Billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have initiated a successful campaign called the Giving Pledge (givingpledge.org) to convince the super wealthy to ultimately give at least half their net worth to charitable causes. As of March 2013, 105 billionaires have signed on. Very Impressive.
On a more humble scale, most of us are in the process of filing our 2013 taxes and, as part of that annual ordeal, completing the T1 Charitable Donations Schedule, or paper-clipped our past year’s donation receipts for our tax preparer to deal with. If you are like most Canadians, those receipts probably reflect a potpourri of philanthropy: the campaign of a co-worker’s child, the knock-on-the-door solicitations, the emails from previously-supported charities, and perhaps monthly commitments paid directly from your bank account or credit card.
In my industry—financial planning—it is often said most Canadians spend more time planning their annual vacations than their financial future. I feel comfortable extending this illogical supposition to individual philanthropy, which probably commands less thought on average than where to go for dinner at the resort!
However, as one ages it is natural to spend more time and thought energy on the important things. Careers usually become more stable and financially lucrative, children grow and leave the nest (physically and, hopefully, financially), and eventually our legacy to society becomes a more important component of our financial plan.
If we are able and it is not yet done, each of us should ask ourselves: is it time to formulate a Philanthropy Plan?
I suggest a two-part process:
- Reflect on the following questions. Should I be more focused in my annual giving? Should I target a fixed dollar amount or a percentage of my income for charity each year? What causes are important to me? How should I allocate between them? What is my personal policy or budget for solicited or impromptu requests?
- Once this ongoing philanthropy strategy is formulated, it makes sense as part of our estate plan to consider our final legacy to the causes that are important to us. After providing financially for loved ones, am I able to leave a legacy to others? What should this focus be? Are there ways to multiply the impact of this legacy over time and future generations?
Most of us will be making decisions about sums far less than those listed on the Giving Pledge website, but collectively our giving can have just as much impact. No answers or strategies are appropriate for all. Our personal Philanthropy Plans will be piecemeal or well-planned, nominal or substantial, immediate or long-term, but each will be a unique reflection of those of us giving.
Perhaps it is time to spend some mental energy on a philanthropy strategy that reflects you.
Don Proteau is a Vancouver planner and member of the Fraser Institute Foundation’s Gift Planning Advisory Group. As part of his evolving Philanthropy Plan he has allocated a portion of his planned giving to the Fraser Institute.