What is a philanthropist? We explore and offer tips on how to give like one.
Where do you start when you define a philanthropist? You can look to famous historical examples who are sometimes seen as pillars of modern society. Or, you could glide quickly up in the timeline to today’s prominent figures giving billions to causes and charities.
If you magnify this timeline, other forms of giving become visible. Beyond the donations making the biggest headlines, there are kaleidoscopes of everyday philanthropic actions. Small acts of kindness, assistance, and mutual support have historically met emerging needs or moved societies in new directions.
As a reflection of this diversity in giving, a growing movement aims to expand philanthropy to all as a means to help our democracies and societies thrive.
We can all be philanthropists
Inclusive philanthropy is not creating anything entirely new. The concept acknowledges movements of generosity that have long existed (such as giving circles and mutual aid), while inviting greater diversity across philanthropic organizations.
In keeping with this view, there is no one way to define philanthropy or charitable actions. It’s up to donors to make contributions in support of the charities, programs, and resources they believe will advance the world.
“Philanthropy is the act of believing that we have an obligation and an opportunity to make the world a more equitable, fair, happy place for everyone,” said Sloane Davidson, the founder and CEO of a U.S.-based non-profit called Hello Neighbor. “That includes your local community, your country, international causes; that includes animals, trees, and people. It’s the general idea that, if you have the capacity to give back, you should.”
Defining your own personal philanthropy
Davidson has devised a system for her own giving to ensure it is personally significant. As an individual donor, she takes time to thoughtfully consider how her giving can reflect her interests, experiences, and networks.
That means setting aside money for “signature” charities that she feels closely aligned with, charities her friends and family ask her to support, relief organizations for disasters due to emerging issues such as climate change, and new or innovative charities to explore. Davidson has made it a practice to set aside an annual budget for giving, to write down her goals, and to keep track of where she donates on a spreadsheet.
“When you are at any age and you are thinking about philanthropic giving, it’s all the same pool. What I am spending on vacation, on friends’ birthdays, on a haircut, on rent, on health insurance, it’s all one pool of money,” said Davidson. “So I wanted to get really clear on what I wanted to give away per year.”
There can be negative connotations associated with the word philanthropist. It’s important to define your giving according to your own terms—and that’s where having goals and missions can be key. “Everybody can be a philanthropist,” said Davidson. “Any of us can be philanthropic and that is not defined by somebody else. That’s defined by yourself.”
“Everybody can be a philanthropist.”
Create your own system of generosity
At Charitable Impact, one of our core beliefs is that we all have something to give. Essentially, we can all act on our generosity to be philanthropic. Taking your giving further doesn’t necessarily require enormous expense, but it does take some intentional planning.
To help you give more like a philanthropist, these are our suggestions on how to make your giving more personally meaningful. You can start with just one or two to build a practice of generosity. By doing so, it’s possible to make a bigger impact on the causes you care about.
10 ways to give like a philanthropist
1. Use the most effective tools and resources.
There are many ways to give and a donor-advised fund (DAF) is particularly suited to those who make giving a regular part of their life. With Charitable Impact, any donor can access a DAF and you can start with a donation of $5.
Charitable Impact is Canada’s first online accessible DAF, as previously this giving tool was available only to high-net-worth donors. It’s similar to having your own foundation (a corporation or trust used by many major philanthropists). The difference is you are not required to take on expensive overhead costs or abide by the rules that apply to registered charities.
On Charitable Impact, you can also access other features like giving assets other than cash, investing in your giving, and giving together with friends.
2. Make your giving more proactive.
While you may not receive the same amount of fundraising requests as Warren Buffett or MacKenzie Scott, it can be beneficial to set these aside (if even temporarily). Focus less on requests to chart your own path. Giving that is proactive, rather than reactive, will bring more benefits.
Having a clear direction can also free you of feeling that you need to give out of guilt or obligation. “I am very unlikely to respond to in-the-moment solicitations,” said Davidson. “If I am going to give to you, I am going to give to you. I appreciate you asking, but you don’t have to ask because I am going to do it.”
There are tools to help you define your personal values, creating a useful guide for a tailored philanthropic plan. There is no reason not to aim high, as long as you can take accessible steps along the way (like, say, giving a bit each month).
3. Give to what you care about.
Giving that is especially meaningful is not only proactive, but it can keep you giving in the long-term—like a dedicated philanthropist. Consistent or monthly donors help organizations create predictable plans for programs or initiatives.
Start by considering your personal motivations. Research shows that giving most often comes from the heart. Other motivations include feeling personally affiliated with a charity due to your life experiences or your networks, or feeling familiar with and having knowledge of an organization’s measurable impact.
Think about your life experiences, your networks, your connections, and how those can contribute to an enduring giving plan. The stories you experience and learn from others can be woven into your unique giving narrative.
4. Consider what you have to give.
If you are able to give 1% of your income to charity, you will be counted among the most charitable Canadians! Budgeting for your giving is a smart step in creating your own plan.
Do keep in mind, philanthropy is not all about the money. You could have a particular skill set or talent to share, material possessions (clothes, household items) no longer needed, or time to volunteer towards a cause. Volunteering has some pretty major health benefits and can be a pathway to stronger relationships with charities. Any initial action can get you started on a path towards giving more regularly.
On Charitable Impact, you can also expand your giving capacity with non-cash assets (such as publicly or privately traded securities, real estate, or even art). Or, consider your wealth in relationships.
If you are more of a connector, you can start a Giving Group to pool resources with those in your networks. Giving with a community can multiply your efforts and provide an accountability boost.
5. Donate your time by serving on a board.
Consider serving on a charity’s board of directors. You will access personal benefits like growing your networks and the satisfaction of applying your talents to advancing a cause.
Being part of a board can be a very effective way to familiarize yourself with what goes into operating a charity. You will acquire a first-hand look at an organization’s needs and current activities, and can provide valuable information based on your own perspectives and expertise.
6. Get informed advice and connect with charities.
If you would like to understand your impact, get to know the charities you support. As an individual donor, you can reach out to charities to ask about what they need most from you.
“Don’t consider yourself the expert,” said Nicole Macdonald, Philanthropic Advisory Manager with Charitable Impact. “Similar to how you trust your financial advisors with information on investing, consider charities the experts in their own space.”
Start by doing your own thorough research. “Before you reach out directly to charities, scour their websites and annual reports to find out more about the work they do,” she says. “When you ask informed questions, you can get more information that will be valuable to your own donor journey.”
Information on charities’ revenue and expenses is available on Charitable Impact. If you need more advice, reach out to Nicole for her insights as a philanthropic advisor.
7. Optimize your giving.
Canada has one of the most generous tax credit programs for charitable donations, and the value of the tax credit increases after the first $200 given each year. When your giving costs you less, you can give more or spend in other important ways.
Pro tip: Giving non-cash assets can be a way to expand your giving capacity and improve its effectiveness. If you have appreciated publicly traded securities, these are the most tax-effective way to give. Talk to us today to find out more.
8. Track your progress.
As with any journey, keeping track of where you have been is important. On Charitable Impact, you can clearly and easily track all your donations. It’s all your giving in one place. This can help you identify gaps between your goals and your actions. You might notice that you are not fulfilling your personal mission through the organizations you support.
Take note of when giving feels especially meaningful and significant to you—bringing you those feelings of joy. Be aware of when your giving does not feel as productive so you can adjust your charitable priorities. For example, Davidson takes note of how new charities she gives to interact with her as a donor—and if it inspires her to give more or not.
As with any journey, keeping track of where you have been is important.
9. Celebrate your giving accomplishments.
At Charitable Impact, we believe that in giving, we get something in return. So take moments to really feel good about your giving. Even if your generosity is not cast in the same spotlight as big-name philanthropists, you can receive positive mental health benefits from recognizing your efforts to build a brighter future.
Finding joy in your accomplishments can boost your motivation to achieve more. So when giving feels good, recognize the moment and come back to it by making giving a regular, proactive, and thoughtful part of your life.
10. Leave a positive mark on the world.
You can stand out as a donor by starting a giving legacy during your lifetime, and having that legacy continue after you pass away. Very few Canadians leave to a charity in their will. Surveys show that many simply have not considered this as an option, or have fears that it will take away from their heirs.
Giving can bring benefits to yourself and others today, while considering your giving legacy can create added significance and support future generations.
Consider leaving to a donor-advised fund, a more flexible way of investing in the future (without having to immediately designate charities). Giving of your estate in your will can be tax-effective, ensuring that you are still leaving valuable assets to those you love.
We’re here to help
Giving of your time, talent, and treasure is a way to cast a vote for what you want to see in the world. Optimizing your giving through a donor-advised fund, like on Charitable Impact, can have a great impact on the causes you care about.
We are here to support you at each step along the way. “If you want someone to guide you through the process of donating in a way that is strategic and meaningful, reach out to Charitable Impact,” says Nicole Macdonald, Philanthropic Advisory Manager. “As the link between you as a donor and the charities who have the knowledge, we can help craft your own personalized giving strategy.”
At Charitable Impact, we’re here to help you achieve your giving, your way, with our support. Our Philanthropic Advisory services provide clients with custom solutions to achieving their charitable ambitions. Charitable Impact can support your giving today and your giving legacy tomorrow. Reach out to us today to connect with Nicole Macdonald, Manager of Philanthropic Advisory.
We hope you find this material useful in learning about giving. However, you should never use this material without first reviewing it with your own lawyer(s) and tax advisor(s) to determine its suitability for your circumstances. This material is not legal, tax, or other professional advice.
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