Posts tagged ‘taxes’

October 8, 2019

It’s All Up to You Now

It’s that time of year once again. It’s the season when most charities raise the most amount of money, perhaps because that’s when most fundraising activity happens. However, how tough will it be to raise money as the end of 2019 approaches?

You might be concerned about a recession on the horizon. You should be. We’re experiencing a record for sustained economic growth that quite simply can’t go on forever. A recession is bound to hit eventually even without factoring in trade wars, political turmoil, disruptions to the global oil supply, and the threat of foreign wars.

Among ultra-wealthy Americans, those with an average worth of $1.2 billion, 55 percent believe the US will enter a recession within the next year, according to the UBS Global Family Office Report. About 45 percent of respondents are sufficiently concerned that they are boosting their cash reserves, and 45 percent are realigning their investment strategies to mitigate risk.

While recession fears loom, a major economic downturn has yet to take shape. In other words, the economic climate is currently good from a fundraiser’s perspective. Could it be better? Sure. Always. But, it’s plenty good enough for you to anticipate a successful year-end fundraising effort. Consider some of the following six economic factors (as of Oct 4, 2019):

Gross Domestic Product. GDP is growing at a rate of 2.0 percent. Overall philanthropy historically correlates closely with GDP. So, if GDP goes up, we can anticipate that philanthropic giving will also increase.

Unemployment. The national unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, the lowest since 1969. If more people are working, more people will likely have funds with which they can donate.

Wages. Wages have increased 2.9 percent over 2018. Individual giving closely correlates to personal income. So, if personal income is rising, we can anticipate a rise in individual philanthropy.

Stock Market. The stock market, while volatile, has been performing well. This year, the Dow is up 13.92 percent, the NASDAQ is up 20.30 percent, and the S&P is up 17.76 percent. This is good for fundraising for two important reasons worth mentioning here. First, stock growth means that foundations and donor-advised funds will have more money with which to donate. Second, many individuals own stocks that have appreciated in value. When donating appreciated stocks, individual donors can avoid capital gains tax. In other words, even if someone can’t claim a charitable gift deduction under the current tax code, they can still derive a tax benefit by contributing appreciated securities.

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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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April 17, 2019

How Generous is the Charitable Giving of Presidential Candidates?

While I applaud anyone who donates money and/or time to charities, some deserve more applause than others do. Since the presidential campaign season has begun, and with federal tax returns due earlier this week, The Washington Post has reviewed the charitable giving of the 2020 presidential candidates who have released their federal tax returns so far.

Here is what we know from the most recently released tax returns (with candidates and their spouses ranked from least to most generous as a percentage of Adjusted Gross Income):

Beto O’Rourke donated $1,166, 0.3 percent of AGI.

Kamala Harris donated $27,259, 1.4 percent of AGI.

Kirsten Gillibrand donated $3,750, 1.75 percent of AGI.

Amy Klobuchar donated $6,602, 1.85 percent of AGI.

Bernie Sanders donated $18,950, 3.4 percent of AGI.

Jay Inslee donated $8,295, 4.0 percent of AGI.

Elizabeth Warren donated $50,128, 5.5 percent of AGI.

For perspective, here is some information about past presidential candidates:

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January 24, 2019

Here are Some Things You Need to Know

Now that the 2018 year-end fundraising season has closed and you’ve had a moment to catch your breath, I want to share some things with you that you might have missed.

To begin, here is a list of my top ten most read posts published last year:

  1. How Bad is the New Tax Code for Your Charity?
  2. It’s Time to Stop Whining about Donor-Advised Funds!
  3. 9 Hard Truths Every Fundraiser Needs to Face in the 21st Century
  4. New Charitable Gift Annuity Rates Announced
  5. Jerold Panas (1928-2018), He Will Be Missed
  6. Setting the Record Straight about Jimmy LaRose
  7. Will One Charity’s Surprising Year-End Email Make You Look Bad?
  8. The Dark Side of the Fundraising Profession
  9. How to Get Last Year’s Donors to Give More this Year
  10. Avoid the 7 Deadly Sins When Working with Volunteers

Here’s a list of just five of my older posts that remained popular in 2018:

  1. Can a Nonprofit Return a Donor’s Gift?
  2. Can You Spot a Child Molester? Discover the Warning Signs
  3. Here is One Word You Should Stop Using
  4. 5 Things Never to Do in Your Phone Fundraising Calls
  5. Special Report: Top 40 Most Effective Fundraising Consultants Identified

I invite you to read any posts that might interest you by clicking on the title above. If you’ve read them all, thank you for being a committed reader.

Over the years, I’ve been honored to have my blog recognized by respected peers. I’m pleased that, among the thousands of nonprofit and fundraising sites, my blog continues to be ranked as a “Top 75 Fundraising Blog” and as a “Top Fundraising Blog – 2019.”

To make sure you don’t miss any of my future posts, please take a moment to subscribe to this site for free in the designated spot in the column to the right. You can subscribe with peace of mind knowing that I will respect your privacy. As a special bonus for you as a new subscriber, I’ll send you a link to a free e-book from philanthropy researcher Russell James, JD, PhD, CFP®.

In 2018, I was pleased to have two of my articles published in Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals:

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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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October 12, 2018

As Giving Lags, Alarm Bells Sound. Should You Worry?

While the story at some individual charities might be different, charitable giving in the sector for the first half of 2018 is lagging behind the first six months of 2017, both in terms of the number of donors and the amount donated. That’s according to a recent report from the Fundraising Effectiveness Project.

As I write this post, the stock market has just taken a two-day beating with the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 1,378 points.

I won’t blame you if you’re feeling a bit pessimistic about philanthropy these days. However, I will respectfully suggest that you shouldn’t be overly worried. As I wrote in the current issue of Advancing Philanthropy, the official magazine of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, there are actually plenty of reasons for us to be optimistic about the current fundraising environment.

In my article for AFP, I show you how you can be your own fundraising superhero with six tips that will help you control your fundraising destiny. I also detail nine reasons for you to be upbeat about the current philanthropic environment as you seek year-end gifts. However, for now, I’ll just highlight some of the reasons why you should be upbeat about fundraising as year-end and the start of a new year approach:

1. Stock Market Growth. Despite the hit the stock market took this week, it remains above the 52-week level. An adjustment was expected. While volatile, the stock market is likely to stabilize somewhat and even continue to grow.

2. Dire Predictions Really Are Not that Dire. Some have predicted that the new federal tax code will negatively affect philanthropic giving. While it’s too soon to draw a firm conclusion, we do know that even if the worst-case prediction comes true, overall philanthropy will once again be approximately two percent of Gross Domestic Product, where it has been for decades.

3. Economic Growth. GDP growth for the first half of the year has been strong. If economic growth continues, as the Federal Reserve believes it will, this will likely have a positive effect on charitable giving. Remember, there’s a long correlation between philanthropy and GDP.

4. New Tax Code. For both individuals and corporations, a reduction in taxes makes more money available for charitable contributions. For example, many corporations (e.g., Wells Fargo, Southwest Airlines, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Best Buy, BB&T, Apple, Ally Financial, and others) have announced commitments to significantly increase corporate giving.

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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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