What is Your Charitable Legacy?

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Carnegie Library Illinois

What is your charitable legacy, and when do you start to build it?

To most people, the word “legacy” connotes big, highly visible actions. They probably think of wealthy philanthropists like Warren Buffet, Andrew Carnegie, or Charles Bronfman. They also likely think about those who leave a large gift to charity after death through a bequest or “planned giving.” But what they forget is that philanthropists will be remembered as much for what they gave throughout their lives, as for what they’ve left behind at the end. You don’t need to have your name on a library or the wing of a hospital to make an impact. A charitable legacy is built in life, and rich or poor, we all have a legacy to build and share. What choices will you make now to ensure you’re remembered the way you wish to be?

You probably already make gifts to charity, either because you’re asked or because you’re inspired by a cause or event. But can you see your impact? If you take the time to make a giving plan, which involves thinking about the causes and charities you’re truly passionate about and the reasons you want to give to them, you’ll have a fuller picture of the lives you’re touching with your gifts.

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We encourage our donors to explore the 86,000 Canadian registered charities we list on CanadaHelps.org, and then decide what they can afford to give. Starting with 1-5% of your income is likely manageable, and over time, you can adjust it as your income grows or changes. Wealthy philanthropists can give large gifts at one time, but the rest of us can use tricks like setting up a monthly giving schedule – at the end of the year you’ll have given a sizeable amount. At the end of ten years, or your lifetime, you’ll have given even more.

Another important building block of your legacy is how you share the spirit of giving, and encourage a charitable heart in others. Legacy is about what you’ll leave behind and how you’ll be remembered. So how will those around you remember your charitable acts in life? Will your children remember the ways you volunteered on weekends, or took the whole family to pack food hampers at the holidays? Will they remember the way you gave money, without judgment, to a person living on the street? Will they remember when you carried groceries or brought food to an elderly neighbour? Will your children choose to emulate your charitable heart in the way they live their own lives? That too is a legacy.

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You can spread charity by choosing a CanadaHelps Charity Gift card instead of Starbucks or iTunes when you need to show appreciation or give a gift. Create a Fundraising Page for a sporting event, personal challenge, or as a gift registry to involve your network in your charitable acts. Personal fundraisers are a great way to say to your friends and family: “This cause is really important to me. Learn what it’s about. Join me in supporting it.” Doing these things will inspire others to act as well.

At the end of your giving life, if you’re in a position to leave a charitable bequest in your will, it’s a beautiful way to continue your charitable impact. It can be money, securities, RRSPs, or even real estate. Whatever you’re able to give – it doesn’t have to be large – you’ll be doing your part to impact the world in a positive way, and create goodwill and light.

It’s not a single act, but the sum of all the charitable actions in life that will have the most impact. Your charitable legacy is what you make it. What will yours be?

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