Pay it forward

LANI EVANS: "We are generous with our time and our product, and always assume best intent."
LANI EVANS: "We are generous with our time and our product, and always assume best intent."

Lani Evans runs a "generosity-based business".

"We practise generosity in all aspects of work," says the chief executive officer of Dunedin-based Thankyou Payroll. "We are generous with our time and our product, and always assume best intent."

She's rarely disappointed. "On the whole, people are great," she says.

Thankyou Payroll uses an IRD subsidy to provide small businesses and charities with a free payroll service. In about four years, it's found about 1000 clients across New Zealand, 70 per cent of them small businesses and 30 per cent charities. Most have fewer than 25 staff.

The state subsidises "intermediaries" like Thankyou because IRD gets cleaner tax returns from small organisations, while freeing small employers to focus on their business or charity instead of tedious PAYE filings.

Thankyou extends the freebie by sending up to $5 per client per pay to a charitable trust that distributes the money to community organisations. After running charitable rounds in Dunedin and Christchurch earlier this year, Thankyou Charitable Trust launched a funding round for Wellington this month. Further rounds are expected in Hamilton and Auckland, probably in 2015.

As with the earlier rounds in the southern cities, the Wellington round is intended to benefit groups active in a postcode area, in this case 6021. That includes Hataitai, Newtown and Brooklyn - neighbourhoods with lots of creatives and students, Evans says.

About 10 years ago, the 35-year-old left Brisbane to make a rock climbing documentary in the Southern Alps.

"I like hanging off cliffs with cameras," she says. She fell in love with Dunedin and stayed.

In 2007, Evans and two girlfriends were the first women to walk the length of the South Island.

The trio did it the hard way, ascending 21 mountain passes over 84 days. It was a fundraiser for Youthline but also gave Evans mountain adventures - "that's always good for me", she says - while challenging the masculine culture that looms over mountaineering.

A previous adventure saw Evans and four girlfriends raise awareness of Rape Crisis Dunedin with a 15-day expedition through Fiordland. "Women who partake in other activities have a higher self-respect for themselves . . . it can help them to avoid dangerous situations," Evans said at the time.

Earlier this year, Evans and three friends used a grant from The North Face and Australian Geographic magazine to kayak to, and climb, four remote sea pillars on the Tasmanian coast, all in one day.

If there wasn't a charitable goal attached, Evans keeps her generosity busy as a trustee with Malcam Charitable Trust, which benefits Otago youths, as co-chair of the West Harbour Beautification Trust, and has recently trained to become a Climate Reality Project presenter for Al Gore ("he's cool," she says).

In 2010, she was working in the Dunedin's community sector when Hugh Davidson asked her to help beta test his new payroll software. Davidson had worked for IRD and saw that a small company with good technology could survive on the IRD subsidy and even fund some charitable giving. He co-founded Thankyou as a social enterprise and recruited Evans to be chief executive while he stayed on as chief technology officer.

His business model appealed. "The more opportunities you give people to be great, the more opportunities they have not to disappoint you," Evans says.

It's an attitude built in to the charitable side of Thankyou. Recipients get no more than $1000 for their project and in turn must attend a Thankyou dinner at which they present their project to other recipients from the postcode. And a year after getting their money, recipients will be asked to help select the next round of grant winners from a slightly different postcode. The idea is that locals know best about the needs of their community and "we trust you'll make great choices", the trust's website says.

In Port Chalmers, Dunedin (postcode 9023), the Thankyou trust funded a primary school football net, golf clubs for a school programme, a community hall kitchen refurbishment and a seating area on a cycleway - a small feature in a larger scheme. In central Christchurch (postcode 8011), the trust funded a composting project, a pop-up restaurant demonstrating full-circle sustainability, and Help for the Homeless, among others.

"All of the fund recipients have been excited about what they can contribute to their community," she says.

Wellington and Hamilton community groups: meet Lani Evans.

More info:

The Dominion Post