For three decades, rural Nova Scotians watched as every year an average of 1,300 young people, aged 20-29, left for urban hubs in Central and Western Canada, in search of better lives and prospects.
“Over the years you watch the post office close and the schools close. Many of our communities have lost their identity because of out-migration,” says Sherry MacLeod, board member of the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia (RCF). “And you watch the decline of the population, thinking there must be something you can do to help prevent these communities from dying.” The province, a majority of which is rural, was on the precipice of long-term economic decline and action needed to be taken.
That is why, three years ago, MacLeod began volunteering for the RCF – a non-profit small grants organization that has, since 2000, been helping rural charities find funds to support and build their needy communities and causes. With 25 years of experience selling rural real estate in the province behind her, MacLeod knew that donating rural properties was a sure-fire way for Nova Scotian and non-resident landowners to help secure the future of their dying communities.
Last fall, with input from the local community for an idea spearheaded by MacLeod, the RCF launched a program accepting cottage or vacation property, investment property, farmland, vacant land or environmentally sensitive land as charitable gifts. Since then, the RCF has turned property gains into community good.
RCF helps Realtors build their business in difficult times such as these, says MacLeod. “If Realtors have clients who are planning their estates and are looking for a way to disperse their land, donating that property has tax advantages for their client. If Realtors bring these clients to RCF, we’d have the land appraised and go through the process with them. It would be donated to RCF. Once it’s in RCF’s name, we would go back to that same Realtor and list the property with them.”
Realtors have nothing to lose in the transaction and will be guaranteed the listing back, if they refer their client to RCF, says MacLeod. “As Realtors, we care about our communities. We want our communities to be strong and thrive,” she says.
The process, says MacLeod, is simple.
Once a landowner identifies a piece of land they wish to donate, they or their Realtor contacts RCF. Together they establish the estimated market value of the property. RCF’s volunteer board, which includes two Realtors, including MacLeod, then assesses the property for compliance with the organization’s acceptance policies. RCF helps the property owner market and negotiate the sale for maximum returns. Proceeds from the sale are held in RCF’s donation fund, grants from which are then disbursed to qualified rural charities and causes.
In the past, RCF, in partnership with RBC’s Future Launch Community Challenge
and Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) has given $90,000 to seven youth-led projects between ages of 15-29. These youth-led programs focus on priorities such as community health, food security, education and the environment.
Property gifts are also eligible, says MacLeod, for tax credit based on its full market value. “This is a great opportunity for Nova Scotia landowners to give back to our rural communities,” says MacLeod. “It will also enable RCF to provide financial incentives to those who can make a difference. It’s a win-win.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, cities in Nova Scotia have seen the closure of several local businesses. To help alleviate the crisis, RCF has collaborated with sister organization, The Community Foundation of Nova Scotia (CFNS) to bring farm produce to urban and rural customers. “Right now, we have the Emergency Funds Program, through which we’re granting out basically $500,000 plus to needy charities for things like soup kitchens to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic,” says MacLeod.
RCF’s land gift program has resonated well with Realtors across Canada. Ranging from the Nova Scotia Real Estate Commission to Realtors in Victoria, MacLeod has received keen support for her initiative.
Since last fall, RCF has received two land gifts from landowners who are not Nova Scotia residents but have a long-time attachment to Cape Breton and Guysborough Counties. Having long-lost ties to the province, “their gifts were part of the estate management that enabled them to ‘give something back’ to these places they care about,” says MacLeod.