Charitable Giving in the New Year by Gioia Perugini

As the new year dawns, like most of us, I am jumping in to my 2018 to-do list. The New Year is a time of resolutions, evaluating what was successful from last year and focusing on the areas that need improvement in the new year. Taking all of the energy and excitement of year- end giving into the new year brings the opportunity to evaluate what you’d like to do more of in 2018.

Evaluate What Charitable Activities Worked

January is a great time to evaluate what you liked best about your 2017 gifts and plan for your 2018 charitable activities. Were there issues or organizations about which you’d like to learn more? Were there organizations where you think you could make a greater impact by pairing your charitable dollars with volunteering? Attending an organization’s event, or observing their work in progress, when the pressure of year-end is not so intense, could be a good way to deepen your understanding of their work. If you are interested in engaging your entire family in volunteerism, you can start in January by discussing issues you care about, researching where you might volunteer and how those issues or organizations could use your extra efforts. For example, you could organize a sock or coat drive for the winter months, collect toiletries or books to donate later in the year, or buy an extra canned good each week at the store or in advance of a big storm.

Evaluate What Parts of Your Charitable Giving Plan Need Improvement

If you felt that some of your charitable activities from last year could have been more effective, using the early part of the year to evaluate any changes will allow you to develop a stronger 2018 giving plan. Some of the strategies might be the same for the activities which went well. You could visit with an organization to learn more about their needs. Many organizations post wish-lists directly on their web sites, or through their social media channels. You can conduct your own research by reading credible sources on a topic of interest to educate yourself. For example, the Boston Indicators Project publishes research and reports based on more than 15 years of data collection and evaluation on topics ranging from education to housing and immigrant issues.

Plan for the Unexpected in Your Giving Budget

We find that a portion of many giving budgets each year will end up being allocated to emergency needs. Whether it’s a natural disaster like a flood or hurricane, or changes in social or political policies at home or abroad that lead to humanitarian or other emergency needs, planning for the unknown can (and we might argue should) be part of your roadmap for the year. The Center for Disaster Philanthropy is a great resource to help donors both respond to immediate needs in the wake of a disaster, and also to plan for the long-term recovery support that many communities need to rebuild. Setting aside a portion of your giving budget each year for emergency needs can allow you to respond more quickly when those needs invariably arise.

Extended the Impact of Your Charitable Activities

You can harness a number of different tools and vehicles to make the impact you seek and effect change in the world. “Charitable” activities can involve more than giving. Many individuals and families consider how and where they shop, use values-based screening for their investments, and/or take advantage of shareholder advocacy or other investor-led strategies. Some donors find that taxable investments can help drive change more quickly and with greater impact. This is especially true for donors with resources who can invest in startup companies with technologies or products that address persistent societal problems. Still others choose to fund political campaigns, support candidates for office, or underwrite lobbying or advocacy efforts to further their social and community goals. Planning simultaneously for these strategies allows you to see them as a whole, rather than disconnected parts.

In the end, giving should be an activity that you find fulfilling and joyful. With the dawn of the new year, so much seems possible that didn’t a few short weeks ago. With a plan in place, you can march forward confidently into the new year. Happy New Year.

About the Author

Gioia Perugini is Associate Director, Family Office and Philanthropy Services at Hemenway & Barnes. She works with individuals, families, advisors, charitable trusts and foundations to provide a range of philanthropic and client services.

Gioia is a frequent speaker, writer and panelist on issues relevant to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector. She also serves on a number of nonprofit boards.

Read Gioia’s full biography here.

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Wrapping It Up at Year End: How to Allocate Your Charitable Giving by Nancy B. Gardiner

The other day my daughter called me in a quandary about how much to give away to charity this year.  When I paused, she said, “Why don’t you have an answer? Isn’t this what you do for a living?” I had to explain that this is not an easy question to answer, even for those of us who spend a good deal of time advising individuals and families on how to allocate their philanthropic dollars. So, as stores advertise yet another markdown and nonprofit organizations send their final appeals for the year, many donors are still wondering, “Have I done enough?”  What is enough?

There are no hard and fast guidelines, as every donor’s situation is different. Surveys by major foundations and other philanthropy-serving organizations vary, but show that on average most adult Americans give away between three and five percent of their adjusted gross income every year. There are a couple of guideposts that you may have heard about.  For example, in the context of private foundations, there is a 5% distribution requirement, although this is a floor, not a ceiling. Some donors are tax driven and make donations to new or existing donor advised funds with an idea that they will allocate the dollars to organizations later, perhaps in the new year when things aren’t so hectic. Some apply traditional religious tenets about giving and allocate a percentage of their income

Donation Guidelines

Over the years, we have developed some “rules of thumb “when advising clients at this time of year, or any time of year for that matter.

  1. Giving is good:  Giving to a legitimate charity is positive, no matter what the size of gift.
  2. Giving is personal: Every gift is made in the context of the donor’s life and circumstances. This is what makes the gifts so meaningful. Do you have a personal family situation that compels you to give? Do you have student or other debts to pay and therefore feel a bit constrained this year? Are you engaged in personal, family giving by supporting aging parent or an ailing friend? Do you volunteer regularly, or have you chosen a public interest career that leave you with less disposable income to give away?
  3. Gifts are made in the context of your overall “helping” allocation:  Just as you consider how to allocate your retirement or other investment assets, so too you can consider your overall “compassion” or “helping” activities. Think of your charitable giving, volunteer work and helping others together and make sure that you are satisfied with your total giving. This helps to account for those who have less cash, but who help in other ways.
  4. Gifts to both large and small organizations make sense:  Consider where your gift is going.  Are you giving to a large organization where your gift may feel like a “drop in the bucket?” Perhaps it will, but perhaps this is a moment in time when such gifts are very important, such as gifts to the American Red Cross following Hurricane Irma. That said, some donors prefer to give locally, to a smaller organization that does not have the budget to attract larger gifts from donors who are “ from away.”
  5. Gifts to organizations you “know” can be meaningful:  Do you or your friends volunteer for the organization? Is it well regarded in your community?  These considerations can provide assurance that your gift will be put to good use.  That said, don’t be afraid to respond to thoughtful outreach from someone new.
  6. Large or small, the gift should be “right sized”:  As noted above, the size of the organization to which you make the gift is important. You should also consider how the gift “fits” in the context of your own personal expenses, whether large or small. This will help you arrive at an amount you feel comfortable giving. If you were to allocate the cost of your weekly coffee purchases, for example, would that feel right-sized?
  7. Finding ways to “leverage” your gift can make a difference:  Perhaps the organization to which you are giving has received a challenge or matching grant from another donor. This might make your gift more meaningful, generating two, three or even four times the amount of your gift in additional donations. Will the very fact of your gift inspire other donors, large or small? Successful campaigns have a way of generating their own forward momentum. Perhaps your family wants to combine and make a gift together, to honor a family member, or in lieu of holiday gifts. Perhaps you have appreciated stock. Giving shares of such stock, instead of selling it, can increase dollars to charity and reduce your overall tax burden.
  8. You can take steps to ease the burden on organizations you like:   Regular giving helps organizations budget and plan. Whether you make a multi-year pledge or simply give regularly each year, without being asked, you take some of the fundraising pressure off of an organization. Allowing your name to be used can inspire others to give. Just as you look for the names of people you know when you choose to give, so too your name may inspire others.

In the end, donors want to make a difference. Exercising your giving muscle will indeed increase your giving strength and will help you support others in need of your help. The packages that we share with one another at this time of year come in all different sizes.  There is no “rule” to tell you how much to give. Allocate your time and resources wisely and remember that, in the end, the important thing is that the season is about sharing and good will.

About the Author

Nancy Gardiner is a Partner and Director of Family and Office Services at Hemenway & Barnes LLP. She works with families on legal, tax and investment aspects of governance, succession and all facets of family office creation, operation and management.

Nancy helps clients meet their philanthropic goals by advising them on all aspects of charitable giving, including creating charitable vehicles, such as private foundations, advising families and individuals regarding areas of interest and structuring of individual gifts. Additionally, Nancy counsels development offices on issues relating to major gifts.

Read Nancy’s full biography here.

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Building a Family Legacy One Story at a Time by Nancy B. Gardiner

At the start of the holiday season, we pause to give thanks and to focus on what Is important to us. Behind the glitter and commercial nature of the Thanksgiving to Christmas run – sprint really – are stories that move us. We are affected by the struggles that others face and we want to reach out and help. The public stories deserve attention of course; there is much sadness in the world. In addition to these, I am compelled to look for the story behind the story – the one that doesn’t make it to the newspaper. In fact, the story may not be current at all, but instead may be part of the fabric of your family history. In conversations over the years, I have seen that the gifts motivated by personal stories and the family values that emanate from such stories are the most meaningful. A successful investor sponsors a scholarship at his alma mater because he received such a scholarship and it transformed his life. For sure, the donor’s children and grandchildren will not have experienced the same hardship, but they will appreciate the family legacy more if they know the story behind it. We tend to remember things when they are attached to a story. Family lore exists because of our hunger for stories. Did grandpa really fight in the Pacific during WWII? Was uncle Chris really at Woodstock? The meaning can continue from generation to generation if the story is retold.

When my children were little, there was a starter batch of sour dough that was passed around from house to house – divided and subdivided, wherever it was kneaded. From it, many loaves were made. This is also true of the stories we tell. We all come from somewhere and a piece of that stays with us. These experiences inform our giving. Sometimes, it is hard to share. We don’t want to remember our troubles, or impose them on others. Yet telling even a part of a story, distilling the values that our experiences have instilled, can add power to any gift, no matter the size.

At this time of year especially, I encourage people to share their stories. Some people over share and others are reticent. Here are a few strategies that have worked:

  1. Write letters to your children or grandchildren. Tell them stories you want them to know. Writing helps if you are reluctant to talk and also helps make the record more permanent.
  2. Keep a family tree. The old family bible where such things were kept is a distant memory, but families long to know where they come from. The personal record often says more about family stories than genetic testing that is currently in vogue among some.
  3. Even if you don’t want to share the details of your story, try to let others know what is important to you, what values matter to you. Call it whatever you’d like– a values statement or just a list of what matters. Don’t let your concern about how it looks discourage you.
  4. Travel with your family to show them the story. The journey doesn’t have to involve a major trip. Is there a local monument to a family experience? Is mom’s childhood neighborhood at all far away? Would a drive by the old elementary school convey your values to your family. Don’t be embarrassed if the story is too sad, or happy or seems “dull.”
  5. Feel free to edit your story. I am not recommending fantasy, but remember that legacy, like giving, is personal and in no small way also a creative process. In this season, the story may be one of the most important gifts that you make.

Learn more about the Hemenway & Barnes story here.

Contact Nancy B. Gardiner 

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