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The majority of Canadians (72%) intend to leave a legacy of values and life lessons, according to survey results published Thursday by Toronto-based Bank of Montreal (BMO), and nearly a quarter of Canadians (24%) believe a memorable legacy includes charitable acts and donations.

For these philanthropic efforts to be most effective and meaningful, advisors and clients should focus on making them personal, says Marvi Ricker, vice president, director of philanthropic advisory services, BMO.

“In Canada, there are 86,000 charities. You can’t do something for everybody,” says Ricker. “So you have to decide, all right, everything’s important, but this is particularly important to me.”

As an advisor, Ricker teaches clients how to do philanthropy — a more involved process than just writing a cheque to a worthy cause and leaving it at that, she says. “I help them to figure out, what are their values? What are their aspirations? What are their interests in the charitable sector? And we try to put that into a mission statement that is as focused as possible.”

“What I’m trying to help people get away from is more of a ‘scatter-gun’ approach to giving. And instead, I want sort of a ‘rifle’ approach, you know, laser approach — focused on something that’s important. When you know what is important to you and when you’re focused on it, you’re going to do a better job, you’re going to get much more out of it personally.”

Many of Ricker’s clients create private foundations to serve the causes most important to them, whether that means protecting the environment or fighting a disease that’s afflicted their loved ones. But even clients who don’t start foundations benefit from a similarly focused approach to giving: they’re able to measure their impact and feel connected to their causes, therefore deriving more meaning and satisfaction from their contributions.

Wealthy families, or those with a family business, particularly benefit from this intentional, thoughtful approach to giving, Ricker says. In the latter case, “the passing on of the family values is terribly important,” she says. “If they don’t get passed on, that family business will crumble. If people don’t really sing from the same song sheet … then people will go off in different directions.” The added benefit for the family is that its members will develop better communication, accountability and trust, and the family will experience more cohesion and sense of purpose.

Despite a recent survey that suggested millennials believe in legacy giving more than previous generations did, Ricker says that her clients want to leave a mark on society, regardless of age, and that the hands-on approach for which she advocates is part of a “wave” that started with the baby boomers.

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“The 70s were really marked by people who wanted to be involved with making the world a different place. And so they wanted to be hands-on, they wanted to learn, they wanted the fun of being involved in making these changes.” Successive generations, she says, were influenced by this and built on it.

“It’s been growing with each generation,” Ricker says. “Despite age, whether it’s younger people or older people, we are concerned about our society and we want to leave our mark, and make sure that we’ve contributed while we’re here.”