Stories | June 30, 2022

5 Canadian philanthropists, 5 approaches to giving

A list of 5 of Canada’s biggest names and figures in philanthropy.

The word “philanthropist” is often associated with billionaires making big, newsworthy donations. Recently, Warren Buffett made headlines for giving $4 billion of Berkshire Hathaway stocks away, contributing to the cumulative $48 billion he has now given to charity. 

Listed here are 5 Canadian philanthropists that you may or may not have heard of. While each has made significant contributions, they show different approaches or tactics. Together, they reflect the unique paths available to achieving giving goals. 

As a donor, there may be strategies or tactics that you can borrow from Canada’s biggest names and historical figures in philanthropy. An expanding conversation in the giving space is that the term philanthropist in itself should not be limited to billionaires. 

Making major or significant gifts is one pathway among countless to express generosity. There are many ways to be generous. Read on for our takes and tips that you can apply to your own giving. 

Wilhelmina Alexander 

A successful artist with a colourful and vibrant style, Alexander lived between the years 1871 and 1961. Thanks to her prestige, Alexander tried to lift others up by offering spaces for burgeoning artists to exhibit in her own home. She also organized fundraisers for causes or charities such as the YMCA and the war effort. 

Using her stature as a member of a number of arts and community-related associations and committees, Alexander was able to rally others to give to causes she cared about. 

As a donor, if you would like to be more involved and learn more about the charities you support, getting involved as a volunteer can be valuable. Before you commit to giving charitable dollars, you can learn more about the mission and understand how your donations will be allocated. 

Pro tip: Starting or joining a Giving Group on Charitable Impact can help to optimize your giving together with others. 


Joan Chalmers

Joan Chalmers, who died in 2016 at the age of 88, grew up surrounded by philanthropy after her parents grew wealthy due to a publishing venture and started a family foundation. Chalmers carried her family’s mission of giving forward, seeing it as her duty to continue and build upon traditions of Canadian arts and culture. 

As an ardent supporter of the visual arts, the crafts movement, and theatre, Chalmers received the Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts in the Outstanding Contribution category.

Complementary to her charitable contributions, Chalmers commissioned and collected work from artists. She was often very involved in the projects she supported and served on a number of boards. 

If you are interested in giving of your time and expertise as a donor, serving on a board can be a way to play a role in guiding the work of an organization. 

Pro tip: When you add money on Charitable Impact, you receive an immediate tax receipt, then you can take time and space to make informed giving decisions. By accessing tax credits, you may be able to give more to the causes you care about. 


A marquée artist and 4-time Grammy-winning performer, 35-year-old Drake made generosity the focus of his “God’s Plan” music video as he joyfully presents toys and gifts, cars, shopping sprees, and money to students, youth centres, and individuals and families. It’s emotional, moving, and definitely reflects a style of giving.

As the youngest person on this list, Drake’s journey in giving is arguably just beginning. While not necessarily reacting to asks or requests, he tends to support individual or immediate needs on a local level. His generosity does not impose demands or pre-set agreements on how gifts or funds will be spent. 

As a donor, if you prefer giving to meet the immediate needs of individuals, there are a number of charities providing services and support. Giving to registered charities can provide accountability and a way to measure impact, which giving directly to individuals may not afford.

Pro tip: On Charitable Impact, you can filter your search for charities and Giving Groups according to causes such as “outreach and welfare”, “community development”, “children and youth”, and “health”. 

Michael Lee-Chin

Born in Jamaica, Lee-Chin gives is ranked among the 20th wealthiest Canadians and has given generously to a number of Canadian universities, hospitals, and museums.

Lee-Chin, who is 71 years old, also donates considerably to Jamaican institutions—for example, funding an initiative that has provided access to postsecondary education to thousands. He has received the Order of Jamaica for his philanthropic endeavours.

As a donor, you can consider how you would like to divide your donations among organizations—whether you give locally or internationally. Statistics show that a grand majority of donations go to a handful of well-known charities.

When you give to smaller charities, you can make significant contributions within a more modest budget. When you plan accordingly, you can think and act both locally and globally. 

Pro tip: If you have a set amount to give each year as a donor, dividing that amount up between a number of smaller organizations can potentially make a big difference. Giving in a dedicated way over time can optimize and increase your contributions.

Jeffrey Skoll

As one of the first employees of eBay, 57-year-old, Canadian-born Skoll has become an internationally renowned philanthropist. Among his recognitions, Skoll was awarded Officer in the Order of Canada in 2012. 

Skoll is a signatory of the Giving Pledge, joining others among “the world’s wealthiest individuals” committed to giving away the majority of their monetary prosperity during their lifetimes or in their wills. 

The Skoll Foundation, which makes grants of more than $80 million every year in support of social entrepreneurs, is among a number of Skoll’s philanthropic projects. The organization aims to contribute to fighting major challenges of our time, such as climate change. 

Because he takes on such big global issues—like the environment and, more recently, research to support pandemic responses—Skoll has been dubbed a “systems thinker”.

As a donor, thinking about more complex problems can lead you to support a range of organizations and movements. 

Pro tip: A donor-advised fund, like Charitable Impact, provides tools for taking time to understand issues underlying a cause in order to give in the most informed way. You can also invest in your giving through a Charitable Investment Account. Talk to us to find out more. 

What to consider as a donor—whether you give $5 or $5 million

Even if you don’t have access to extraordinary wealth, being a philanthropist can mean effectively using the resources available to you to make an impact.

KPMG’s 2021 Global Philanthropy Report found that 7 in 10 philanthropists in Canada and internationally considered measurability as a factor in their decisions to give. Many are taking into account issues of equality, diversity, and sustainability.

You can borrow from trends among those leading in Canadian philanthropy to make your giving more intentional, informed, and  innovative.

If you would like to discover more about your own style of giving and what approaches might suit you best, take our giving quiz!


Charitable Impact operates as a donor-advised fund—a tool used by philanthropists and a growing number of Canadians. Unlock new ways to give with an Impact Account: accessing time and space to make informed giving decisions, rallying others to give, giving as a family, passing generosity on to future generations, giving non-cash assets, or investing in giving with Charitable Investment Account. Talk to us today to learn more.


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