Philanthropy is about more than opening our wallets: Making an impact

February 20, 2024 / Insight from J. Angus Watt, Senior Wealth Advisor

When we think about giving back to our community, it's essential to remember that philanthropy is about more than opening our wallets. It's about opening our hearts and minds to the needs of others and finding ways to make a real impact. None of us achieve success in a vacuum, there is often an entire network of organizations and people that in some way or another supported us in our journey.

Even more though, we choose to live and build businesses in places that mean something to us, and finding the right opportunities to support the charities, programs, and peoples that serve our communities contributes to their long-term success. Whether it’s through monetary donations, volunteering at a local food bank, or offering our unique skills, every act of giving counts. In this blog, we'll explore the multifaceted world of philanthropy and impact investing, highlighting the importance of thoughtful, heartfelt contributions.

In addition to the inherent satisfaction derived from generosity, individuals with substantial wealth who choose to reinvest in the well-being of their fellow humans can experience significant advantages. These perks encompass practical aspects like substantial tax incentives, along with the profound personal fulfillment derived from contributing to the improvement of communities and establishing a lasting legacy of philanthropy.

For high-net-worth philanthropists, the future holds promising opportunities. However, it's crucial to ensure that your philanthropic investments are strategically directed. Deliberate and thoughtful philanthropy can yield the maximum impact. Here are some strategies to assist you in developing effective approaches to enhance the outcomes of your charitable initiatives.

Establish a Framework for Giving

Engaging in significant charitable giving goes beyond simply writing cheques or sending gifts; it entails a multifaceted and nuanced approach that demands careful planning. To ensure that your philanthropy is both authentic and impactful, it is crucial to invest time in laying a solid foundation.

When it comes to effective giving, there are various approaches to consider. You can make direct donations to charities, commit to annual contributions, or even establish a legacy fund to ensure the ongoing support of an organization. For those with significant assets (typically those with a minimum of $2,000,000), starting a foundation can be a viable option, though often working with an existing organization to endow a fund with specific guidelines is more efficient. Each method has its merits and challenges, so it’s crucial to choose one that aligns with your financial situation and philanthropic goals.

Choose the Right Causes for You

Choosing the right charity or cause is a personal decision and it's important to align your philanthropic efforts with your values and beliefs. Whether it's supporting healthcare initiatives, tackling mental health issues, or contributing to cancer research, your choice should resonate with you on a personal level. Before committing, take the time to research and understand the organization’s mission and overall impact. Your contribution, regardless of its form, should reflect what matters most to you.

Only you can determine the criterion by which you will assess what issue areas or causes you want to make an impact on. For me, it was helpful to start by considering where some of my personal interests intersected with community needs and achievable outcomes. For example, healthcare and access to top tier healthcare in Edmonton has always been an area of interest for me.

Our company is a financial supporter of the Cross Cancer Institute because of the importance we place on advancing critical health research, creating access to high-quality cancer care in Edmonton, and our recognition that investments in institutes like the Cross enhances the quality of life of Edmontonians. While emotions shouldn't solely dictate your decisions, it is crucial to genuinely care about and have a vested interest in the causes you choose to support.

Tapping your emotional connection to guide giving decisions is a starting point. As with any financial investment, one should approach each option with a business-minded perspective. Additionally, consider the capacity of your team to effectively support each charity, and ensure that your team members are aligned with the direction of your philanthropy.

Maximize Your Impact

Drawing from your experience in pursuing maximum profitability in your professional endeavors, it's now time to channel that same determination into your philanthropic initiatives. An essential consideration when making donations is to ensure that you are catalyzing significant societal change. Avoid a passive approach of simply giving money and disengaging.

Be proactive in tracking data and observing the tangible impact of your contributions. Collaborate with your team to establish meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that align with your collective goals. Set up and diligently monitor these indicators to gauge the effectiveness of your philanthropic activities.

It’s also important to consider that philanthropy isn’t just about giving money to causes. Giving isn't confined to financial contributions. In fact, volunteering your time or sharing your expertise can be just as valuable, if not more so, than writing a cheque. Consider the power of spending an afternoon at a local food bank or lending your professional skills to a charity.

These actions create a direct, tangible impact on the community and can often be more fulfilling. It also allows you and your team to see first-hand the operation of a particular charity or organization. You can observe how resources are allocated, how leaders manage their teams, what programs or research is having the most impact. And it connects you directly to the work that the charity you support is doing.

It's Okay to Maximize the Tax Advantages

Undoubtedly, capitalizing on the tax benefits that philanthropy extends to high-net-worth individuals is a prudent strategy. Even if personal financial savings are not a primary concern for you, leveraging tax breaks can empower you to contribute even more in the long run. There are various avenues through which you can enhance tax advantages during your philanthropic journey. Opting to donate appreciated assets instead of cash is a commonly employed strategy.

Again, as you consider your approach to philanthropy and the potential tax benefits, having a well-coordinated team becomes invaluable. The Angus Watt Advisory Group is available to support in actively identifying optimal combinations of tax benefits as you contribute. By doing so, you can amplify the impact of your gifts and lay the groundwork for future philanthropy.

While engaging in philanthropy is commendable, its enduring impact hinges on proper execution. For high-net-worth philanthropists seeking to maximize their influence, employing the aforementioned tips can serve as a guide to coordinate, direct, and enhance their giving, not only in the present but also in the foreseeable future.

J. Angus Watt

Senior Wealth Advisor


National Bank Financial - Wealth Management (NBFWM) is a division of National Bank Financial Inc. (NBF), as well as a trademark owned by National Bank of Canada (NBC) that is used under license by NBF. NBF is a member of the Canadian Investment Regulatory Organization (CIRO) and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF), and is a wholly-owned subsidiary of NBC, a public company listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX: NA).

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