Giving Forward

Legacy gifts are a way to keep giving back long into the future

There’s no better or easier way to leave a meaningful legacy after you’re gone than to make a charitable bequest in your will. No gift is too small, and the tax savings to your estate can stretch that donation that much further. Bequests of life insurance policies, securities, RRSPs, RIFFs and real estate are among the most popular means of planned giving, but regardless of the size and nature of the donation, it’s important to plan ahead and to make those plans known.

“It’s never too early or too late to start planning your legacy, nor is estate planning solely for the wealthy,” says Amber Dyce, director, British Columbia & Yukon, for The Children’s Wish Foundation. “Anyone can leave a gift in their will to an organization that is meaningful to them, no matter the size.”

Dyce emphasizes the importance of investing in professional tax and legal advice when preparing a will in order to protect your assets and distribute them based on your wishes, while minimizing the tax repercussions. She also encourages donors to contact the charity directly as soon as they decide to leave a legacy gift. “At the very least, it’s important to ensure you have the correct legal name of the charity designated in the will, and possibly the business number,” says Dyce. “But it’s really nice for us to be able to thank donors in advance and share information on a regular basis—even if it’s just going for coffee once in a while.”

The Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada works with the community to provide children with life-threatening illnesses the opportunity to realize their most heartfelt wish. The foundation grants more than 1,100 wishes annually. Establishing a relationship with the organization in advance allows the foundation to structure and use the gift according to the donor’s wishes—Dyce offers examples of an avid cruiser’s bequest fulfilling a child’s wish for a Disney cruise, or a musician’s gift fulfilling a wish for a piano.

Yet Dyce estimates that only one in five bequests received by The Children’s Wish Foundation come from donors who had previously identified themselves as planned givers. “In a lot of cases, we get the declaration of payment after the person has passed away and if they’ve never given a gift to us while they were alive, we don’t know anything about them or why they chose us.”

It’s easy to forget that some of the mainstay health-care services in our society are provided in whole, or in part, by simple generosity. Burnaby Hospital, for example, which opened in 1952, is a cornerstone of the community. Serving approximately 425,000 residents in Burnaby and East Vancouver, Burnaby Hospital has one of the busiest emergency departments in B.C. with more than 70,000 patient visits each year. The hospital’s services are comprehensive, including programs that cater to patients with cancer, diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Burnaby Hospital also conducted more than 10,000 surgeries and delivered more than 1,700 babies last year.

Supporting the hospital in providing these services is the Burnaby Hospital Foundation, which raises financial resources needed for innovative health-care equipment, state-of-the-art technology, capital projects and educational outreach, explains communications specialist Stephanie Leung. “As the official charitable organization for Burnaby Hospital, the foundation works in close partnership with the hospital to fund the highest priority needs.”

Legacy gifts often come from donors who have received care, or who have loved ones who received care at Burnaby Hospital—though that’s not always the case, as the foundation’s cause has widespread appeal. Says Leung, “Many supporters feel a strong connection to Burnaby Hospital because they can see the direct impact their donations have by helping to purchase critical equipment that in turn helps many patients by diagnosing an illness, taking away pain or saving lives.”
Similarly, BC Women’s Hospital is supported by the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation. While the hospital receives the bulk of its funding from the provincial government, tax dollars only cover the cost of providing the basics in health care. Fundraising efforts by the foundation supplement that funding to support the hospital’s urgent and future priority needs, explains James Carruthers, director of development for the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation. Donations are used toward purchasing state-of-the-art medical equipment, supporting program development, as well as research, education and training.

“The foundation engages philanthropists and enables them to assume volunteer leadership roles,” adds Carruthers. “It mentors and identifies the next generation of philanthropists and it provides opportunities for them to advocate women’s philanthropic leadership.”

Bequests to the foundation come from a variety of sources, many of them past patients who have benefited from BC Women’s specialized programs for bone health, fertility, maternity or the Newborn ICU. The tie that binds is a shared solicitude for women’s health. “A person’s legacy should be a reflection of their values,” says Carruthers. “The right charity can help their legacy reflect those values in a very meaningful way.”

The legacy program is also key to supporting Ronald McDonald House, a “home away from home” for seriously ill children and their families while being treated at Children’s Hospital in Vancouver, says Richard Pass, CEO of Ronald McDonald House in B.C. and Yukon. Currently, the house can accommodate just 13 families at a time, says Pass, “but we’re building a 73-family facility on Children’s Hospital property that’s opening next summer. So far we have $25 million of the $31 million we need.” Also opening next year is the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Surrey Memorial Hospital, a cosy 2,000-square-foot facility with four bedrooms for overnight stays.

Receiving just 20 per cent of funding from government, “Canuck Place Children’s Hospice’s programs are sustained by a generous community of donors who share in the knowledge that their investment will have a direct impact in helping families cope with what could be considered one of the greatest challenges in life: losing a child to a life-threatening illness,” says CEO Margaret McNeil. Each year, Canuck Place fundraises over 80 per cent of the dollars required to continue the operation and delivery of specialized pediatric palliative care at no cost to B.C. families. “Yet we are currently only able to serve 20 to 25 per cent of pediatric palliative needs care in B.C.”

When it comes to choosing a charity to support, it’s important to feel confident that the organization will be able to uphold your legacy and your intentions for its use, says Jen Schaeffers, executive director of the CKNW Orphans’ Fund, which helps financially disadvantaged children who need extra support for their physical, mental, behavioural or social development. “Most importantly, you should ask yourself, ‘Do I find value in the work the charity is doing and do my values align with theirs? Do I trust the charity? Are they well established in the community and do I think they will exist well into the future?’”
Kyle Tiney, development co-ordinator for the BC Wildlife Federation, agrees: “Donors’ first consideration should be whether their philanthropic goals match the mission and goals of the organization. If there is a strong connection between yourself and the mission of the organization, you can feel comfortable knowing your donation is going to make a positive impact on a mission you care strongly about.”

Tiney also suggests targeting donations to fund specific programs or causes within the charity. “When donors are considering which charities to support with a bequest, they should be aware of how the charity uses revenue it receives from bequests. The best way to determine how to designate your donation is to talk to the charity’s fundraising staff directly to ensure your wishes are possible and are well-documented.”

For the BC Wildlife Federation, whose mission is to protect, enhance and promote the wise use of B.C.’s natural resources, targeted donations have included legacies dedicated to wildlife rehabilitation projects and wetlands education programs.

Philanthropist Byron Aceman has willed legacies to a handful of charities, and always with a specific cause in mind. “I find it much more satisfactory to target something that interests me,” he explains. A generous supporter of the BC Cancer Foundation even before being diagnosed with male breast cancer in 2002, Aceman revised his will during treatment to include a legacy gift for the charity. Since a subsequent lymphoma diagnosis in 2006, he has targeted donations to a local lymphoma research program.

When planning a bequest, Aceman advises donors to do their research: “Find out as much as you can about the agency, its programs, the research it’s involved in and how your donation will help.” He also recommends looking at the administrative cost percentage—how much of your donation will go toward the cost of running the charity—and the organization’s record of accountability.

That’s one of the reasons Aceman is such a strong supporter of the BC Cancer Foundation, which supports cancer research and enhancements to patient care at the BC Cancer Agency. In fact, the BC Cancer Foundation was ranked one of Canada’s top-performing charities in Charity Intelligence (Ci) Canada’s 2012 report, selected for its ability to provide high returns on donor investments.

Also among Ci’s 45 “Top Picks” is the BC SPCA, the local branch of North America’s largest animal welfare organization. Last year alone, the BC SPCA rescued close to 900 animals, found new homes for more than 16,000, and conducted in excess of 6,000 cruelty investigations.

“Today, donors are sophisticated and savvy about their charitable investments. They are doing their research and are looking at supporting a charity that will use their funds wisely and with the greatest impact,” says Craig Daniell, CEO of the BC SPCA. “Knowing this, the BC SPCA has worked hard to be one of only six Canadian charities to receive an A+ rating in MoneySense magazine’s 2012 survey rating of 100 Canadian charities.” It is also the first humane society accredited by Imagine Canada, the national umbrella for charities and non-profits.

“The BC SPCA understands that when a donor leaves a legacy to the organization, they are entrusting their life’s work to us, to help vulnerable animals have a voice and in many instances, to have a new lease on life,” says Daniell. “This legacy gift speaks to who this person was and what they believed in. We are grateful for their trust and work hard every day to keep that trust.”