Go further // Give

BLG lawyer Kalvin Sie finds ways to give back in time and money

By Jennifer Marston

On Thursday December 9th, 2010

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Kalvin Sie has been an active volunteer for over a decade, working at a homeless shelter and teaching skateboarding to children from low-income families. “I prefer doing frontline work because I like the interaction,” says Sie. But now that he’s a first-year associate at Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, his challenge is to maximize the impact of his philanthropic work without burning himself out.
Precedent matched Sie up with Anil Patel, executive director of Framework Foundation, a non-profit that promotes volunteer work for young professionals. Patel had some suggestions as to how Sie can make the most of his efforts.

Sie could put his education to work volunteering his legal services or serving on the board of a charity, says Patel. If he goes that route, Sie should first educate himself on directors’ duties and responsibilities, through such resources as boardmatch.org. “It is a serious time commitment,” says Patel. “And the board’s on the hook if things go wrong.”

While Sie’s open to serving on a professional level, he wants to maintain a hands-on connection too. Patel suggests that rather than making a weekly commitment that may be hard to keep, Sie could plan firm-wide events. “Think about organizing a day of caring,” says Patel. “Fix up a skateboard park or participate in a Habitat for Humanity build.” The math adds up: if Sie takes 20 hours to organize an eight-hour volunteer session for himself and 19 coworkers, that would generate 180 volunteer hours. Sie would be maximizing the impact of his own time while also demonstrating leadership.

Patel also suggested a few ways Sie could get his firm involved. For one, he could encourage BLG to offer a “dollars for doers” program. “If you were to do, say, 40 hours of volunteer work with a charitable organization, the firm would make a $500 to $1,000 contribution,” says Patel. Some corporations, including Telus, RBC and Kraft, are already involved in these types of programs.

For another, he could suggest that his firm start a matching program if they don’t already have one. Some companies match dollar-for-dollar contributions employees make to specified charities, encouraging donations and increasing their impact.

Sie, whose annual salary is $100,000, would like to give money as well as time. Meanwhile, he has to pay down student debt of $35,000 and wants to save $50,000 for his wedding in October 2011.

One option is to encourage others to donate on his behalf. Patel suggests Canadahelps.org, which allows users to build a “giving page” where friends and family can donate to one or more selected charities in lieu of wedding gifts.

A few days after his meeting with Patel, Sie is deep into planning. He and his fiancée, Pearl Lung, have set donation targets of $600 and $1,000 for this year and next, and are looking to cut money from the wedding budget to redirect to charity. They also plan to give donations on behalf of each guest instead of favours.

As for volunteer work, Sie’s firm has a strong not-forprofit group and he hopes to use that resource to find a board position. The potential to create a multiplier effect by getting others involved has also inspired Sie. “Having different ways of contributing really opened my eyes.”

Get back for giving back

In Ontario, the first $200 donated nets total tax credits of about 21 percent, and anything over that nets about 40 percent.

How much can you give? The sky’s the limit…almost. Cash donations of up to 75 percent of your net income are eligible for the credit, and donations can be carried forward for up to five years.

Credits may apply not only to cash donations, but to gifts of real property and securities. Donating so-called gifts in kind (property other than cash and marketable securities) is complex and appraising their fair market value for tax purposes can be a minefield. So work with an expert (this can be an accountant, financial advisor or professional gift planner) to ensure that the CRA will deem your gift eligible and that you’ve maximized your credits. And sorry, volunteers: there is no tax credit for donating services.


Photo by Daniel Ehrenworth