 2023, you shared that you learned a lot in the past few years about the power dynamics in our society, and the privilege that you hold. Can you tell us more about that?

I think we all should try and walk a mile in other people’s shoes. And I think societally when we’re little, it’s easy to start judging people for whatever reason; whether it’s comments your parents, friends, or teachers make—and I think we have to consciously catch ourselves, because until you actually do walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes, you truly don’t know. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the things that really hit home to me is that there’s a lot of suffering out there. It really puts things into perspective that one person’s bad day could be another person’s really good day. 

Q: Can you share more about your own journey towards reconciliation and the substantial shifts that happened in your own core beliefs following the discovery of Indigenous children’s graves in Kamloops in May 2021?

I watched Indian Horse, which focuses on the life of Saul Indian Horse, a young Indigenous boy who discovers resilience and identity through ice hockey after enduring the Canadian residential school system. The hockey angle is what drew me in and though it was a really horrific story, I don’t think it hit home until they uncovered the children’s graves in Kamloops. I knew, obviously, loosely, what our history was. But I don’t think I did any legwork to really uncover it—and then I just got mad. I got mad at the fact that growing up this was all happening, and there was a huge opportunity for us to be educated about what the true history of Canada was, but it was completely brushed over. I think of Canada as being a fairly open and transparent, good, honest country with good, honest people. But when something like that happens, it is really hard to reconcile. One shouldn’t learn at the age of 50 that the Canadian history we learned about in school is not actually our true history. After that I really got hungry for stories, books, training—anything that would help to re-educate me about what the truth was. It’s a real process, because I don’t really have any Indigenous friends; I didn’t grow up in a very multicultural community. I kept thinking about how if we want to thrive as a country, we have to recognize the horrors of the past, see how they have impacted our future, and make changes in our community to ensure everyone has the chance to thrive; otherwise, we’re doomed. And I think we’re doing it; it can just take a long time to make meaningful change.

Q: What is your dream for SVP Vancouver over the next few years, as you transition out of your role as board chair?

My dream is for us to fully realize our strategic plan and really grow—not in size, but in our giving. I want us to truly target organizations with the potential to scale and make a significant difference in more people’s lives. That would be incredibly rewarding, and I believe we can achieve it because we’ve done it before! Take a Hike Foundation is a prime example. We might not have fully realized at the time how pivotal that $150,000 scaling grant was. It’s not that Take a Hike couldn’t have succeeded without SVP Vancouver, but it would have taken much longer. That’s what I keep thinking about: these organizations are doing great work and will be successful, but how can we help them achieve success faster so they can do even more good? That’s what it’s all about, right? Or sometimes, you find that hidden gem that’s just getting by, and we have the power to propel them into something extraordinary. Take a Hike is expanding into Ontario now! From a donor’s perspective, I want people to see the immense value in SVP Vancouver.

Feedback from Investees: 

“Nicole Geyer has been a pillar of the Take a Hike community for nearly two decades. Championing Take a Hike’s mission of empowering vulnerable youth from day one, Nicole has shown her steadfast dedication to improving the lives of youth who need it most. Without Nicole’s leadership on the Take a Hike board, we would not have been able to achieve all that we have. The growth and impacts achieved by Take a Hike and the youth in our programs is only possible because of leaders like Nicole who make immense difference in our community.” – Gordon Matchett, Take a Hike CEO

“Nicole’s passion for community is evident by the time she commits to the various causes she cares about. What’s unique about her is the warmth and fun she brings along with that time commitment. It has been a pleasure getting to know Nicole over the last 14 years that I’ve been a part of the charitable sector, and I know her generosity was established here long before I was.” -Jaydeen Williams, Co-Executive Director, Communications and Engagement, Growing Chefs

“The Treehouse struck gold when we landed Nicole Geyer as one of our SVP lead partners. Nicole truly embodies the core philosophy of SVP, emphasizing that capacity building begins with strong leadership. Her encouraging words, pragmatic advice, and profound wisdom lift Investees up, empowering them with the confidence to drive organizations forward. It is much easier to believe in yourself when others believe in you. As The Treehouse continues to grow and evolve, Nicole remains pivotal to our success. We are grateful for all she is given to us to date and look forward to continuing to benefit from her wisdom for years to come.” – Leah Zille, Executive Director, The Treehouse