Posts tagged ‘charitable tax deduction’

July 26, 2019

All You Need to Know about Decrease in Itemized Charitable Deductions

When it comes to philanthropic trends, recent media reports have left many fundraising professionals lost in the weeds and confused by misleading analysis. So, I’m going to give you the most important insights about individual giving that you need to know now along with three practical tips.

First, here’s some quick background. Overall, charitable giving reached an historic high in 2018 with $427.71 billion contributed, according to Giving USA 2019. Despite this great news, individual giving, excluding bequests, fell 1.1 percent to $292.02 billion. There are many reasons for the slight dip, which you can read about in one of my prior posts. One of the factors that may have played a role is the new tax code. With it, we saw a dramatic increase in the number of taxpayers taking the standard deduction and a drop in the number choosing to itemize their deductions.

That brings us to a big takeaway that almost no one is talking about:

The charitable tax-deduction is not a substitute for a solid case for support.

This was true prior to passage of the Tax Cut and Jobs Act; it’s even more true today. Before the new tax code went into effect, less than one-third of taxpayers itemized their returns, and less than one-quarter of taxpayers claimed a charitable tax-deduction. Now, only about 10 percent itemize and 8.5 percent claim a charitable deduction, according to the Tax Policy Center. To put things another way, for the majority of donors, tax issues were never a viable consideration when it came to charitable giving. Today, tax considerations are an issue for even fewer people.

This all means that the classic, but foolish, year-end appeals touting the tax benefit of giving before December 31 are even more irrelevant than ever. Furthermore, it means that the relevance of the idea of year-end giving itself has been diminished. If someone doesn’t need to do year-end tax planning, why would they need to wait until year-end to donate? The reality is most people can give at any time with the same effect on their finances.

In light of all of this, here are the three things you should do:

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July 12, 2019

Do Not Fall for Newsweek’s Fake News!

You might have seen it recently. Sophie Penney, PhD, President of i5 Fundraising, saw it and then asked me what I thought. So, thank you for the question, Sophie; here goes…

Newsweek posted an article with this headline: “Trump Tax Plan Leads to $54 Billion Decline in Charitable Giving.”

There’s only one problem: IT IS NOT TRUE!

Shockingly, not even the body of the article supports the headline. Instead, the writer talks briefly about a $54 billion drop in itemized donations NOT a $54 billion drop in giving. This does NOT mean there was a $54 billion drop in actual giving. With fewer people itemizing their taxes, of course there would be fewer itemized donations. However, that does not mean fewer donations. Many donors will continue to give and continue to give generously despite not being able to itemize. By the way, the writer provided no source for the $54 billion figure.

The article furthers its doom-and-gloom theme by asserting that there was a 1.7 percent decline in overall charitable giving. However, the writer did not mention that that figure was for inflation-adjusted dollars. In real dollars, giving actually went up $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time, according to Giving USA 2019. Even if we look at inflation-adjusted dollars, giving in 2018 was the second highest in recorded history. Not bad.

If we want to understand the current philanthropy environment, we need to have an honest conversation using real information. In a previous post, I identified several factors affecting charitable giving:

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June 20, 2019

I Told You So: Charitable Giving is Up!

Most charity pundits, mainstream media, and press serving the nonprofit sector got it wrong. Sadly, none of them is admitting their mistake, and many are continuing to advance a false narrative. However, I always told you the truth, and I’ll continue to do so.

I’ve often encouraged you not to overuse statistics in your appeals. But, we can all certainly benefit from reading lots of illuminating statistics.

In 2017 and 2018, most pundits and the media were convinced that the Tax Cut and Jobs Act would result in up to a $21 billion decrease in philanthropic giving. In January 2018, I joined a tiny group of professionals who predicted the decrease in giving would be far less than that and giving might actually increase. This was not a guess on our part, but a well-educated expectation based on research, experience, and observation.

Now, with the release of Giving USA 2019, we know who was correct.

Overall, philanthropic giving in constant dollars INCREASED by $2.97 billion (0.7 percent) between 2017 and 2018, and now stands at $427.71 billion, the highest level of all time. Relative to Gross Domestic Product, giving remained at 2.1 percent, which is greater than the 40-year average of 2.0 percent.

Despite the generally good news, the philanthropy scene is not entirely positive. When adjusting for inflation, giving in 2018 did decline by 1.7 percent, though that was much less than the doom and gloom estimates. Furthermore, giving by individuals as a share of overall philanthropy accounted for 68 percent; this is the first time since at least 1954 that it has fallen below 70 percent. In 2018, individual giving fell by 1.1 percent in constant dollars.

While the new tax code likely had an effect on charitable giving, we need to be careful not to overstate its impact. A number of factors have influenced giving:

New Tax Code. All or part of the decline in individual giving in 2018 could be due to donors taking action in advance of the tax law change. We saw this in 1986 when there was a spike in charitable giving in advance of the Reagan tax cuts in 1987.

In 2017, many donors likely front-loaded their philanthropic giving since they would no longer be able to deduct gifts beginning in 2018. In addition, many donors chose to bundle their philanthropy by contributing to Donor-Advised Funds at record levels in 2017. Together, these two factors might explain the 1.1 percent decrease in individual giving in 2018 compared to a 5.7 percent increase in 2017. If not for the new tax rules going into effect in 2018, some of those 2017 donations might have been made in 2018 instead.

The tax code might also affect giving in other ways that we just don’t see clearly at this point. Just as we had to wait until 1988 to see giving normalize following the Reagan tax cuts, we may need to wait another year or two to understand the full effect of the current tax code.

Decline in the Number of Donors. Since 2001, the percentage of US households contributing to charity has fallen steadily from a high of 67.63 percent to 55.51 percent in 2014, according to data from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Philanthropy Panel Study. In other words, the new tax code is not responsible for a sudden decline in the number of donors. This trend has been going on for years.

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January 15, 2019

Have You Done Something Stupid to Alienate Donors?

As 2018 drew to a close, my wife and I received a few good emails from nonprofit organizations. I even highlighted one of those in a recent blog post. Unfortunately, we received far more fundraising appeals that I can only describe as stupid.

The garbage email appeals simply mentioned that December 31 was fast approaching and, therefore, I should donate to that particular charity while there was still a chance to do so in 2018. Doing multiple count-down to year-end emails simply magnified the annoyance.

So, what’s the problem with that? Let me make it simple and clear:

The calendar is not a case for support!

Jack Silverstein, Vice President of Financial Development at the National Capital Region YMCA-YWCA (Ottawa, Canada), shares my frustration over this. He recently posted his views in “People Know When the End of the Year Is!!!” I encourage you to read it though it does contain a word some may find offensive.

Because I agree with Silverstein, I want to provide some highlights for you.

Your prospects and donors know when the year ends. They don’t need you to remind them. They’re not idiots.

With most charities engaged in year-end fundraising, people want to know why they should give to your nonprofit organization and why they should do so at the end of the year. The mere fact that it is year-end is not a reason. People can donate to any charity at year-end or, for that matter, at any time of year. You need to inspire them to give to your organization. In other words, you need to make a case for support.

A related mistake that charities frequently made was to highlight the tax-deductibility of donations. In the USA, some have estimated that as few as 10 percent of taxpayers will itemize. It’s only that small population that might be able to take advantage of the tax-deductibility of a contribution. However, even among that population, tax benefit is a low ranking reason why people donate. Furthermore, it’s no reason whatsoever why they should donate to your organization; after all, people can get the same tax benefit by donating to any qualified charity.

When charities send such terrible appeals, they are not being donor centered. Instead, Silverstein asserts:

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August 17, 2018

It’s Time to Stop Whining about Donor-Advised Funds!

The New York Times whined recently about Donor-Advised Funds in an article carrying the headline, “How Tech Billionaires Hack Their Taxes With a Philanthropic Loophole.”

While you personally might not complain about DAFs, you can sure bet some of your organization’s senior staff and board members may line up with some of the experts cited in the misleading piece in the Times.

I’m here to tell you and others that it’s time to stop whining about DAFs. Regardless of how you feel about them, DAFs have been with us since the 1930s, and they’re not likely to go away anytime soon. So, you and your organization will be far better off if you understand how to benefit from DAFs.

I’ll give you six tips. However, as a former newspaper editor, I feel compelled to first bust the myths peddled by the Times.

“Billionaires.” The Times seems to suggest that DAFs are a tool being used by and only available to billionaires. David Gelles writes, “DAFs allow wealthy individuals like Mr. Woodman to give assets — usually cash and stock, but also real estate, art and cryptocurrencies — to a sponsoring organization like the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Fidelity Charitable or Vanguard Charitable.” While many wealthy individuals establish DAF accounts, so do middle class people. Some sponsoring organizations require just a $5,000 contribution to create one.

As a result of the new tax code, some donors will no longer itemize deductions on their tax returns because of the increase in the standard deduction. However, if they are close to being able to itemize beyond the standard deduction, some will choose to bundle their charitable giving. In other words, they’ll give in some years but not others. In the years they give, they’ll itemize. One way some of these donors will give is to establish a DAF with a large contribution in a given year. Then, they’ll continue to support their favorite charities each year by recommending annual grants from their DAF account.

The bottom-line is that DAFs are not just for the super-wealthy.

“Hack Their Taxes with a Philanthropic Loophole.” The headline in the Times lets you know the reporter’s inappropriate bias right from the start. The wealthy are not doing anything cute, clever, sloppy, or nefarious by creating a DAF. Any donor who creates a DAF is simply following the clearly written provisions of the law.

If giving to charity is a “hack” in the pejorative sense, if receiving a charitable-gift deduction for donating to a nonprofit organization is exploiting a “loophole,” then perhaps we should do away with the deduction for donations all together. However, can we agree that would be stupid?

The bottom-line is that setting up a DAF is no more evil than creating a foundation or trust or, for that matter, giving directly to a charitable organization. Donors who engage in careful tax planning have more disposable income or assets, which has historically led to more giving.

“Charities Can Wait for Funds Indefinitely.” Gelles writes, “So while donors enjoy immediate tax benefits, charities can wait for funds indefinitely, and maybe forever.” He goes on to state that foundations are required to give away five percent of their assets each year, but DAFs have no similar requirement. That’s true, but…

While DAFs are not required to make minimum distributions, the average DAF distributes far more than the minimum required of foundations. According to the 2017 Donor-Advised Fund Report, compiled by The National Philanthropic Trust, DAFs contributed 20.3 percent of assets to charities in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. For the third year in a row, growth in grants from DAFs has outpaced the growth of giving to DAFs.

Why would a donor just let money sit in a DAF account “forever” after setting up the irrevocable account? While the sponsoring organizations would love that – they earn fees for managing the accounts – a donor derives zero benefit from warehousing money in a DAF, beyond the initial deduction. Instead, donors benefit when that money can be put to good use. Furthermore, they’ll benefit when the recipient charities recognize their support and express their gratitude.

The bottom-line is that most donors have no interest in warehousing their money. They want to use their DAFs to help build a better world. It’s the job of fundraising professionals to inspire these people to recommend grants from their DAF accounts.

“Philanthropy is Becoming Less Transparent.” The article quotes David Callahan, author of The Givers, as saying, “The world of philanthropy is becoming less transparent, and that’s not a good thing.” While I’m not really sure what point Callahan was making, the Times wants us to believe that DAFs are part of the transparency problem as people use them to hide their giving.

A few years ago, I was curious about how secretive DAF grantmakers really are. Here is what I was able to report:

Vanguard Charitable reports that 95 percent of its grantmakers share their name with the charities they support. Schwab Charitable, another large DAF management organization, says that 97 percent of its grantmakers share their name. Fidelity Charitable reports that 92 percent of its grantmakers provide information for nonprofit acknowledgment. This means that charities are able to continue to cultivate and steward these donors.”

The bottom-line is that when donors are inspired to give through their DAF, they almost never do so secretively.

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May 24, 2018

New Charitable Gift Annuity Rates Announced

The American Council on Gift Annuities has announced an increase of its suggested maximum payout rates for Charitable Gift Annuities for the first time since 2012. The rates will be rising by 0.30 to 0.50 percentage points for those ages where most annuity contracts are done. The new rates become effective on July 1, 2018.

For some sample ages, the following table compares the current single-life payout rates to the new rates:

 

Current Rate through 6/30/18 New Rate, effective 7/1/18
Age 60 4.4% 4.7%
Age 70 5.1% 5.6%
Age 80 6.8% 7.3%
Age 90 9.0% 9.5%

As the above table illustrates, a 70 year-old donor who creates a Charitable Gift Annuity in July will receive a payout rate that is 9.8 percent greater than the rate currently available. Nonprofit organizations may find that the new, higher payout rates will generate greater interest in CGAs.

You can find the complete new rate schedule by clicking here.

When marketing your CGA program, there are a few tips that philanthropy researcher Prof. Russell James, III, JD, PhD, CFP® has found that can help you achieve greater success:

1. Tax Avoidance. Because the new tax code means that most donors will not itemize when filing their taxes, you might think you shouldn’t bother discussing tax avoidance when speaking with donors. However, that’s not necessarily the case. First, many of those who can afford to make a CGA donation will be tax itemizers who will be able to take advantage of the charitable gift deduction. Second, anyone with appreciated securities can avoid capital gains tax by establishing a CGA with a gift of stock rather than cash.

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January 30, 2018

Russell James: Three for the Price of FREE!

One of the nation’s leading philanthropy researchers provides us with helpful insights about the new tax code and its impact on charitable giving. He also offers valuable information about planned giving.

Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP® articles, books, and videos will benefit any fundraising professional. Here are just three that will be a big benefit to you:

1. A Donor’s Guide to the 2018 Tax Law (video)

In just nine-and-a-half minutes, James explains how key provisions of the new tax code can benefit donors. With his insights, you’ll be in a better position to inspire more donations and larger gifts to your nonprofit organization. Simple illustrations and great examples will help you easily grasp the concepts.

Do you know?: Just one of the things you’ll learn from the video is that donors can contribute appreciated stock to avoid capital gains tax. Even non-itemizers can benefit from this. While this provision of the tax code remains unaltered, what has changed is that the new code makes this provision even more valuable for donors. James explains how in the free video:

2.Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning (e-book, updated January 2018)

I’m honored that James has allowed me to offer you a free copy of his 433-page e-book Visual Planned Giving: An Introduction to the Law & Taxation of Charitable Gift Planning. James designed the newly updated book for fundraisers and financial advisors seeking to expand their knowledge about charitable gift planning. This introductory book addresses all of the major topics in planned giving law and taxation in an accessible way.

Do you know?: Wealth is not held in cash. It’s held in assets. James has found that only one percent of financial assets are held in cash! So, if you want larger donations, you need to talk with supporters about making a planned gift from non-cash assets (e.g., stocks, personal property, real estate, retirement accounts, life insurance, etc.).

If you want to learn more about planned giving or help a colleague gain a fundamental understanding, you can download your free copy of Visual Planned Giving by clicking here.

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January 5, 2018

How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?

If you’ve been reading the mainstream press, or even some of the industry media, you might believe that the future is all doom and gloom for charitable giving thanks to the Tax Cut and Jobs Act. But, how bad will things really be for you and your nonprofit organization?

As a former newspaper editor, I know that the media lives by the axiom: If it bleeds, it leads. In other words, negativity attracts readers and viewers, which in turn attracts advertising dollars. So, it’s no surprise that the media have put the new tax code in the most negative light when it comes to charitable giving.

Fortunately, reality is something quite a bit different. Let me explain, using figures from 2016 (the most current numbers available).

Overall, charitable giving totaled $390.05 billion. US Gross Domestic Product totaled $18.6 trillion. Therefore, total philanthropy in 2016 equaled 2.1 percent of GDP.

As a result of the new tax code, charitable giving could decline by approximately $21 billion, according to Patrick Rooney, PhD, Executive Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Professor of Economics and Philanthropic Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University.

However, is that number accurate? Unfortunately, we have no way of truly knowing as Rooney himself states.

For example, the estimated philanthropic decline of $21 billion does not take into account the impact of a likely increase in Gross Domestic Product.

Because philanthropy closely correlates to GDP at the rate of approximately two percent, we can expect a rise in GDP to result in a rise in giving.

So, how much will GDP rise? Again, no one knows for certain. The estimates vary greatly from 0.08 to 0.35 percentage points. The Tax Foundation provided the latter estimate. Applying that percentage to the 2016 GDP, we would see GDP increase by $651 billion. If two percent of that increase goes to charitable giving, that would be approximately $13 billion. So, Rooney’s prediction of a $21 billion decline in philanthropy could be mitigated partially by GDP growth resulting in just an $8 billion drop in giving. However, even that number could be further offset by growth in foundation giving resulting from robust growth in the stock market.

Simply put, the new tax code could increase GDP and stock values leading to more charitable giving that could, at least partially, offset any potential decline in giving resulting from the new tax policy.

For the sake of discussion, however, let’s assume a $21 billion drop in giving, as Rooney outlined. That would take philanthropy as a percentage of GDP from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent, using 2016 numbers. This is still within the 40+ year historical range.

The bottom line is that the new tax law could result in a decline in charitable giving. However, we don’t know for certain if that will be the case and, if it is, how much the dip will be. Even if there is a dip, giving will still remain at historically typical levels, around two percent of GDP. Furthermore, there is the possibility that the pundits are mistaken and that charitable giving will actually increase. Time will tell.

While the new tax code may change how and when people donate, history teaches us that changes in the tax code have only a short-term impact on the amount of giving though the methods and timing may vary. For example, the Reagan tax cuts resulted in greater year-end giving in 1986 before giving normalized thereafter. Furthermore, while a dip of billions of dollars is a big number, the reality is that it is not massive in the context of overall philanthropy.

Here are some of the relevant items you need to know from the 500+ page Tax Cut and Jobs Act signed into law on December 22, 2017 by President Donald Trump:

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February 3, 2017

Urgent: Join #Fundraising Colleagues for Advocacy Day on Capitol Hill

President Trump’s tax plan would reduce charitable giving by 4.5 to 9 percent, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. Analysis from the American Enterprise Institute estimates that Trump’s current tax proposal could eliminate more than $17 billion in annual giving.

It’s time to join the fight against any efforts to reduce charitable-giving incentives. As the US Congress drafts tax-reform legislation and negotiates with the Trump Administration, The Charitable Giving Coalition, Chaired by the Association of Fundraising Professionals, is hosting an advocacy day on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Feb. 16, 2017.

capitol-hill-by-elliott-p-via-flickrTo participate, you must email Ali Davidson (adavidson[at]urbanswirski.com) to register by the end of business on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017. When you register, provide your name, organization, state, and Congressional district. There is no charge to participate, but you will be responsible for your own travel and lodging expenses.

The “100 Years of Giving Fly-In” advocacy event is a great chance to meet with policymakers and their staff to advocate for maintaining the full value of the charitable deduction, as well as its possible expansion.

Over the years, I’ve participated in a number of advocacy events with AFP. They are fun and interesting. Moreover, it’s exciting to help make an important difference for the entire nonprofit sector. But, to make a difference, our sector needs to show up. You need to show up.

The Charitable Giving Coalition says:

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January 27, 2017

Your #Charity is Losing Big Money If It Ignores This Giving Option

If you’re like most fundraising professionals, you’re ignoring one high-potential giving option. Sadly, it could be costing your nonprofit organization a fortune.

I’m talking about gifts of appreciated securities (e.g., stocks).

The Wall Street Bull.

The Wall Street Bull.

Just days ago, the Dow broke through the 20,000 level to set a new record close. The NASDAQ and the S&P 500 are also in record territory. As stock values have continued their post-election rally, many more Americans now hold appreciated stocks.

In 2016, 52 percent of Americans said they owned stocks in some form, according to Gallup. While that’s down from the 65 percent who owned stocks prior to the Great Recession, a majority of Americans still hold stock, directly, in mutual funds, and in retirement accounts.

Given that most Americans own stock and many of those stocks have appreciated in value, the nonprofit sector has a tremendous opportunity.

Contributing appreciated stocks provides donors with some important benefits:

  • It gives donors access to a pool of money with which to donate that would not otherwise be available to them for other purposes without negative tax consequences.
  • Contributors who donate appreciated stocks may be able to avoid paying the capital gains tax on those securities.
  • Donors may also be able to take a charitable-gift tax deduction based on the value of the stock donated.

Given the benefits for the donor and the nonprofit organization, I’m puzzled about why more charities aren’t stepping up to promote gifts of appreciated securities.

I know. I know. You’re organization’s website probably mentions this giving option in passing. For example, my alma mater Temple University promotes gifts of appreciated stock and mutual funds on its website. Unfortunately, it takes three clicks from the Home Page to find the 82-word statement buried on the vaguely named page “More Ways to Give.” I suppose that’s a bit better than the charities that don’t mention this giving option at all.

On the other hand, the American Civil Liberties Union does a better job of promoting stock gifts on its website. Furthermore, unlike Temple University, the ACLU site provides all of the information and instructions a donor will need in order to make a gift of stock.

To help donors understand the value of donating stock, The National Philanthropic Trust, which manages Donor Advised Funds, includes a hypothetical case study on its website to illustrate the value of donating appreciated stock.

Savvy donors, perhaps more donors than in recent years, are already benefitting by donating appreciated stocks.

For example, NPT saw an increase of stock gifts last year. Eileen Heisman, NPT’s President and CEO, reports:

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