How To Give

Support your favourite cause, whatever your bank balance.


If you’re looking to make a difference and don’t know where to begin, don’t rush in. Take your time and do the necessary due diligence. With philanthropy, as with most things in life, you get out of it what you put in. Put some real thought into why, how and to whom you want to give.

Jeffrey Solomon, co-author of The Art of Giving and president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, estimates that there are as many as 150 general areas (reproductive rights, arts appreciation, environmental preservation, etc.) in which a person can give. For many potential donors, the quantity of options available and the pressure to choose the right one can be the hardest part.

“The only way to really figure out which of the charities in Canada you want to give to,” says Owen Charters, executive director of, a non-profit that facilitates online donations to the 85,000-plus charities registered with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), “is to start figuring out what means the most to you or your family.”

“It’s about connecting your autobiography to the areas in which you might be giving,” says Soloman.  If you’re moved by the suffering of the poor, ask yourself if you’d like to combat poverty in your own community or globally. Are you interested in supporting an organization advocating for policy change or do you want to provide meals or other essentials to people who need them?

Once you’ve settled on a cause, don’t just head for the first or most recognizable organization. With some research, “you might find organizations that are local or are doing things that touch you more,” Solomon says.

The amount you plan to give should be a factor in how you give. Charters notes that with online donations, “The funds get there faster with less cost and less administrative hassle.”

Charters advises that those considering larger donations “should actually start thinking about … getting a better tax advantage.” In short, instead of cash, donate securities. As well as the donation tax credit you would get from a cash gift, a gift of shares or mutual funds — any appreciated securities — helps you avoid paying tax on capital gains.

Establish a philanthropic budget by deciding how much you want to give, and spread the amount evenly throughout the year. Budgeting will also help you determine the amount you’re actually able to give. Maybe the $300 you gave last year was a little ambitious  — or maybe it wasn’t enough.

A gift needn’t be something you give and forget about. Think about opening a donor-advised fund through a local community foundation. You’ll get a tax credit while retaining complete advisory over the allocation of the funds, allowing you to parcel your gift out over time to a variety of different causes. (To find out more, go to

Think about starting your own donor circle, the philanthropic equivalent of a book club. Donor circles can be a great way for older Canadians “who are retired and seek opportunities for socialization … to engage with their peers, neighbours and communities,” says Solomon. They also allow you to create a greater impact by pooling funds.

Above all, keep in mind that there is no wrong way to give. As Solomon explains, “The very nature of the choice as being between right and right makes it hard to fail at charitable donations. The challenge is not failure versus success but success with greater meaning, with greater satisfaction, with the result being, ‘I want to do more.’ ”


In a recent poll, 51 per cent of respondents worried about giving cash to a fraud. Here are tips to avoid the fakes.

> Make sure you’re giving to a real charity. Confirm the charity is registered with the CRA and be sure to get a receipt.

> Do your homework. Ask to see a charity’s financial statements and annual reports. Reluctance to disclose this information indicates a lack of transparency.

> Give in a way you know is secure. Online donations should only be made through secure, reputable sites. Also, avoid making cheques out to individuals instead of organizations.

> Never feel pressured. Charitable giving is supposed to be fun. Even if the pressure is coming from a representative of a registered charity, it’s a sure sign the circumstances aren’t right. Trust your instincts; if it doesn’t feel right, don’t
do it.