Posts tagged ‘Tax Cut and Jobs Act’

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 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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