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The season of giving has begun: How to create a plan around your charitable giving

Expert Contributor: Nicola Elkins for

Giving effectively — and sustainably — requires that you make a plan and then stick to it with informed choices. There is no right or wrong here. What is important is what matters to you. But you are more likely to succeed in achieving your charitable goals if you have a defined plan with specific objectives.

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Start with your heart

The best place to begin is with some soul searching. Do an internal review of your values and the causes that are important to you and your family. Write them down. What are your priorities for giving? Consider some achievable objectives — specific goals that you want to reach with your giving. Ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you keen on creating something you can get your family involved in?
  • Do you want to leave a lasting legacy, support your religious beliefs, set an example for others, reciprocate for a good deed done for you, or meet some critical need of society?

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Choose your cause

Once you have a strategy in place, you need to choose specific charities to support, but with over 161,000 not-for-profits in Canada, it isn't that easy. Do your homework. Your giving is only as effective as the charities you are donating to. What organizations are doing work in your chosen area? Which ones are the most closely aligned with your chosen priorities? Talk to the charities directly and ask yourself:

  • Does this organization clearly articulate its purpose and mandate?
  • What is its plan to address the problem it is seeking to solve?
  • Is there evidence that they have developed programs that have achieved meaningful results?

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Determine your surplus wealth

Having defined your strategy and the charities you will support, you need to think about how and how much to give. The first priority is to look back to your own financial plan. Are you OK? Do you have enough to cover expenses throughout your lifetime? Your financial advisor will be able to help you with this. The next priority becomes your family — are they OK? This is the stage where you will be reviewing your estate, ensuring that its assets are protected from tax as much as possible and that it is passing to the next generation. If you are a business owner, your exit plan and business succession plan should be considered. Only after you have identified what your surplus wealth is, can you ask the next question — is my community OK? This is the stage which we call 'social capital' - where your surplus wealth, as well as your time, can be used to benefit your community, your faith or any other cause that is close to your heart.

[More: To give is to receive: Why you should give even when money is tight]

For more planned giving and philanthropy expertise (or to ask your own question), visit Nicola's profile page on is a free personal finance and education site for women.

Nothing contained herein is intended to provide personalized financial, legal or tax advice. Before implementing any financial strategy, you should obtain information and advice from your financial, legal and/or tax advisers who are fully aware of your individual circumstances.

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