Your legacy: match your charitable giving to your values
Charitable giving can be an important part of your financial life, both now and in your estate plan. It gains in meaning when your gifts are connected to values and causes you care about. It sounds simple, but articulating our values and turning them into an effective charitable giving strategy can be difficult. Many of us simply default to giving to well-known organizations. Instead, consider developing a meaningful giving plan using these four steps.
1. Reflect on your values. Do you have a strong sense of your core values? Some of us have deep and abiding connections with our faith or ethnic communities. Some of us have a long history of volunteering or community involvement. Still others have strong political associations or engagement with social causes. As philanthropy experts advise, how we live our lives offers the strongest clues to what our core values are.
But others live quieter lives, and here it can still be instructive to look at how we live our lives. Do you have a cottage, like to camp or hike, or spend time outdoors? Maybe land conservation, wildlife protection or animal welfare mean a lot to you. Do you love to read, or read to your grandchildren? Maybe the arts, literacy, or supporting up-and-coming writers holds meaning for you. Were your college or university years a transformational experience for you intellectually, socially or in terms of the opportunities they provided? Perhaps education is a key value.
2. Consider your desired impact. Even if you have a clear sense of your values and the causes you might like to support, there is likely to be a wide variety of benefits that your support could bring about. Consider the above example of higher education. Within a university setting you could support primary research, a chair or award in teaching or the very direct support of students through scholarships, bursaries or emergency funding. While all are valued by the university, different priorities may be more meaningful to you based on your values or personal experience. If you have the means to do so, you may even be able to create a kind of impact that doesn’t currently exist, which could add a new layer of meaning to your generosity.
3. Explore organizations that align. With a better sense of your values, and the causes and impacts you’d like to support, you are ready to find organizations that match your goals. Because this is your charitable giving plan, a fundamental requirement will be that the organization has charitable tax status. You may want to attach other criteria such as geographic reach (is it Canadian or international in scope?) or the percentage that the organization spends on administration versus programming.
While this step can seem daunting, you are not alone. Most large charitable organizations and universities have departments to assist donors and will be happy to help you find a meaningful way to give. Omnibus organizations like the United Way/Centraide, Imagine Canada, or the Community Foundations in large cities including Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto are set up to help donors find ways of supporting organizations that may align with their intentions but may be hard to find without assistance. If using a Donor- Advised Fund is part of your plan, they also offer the ability to support a wide variety of charities through their structure.
4. Connect now, later, or both. Chances are that this process will inspire a sense of connection to the causes and groups that are aligned to your own values. You may even want to get involved offering your time or expertise. Now is also the stage to consider the financial practicalities. Do you want to start contributing now, or is this a part of your estate planning? A joined-up charitable giving strategy can encompass both. If you want to start now and hold off on the estate planning, be sure to seek professional financial and tax advice about adding charitable giving to your investment plans. If you are focusing on estate planning, it is especially important to bring all your legal and financial advisors together to ensure your plans are clear, consistent and co-ordinated. This is especially true if your plans will involve gifting assets like securities. The ability to engage in philanthropy is one of the most satisfying aspects of financial success. To create a meaningful legacy for ourselves and our world provides one of the truly great rewards of our lives. If we can help you get there with the financial aspects of your plan, we’d be honoured to help.