That is certainly a super-common question that’s arisen for so many of us — where do you give, how do you do it and how much makes sense? Financial expert Libby Wildman walks us through the art and science of being philanthropic.

By Libby Wildman


For as long as I can remember, I have been on a path of self-discovery and hell-bent on living my best life. This is not always the easiest path, as searching for peace and forgiveness and self-love comes with a lot of deep exploration. I’d say being curious is one of my superpowers — I’m always looking for that unique experience, embracing people who are different and teaching myself to view things from multiple perspectives. To do this, I find it helps to have help — to engage and employ others who are trained to help me tackle this journey to peace and self-acceptance. These people are often called coaches, and I have worked with at least 20 of these brilliant and diverse methodologic minds since I was 23.


One of the issues I fought with internally was around money and the notion of whether it’s permissible to make lots of money or desire to make lots of it. The discussions centred around my experiences, of course, as well as stories I have read of those who are uberwealthy, and perhaps have let money cloud their vision of their own importance.


Money is mentioned in the Bible about 1,500 times, or so I’ve been told, because all leaders know money can mess up our human minds. There are three simple rules I now follow, even though I am agnostic, and I think they are true and easy enough to adopt: First, do not covet money — do not hold it above everything else. Second, be careful of money — do not fall too deeply into debt. Third, be generous with money and give what you can, be it financially or your time.


I also had a teacher with whom I spent time discussing how to give money away. I had pledged 10 percent of my company revenues to charity and wasn’t sure of the strategy on how to do this or how to feel good about doing this. Like many of you, I am frequently asked to give to causes, and the feel-good emotion is lost when my money is going to things that do not move my heart or represent a solution I am particularly passionate about. My teacher suggested I give where my heart is 90 percent of the time and 10 percent when asked by friends or clients.


This advice changed my perspective dramatically. Sometimes I’d give a large tip to the woman who washes my hair at the salon; sometimes a student waiter would receive an extra-large (read: 300 percent) tip after hearing their story of student debt; and I’ve even met a mom who lost her child to cancer, and I seeded their family’s foundation to help fight this disease for others. The larger gifts I give deep thought to, and I always create a specific plan each January as to who gets what. This way, when I am asked throughout the year to support others’ causes, I explain that I have already made my year’s commitment to my chosen charities but am happy to donate $150 to theirs.


On the finance side of things, giving can be complex. There are some very interesting ways of giving your money to foundations or causes that make your heart sing. It can create a win for the charity and a pretty good win for us as the donor, too. In simple terms, the three most common ways to give are cash, stocks and life insurance. Each has their own advantage and takes a little work and collaboration with someone like me to make sure they are a good idea and are executed properly.


For the sake of this article, I am going to keep it super simple and high level. Cash donations get you a tax credit, which is different than a tax deduction. For instance, if you give $10,000, depending on the province you live in, you will get a tax credit of approximately 40 to 50 percent. Stocks can be a very attractive way to donate, as the Canada Revenue Agency waives the capital gains taxation. Let’s say you give away $10,000 in stocks that have a book value of $3,000. If you donate this stock, you do not pay the capital gains taxes and you get the full donation tax credit. The third most common way of giving is through a life insurance policy. This can be an existing policy or a new one, with the sole purpose of having the ownership and beneficiary be the charity of your choice. You can either tax deduct the premiums of the policy during your life, or your estate can utilize the tax credit for the amount of the death benefit when you pass. This latter can be used to offset estate taxes, like those associated with owning a cottage, or privately owned shares, when left in your will to your children. This has become a more popular course of action for our clients and, interestingly, Canada Life has created a One Pay Policy specifically designed for those that want to start a policy with a philanthropic beneficiary.


I want to encourage you all to think about what moves you, what causes you would like to see bettered during your lifetime and then consider sharing your resources. There is no cause too small or too big. It is the act of realizing that you can help, and then implementing an action plan, that will have your heart feeling full. In the end, whether you give your money, your time or your skillset, giving back doubles as self-care. Please do reach out if you would like to have an exploratory conversation on how you, too, can practice this kind of self-care.


Libby Wildman is Head of Wealth Advisory at the Toronto-based investment firm Davis Rea; founder of the The Collective, a women’s entrepreneur community; and founder of Liminal Escapes creative curated retreats.