Philanthropy affords us financial benefits, feel-good rewards and networking opportunities galore. And much like punching a ballot, giving to charity can be a powerful way to way to influence the world.
But for parents, philanthropy offers even more. It allows us to build charitable character in our children. "To sit down with your family and make decisions about community issues, about things that are truly important to you, is to establish a generous and giving legacy," says Virginia M. Esposito, founding president of the National Center for Family Philanthropy.
Even those people who don't consider themselves wealthy have a lot to give. "Whatever your circumstances," says Esposito, "you can find an issue or a group of people or a community that needs you more than you need."
"Most of my women clients have the means to do some if not significant amounts of gifts," says Sharon Burns, Ph.D., CPA, a member of the Women's Philanthropy Institute Board of Directors and a financial advisor in Columbus, OH. "But they don't know how to get started." She recommends following your heart, your interests, and your passions. "Make it personal, because it will mean so much more if you have a reason for giving."
Esposito advises that before you give to charity you explore your reasons for doing so. "Are you trying to provide a vehicle for working with your family? Are you trying to provide a mechanism for giving back to your church? Are you trying to contribute to finding a cure for breast cancer because you want to honor your grandmother who died of breast cancer? Then think about what resources -- interest, expertise, time, and money -- you have to offer."
As with any investment or purchase, it's imperative that you do your homework to spend your efforts and dollars wisely. Support is everywhere, says Esposito, in the form of:
Women's funds (available in most major cities around the country)
Your attorney or accountant
Banks or investment institutions
Regional Associations of Grantmakers (RAGs)
Developing a Giving Strategy
Many women give what amounts to a sizeable donation every year, but they dribble it into gifts of $10 and $25. "The Women's Philanthropy Institute encourages women to really examine where they're giving and why," says Burns. "They will have a greater impact if they collapse those gifts and give to fewer organizations." She recommends donating at least 75 percent of your giving dollars to no more than two organizations or, better yet, just one.
Burns also encourages you to stretch yourself. "If you think you can only do $300, try $350; if you think you can do $25,000, try $30,000 or $40,000. You'll find that you'll be able to generate more with it."
With larger gifts come larger responsibilities. Burns suggests you involve your estate attorney or accountant, who can help you determine how much is spent on fundraising, on overhead, and on the actual project or purpose of the organization. Feel free to check them out in person as well. Donors are always welcome.
And don't give and forget. "Follow up. If a charity is not doing with your gift what you think is right, feel free to cut 'em off!" says Burns. "It's an investment. You're not going to continue to invest in a losing stock. Plus, if you stay involved, you'll stay interested and feel more satisfied -- and you'll give again."
Giving with Tax Savvy
"Research has shown that women aren't nearly as concerned about tax advantages as men," according to Burns. "But obviously they can increase the size of their gift if they understand the most financially astute way to give." Tax-friendly giving options include:
By giving appreciated stock instead of cash, you don't ever pay the capital gains tax (and the charity doesn't, either), and you get a full tax deduction for the fair market value of your gift.
Charitable Lead Trust:
If you want to leave a lump sum of money to your heirs or estate, you can put it aside and designate its income every year to charity. When you die, the principal -- which has never been touched -- reverts to your heirs. In the meantime, your year-to-year taxable income may be decreased.
Giving out of your general income is tax deductible, so your tax savings equals your marginal tax rate times the amount you give. Most people will save, in taxes, between 28 cents and 36 cents for every dollar they give.
Cash now, insurance later:
You can give your children the money to buy an insurance policy that will, at the time of your death, replace the value of a current charitable gift. Under today's state tax law, that may triple the tax advantages: you get a current write-off for the charitable gift; the death benefit is never taxed if your kids own the insurance policy; and, as long as you keep the premium money under the gift tax level ($10,000 a year per child), that gift isn't taxed.
Charitable Remainder Trusts (CRTs):
You can receive current spendable income from cash or assets placed in a trust. When you die, the principal goes to charity. Not only does this save estate taxes and capital gains taxes on appreciated assets, but you get a current tax write-off for the present value of the deferred gift (or remainder).
Nurturing Charitable Values
With your help, even preschoolers can begin to understand what it means to be a giving person, says Esposito. Read them books like The Giving Tree or The Rainbow Fish -- "books about people sharing and giving of themselves and not just money." For preteens, look at allowance as an opportunity for the sharing of values. Reflect the personal interests and passions of your teenage children in your family giving. And enjoy philanthropy as a family endeavor -- a shared activity on the behalf of others who may not have as much -- and as the creation of a giving tradition that will continue for generations.