Charitable Tools Feed

Gift of a Charitable Life Estate

Wealth Management Exchange has a good article by Randy Fox on what is called "a gift of a charitable life estate." In other words, "give away a home or vacation place and keep the keys."  As Randy rightly says, doing an estate plan is like putting a puzzle together. The best clue for a puzzle-solver is the picture on the top of the box. So, whether a charitable life estate makes sense or not for a family depends on how they visualize the overall outcome, the big picture of what they wish to accomplish now, later, at death, and beyond. As a technique, among others, the charitable life estate is a good puzzle piece, when it fits.

Giving for Optimal Social Impact: How Much to Give, How, and When?

Sean at Tactical Philanthropy in an article he wrote for The Financial Times:

Your two main choices for a philanthropic vehicle are a private foundation or a donor-advised fund.

I would put it this way, your key choice is whether to give now or later, for impact now or later.

  1. Give now/Impact now = direct gift to the charity of your choice
  2. Give now/Impact later = set up foundation, donor advised fund now, make grants from it later.
  3. Give at death/Impact forever = testamentary foundation, with grants in perpetuity
  4. Give at death/ Impact then = bequest to charity

Even my version simplifies things, but you can see how important it is to ask not only when you want to send  the money in a philanthropic direction but when you want the money to arrive where it will have social impact. Moving money to foundations and donor advised funds is, technically, "philanthropic," and you get the tax benefits, but the money does not begin saving the planet or curing AIDs, or helping battered women, or whatever your cause might be until the dollars reach the nonprofit partners.

Start by thinking about what you want to preserve or change in the world. Then consider the timing and amount you can afford. What does the nonprofit partner need when? What can you afford when? The strategies and vehicles that are right for you and for your cause will come out of that analysis.  Financial managers will generally default to funds, as in foundations and donor advised funds, that they manage. This is how we in the financial trades are trained and generally how we are compensated. That is why you may want to involve your nonprofit partners in the conversation.

For maximum social impact: Consider a current direct gift, as large as you can afford, even if your financial manager blanches at the thought.

Caveat: All fact and circumstances come into it. For example, if you have kids you want to learn philanthropy and direct grants after you are gone, that would argue for a donor advised fund or a foundation. But in the mix don't neglect to ask about social impact now or later. It is a key question, one that financial advisors too seldom ask.


Inspired Philanthropy: Collaborating for The Commonweal

Competing or Completing? Beyond Planned Gifts as Transactions

In 2002 Robert Sharpe wrote an interesting article for Trusts & Estates, "Competing or Completing? Balancing the roles of various professionals in planning charitable giving maximizes the benefits for all."  I would like to second the spirit of his piece, while recommending that we as diverse professionals go beyond collaborating on specific "gift transactions" to collaborating on an overall legacy planning process of which the specific gift transaction is but one tactic or strategy. My sense is that such a collaborative process would transform our field for the better, move more money, and make our donor clients much happier and more fulfilled. In the process we advisors and gift planners will do ok too.

When we think of planned gifts as  specific  vehicles, like a donor advised fund, or a charitable remainder trust, offered by both nonprofits and for-profits we might ask, as Robert Sharpe does, whether the two distribution systems are competitors or complements.  Considered in that way, a life insurance agent "selling" a Charitable Remainder Trust payable at death to charity Y is competing with charity X who might have written the CRT payable to them. Likewise, Fidelity might compete with a community foundation for donor advised fund assets.  But let us say that the topic is not promoting a specific gift vehicle, or making a sale, but helping the donor client create an overall plan that is both prudent and inspired. (Prudent means a plan that takes care of the client and the client's family come what may. Inspired means having a positive impact on the community.) How then do the players arrange themselves around that program or process?  A case study may help us get the issues in perspective.

Case Study: Beyond Transactions to Prudent and Inspired Collaboration

Mary and John are worth $10 million, most of it in their closely held business. They are both 55. Both are active in the business and own 100% of the stock. They have two children, Alan and Marcie. Alan is a painter in NYC, barely getting by. He is single. Marcie is married with two children. She is the Comptroller in the family firm.  John and Mary are active in Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago where they live.  They have thought about spending more time working with the Church and less time in the business.  They dream of devoting their lives to working with disadvantaged children, instilling faith and character in children at risk.  Not only would they like to do more volunteering, they wonder if they might fund or endow a program and a facility. A local competitor has been making overtures to the family to sell the business.  Here are the questions on Mary and John's  mind. (These questions have been elicited in part by their lead advisor and in part through their own reflections.)


  • Should we sell, retire, and spend more time on volunteer work with the Church?
  • If we do sell at the proffered price will we have enough to live on for the rest of our lives?
  • Are we protected against major downside risks (death, disability, falling markets, liability, lawsuits, sickness, long term care needs, property and casualty losses)?
  • If we both die tonight, we owe what in estate tax? $3 million?
  • Can we reduce estate taxes in favor of the Church?
  • If we sell out to the buyer, where does that leave Marcie? Will she be out of a job?
  • If we sell to the outsider what will be the capital gains tax?
  • Should we find a way to keep the business in the family?
  • If so should it go to Marcie? And if so what do we give to her brother, Alan?
  • Should we divide our estate half and half for the kids? Or should Marcie get the bulk of it because she has helped us build the business?
  • If we let Marcie run the business when we retire, and she pays us some consulting fees so we have money to live on, and she then runs the business into the ground where does that leave us?
  • Can we afford to do more for Holy Name today? If we sell? At death?
  • How can we structure our affairs so we could do more now, later, and at death for Holy Name, minimize income tax and estate tax, while also taking care of ourselves and our children?
  • How can we balance all this?
  • Where do we start?
  • Who can help us?
  • Should we ask Marcie and Alan what they think? (If only they ever agreed about anything!)
  • Who should be at the legacy planning table when we sort all this out?


  1. Check the questions you think need to be answered by someone.  Put a Y by those you can answer all by yourself from your seat at the table.
  2. Ask yourself which professionals are needed to do justice to this fact pattern? Attorney, CPA, Financial planner who can do a comprehensive financial plan,  financial product salesperson, planned giving consultant, banker, business valuation expert, other?
  3. Is there a logical order as among: goal clarification, fanning philanthropic intent, running financial scenarios, explaining planning concepts (including but not limited to giving opportunities), communicating with children, finalizing the overall plan, implementing products, legal documents, and gifts?
  4. Is the logical order the order you employ in your work with donor/clients?

Observations and Suggestions

  • Most financial salespeople and most gift planners working for nonprofits "pitch" rather than plan. They lead with a solution before understanding the pertinent context. ("Prescription before diagnosis is malpractice.") We as a field have to get past this package sale mentality for larger client/donors who have complex needs and whose potential gifts merit lots of tender loving care.
  • The family above might need a charitable remainder trust, or a foundation, or a donor advised fund, or a charitable lead trust, or an outright gift, or a bequest, but it is way premature to pitch any of those. We have not even finished the fact-finding and goal setting.
  • Well over half the challenge in working with complex situations like the one above are the human dilemmas, not the financial conundrums.  The issues in the case above are those of love and money, of fairness, and the push pull between self interest and giving, between playing it safe for self and family, and doing something wonderful for the Church as soon as possible.
  • To resolve such dilemmas good planning will run scenarios and quantify the possible consequences of all the permutations and combinations of tools, tactics, and techniques, but in the end the family must wend its own way in this "dark wood" of moral and prudential choices.
  • Some family decisions are made with advisors. Others on our knees in prayer, or in the dark of the night, tossing and turning. What is at issue here is the trajectory of many lives.   
  • The family needs an open ear. They need someone they can trust, not just to run the numbers, do the legal work, plead for the needs of the Church, sell financial products, or close various aspects of the "case." They need a friend with an open ear, who will listen as they feel their way through this dark wood.
  • The trusted advisor, or confidant, can be anyone on the team. But the trusted advisor cannot just be a special pleader. He or she will get paid in one way or another, and will represent this or that position at the table, but the trusted advisor rises above his or her professional specialty and his or her way of getting paid, and earns the right to be the trusted advisor by simply listening, processing the information, and allowing the family to make its own best decisions. The trusted advisor may also slow down the process, involve other needed specialists, or towards the end, gently urge the process to a conclusion.
  • The default choice in a case like the one above is for the family to play it safe. They might well say, "Charity starts at home," if the Church is too urgent about philanthropy. Given the parents unresolved dilemmas, given the murk and uncertainty, the most likely outcome is to do not much, or not much right now.
  • If properly planned a case like this could well result in a gift to the Church of several million dollars. But the Church won't get it for asking. They won't get it for pleading. And they are not likely to get it by pitching Charitable Trusts in a vacuum. They need to be at the planning table, or within earshot of it, as the whole plan comes together.

Competition or Collaboration?

  • So, if you represent the Church, as a fundraiser, what is your next move with this family? My sense is that the best move is to presume upon the common bond of religious faith, and the common bond of Holy Name Cathedral, to simply listen. Emerge as trusted advisor, or as confidante, or as an advocate for the fellow parishioner's better angel, the client's best self. Then, convene the team. Stay quietly involved as the team works forward.  Continue to cultivate and to act as sounding board.  As the team plans the options, your role  as  gift planner will come into focus, and you will get your chance to discuss the gift options in the context of the overall plan.
  • If you are tax, legal, or financial advisor, what is your next move, if you are first person to whom these clients turn? Will you or won't you contact the Cathedral? Maybe that will depend on how the Cathedral has positioned itself in town and with you. Do you think of their Stewardship Committee as fellow professionals who will assist in a team effort, or do you think of them as special pleaders with a one track mind, or as well meaning people who have no sense of the proper process, and who are always closing for action prematurely?
  • Ideally, Holy Name has cultivated the professional community and positioned itself as a caring team member. If so, whoever gets the case going will feel at ease involving the others who need to be at the table to do justice to this family's plan.
  • If we all were to operate in this spirit we would do better for our donor/clients and they in turn would do better for their heirs and for the community.

Practical Steps for Nonprofits, Donors, and Advisors

  1. Check out the Resources tab at Inspired Philanthropy.
  2. Appendices A and B outline a simple process for bringing donors, advisors, and nonprofits together in common purpose.
  3. Consider an event or series of events to educate all three groups.
  4. Tracy Gary and I have intentionally put this material out there for all to use. We believe in cooperative advantage and in public goods. We don't want to corner the market on philanthropy. We know that others can adapt these materials to their own communities and make them their own. We want that. Out of such experiments, we want to create an informal learning community so we can uplift giving and givers. The spirit is not unlike "Leave a Legacy."
  5. Per Tracy, the materials in the Appendices go over well with their intended audience. In her words, "They love it and money is moving."
  6. If you do improvise your own approach to the issues discussed above, please share the results with me, either in comments left on the blog or by email, so we can learn together.

Donor Intent and Donor Advised Funds

Donors Trust, focused on conservative or libertarian causes, has some well-considered provisions for keeping a donor advised fund focused on donor intent even after the donor is gone.  Whether or not you share Donors Trust's conservative viewpoint, their thoughts on how to preserve donor intent may be of interest.  Specifically, they suggest a gift to a donor advised fund held by an organization whose ideals you share. Then they suggest appointing a successor to advise the fund after you are gone.  Also,  they suggest that the organization holding the donor advised fund restrict the successor-advisor to a range of grants consonant with the mission the donor  shares with that organization. Finally, they suggest setting a term limit on the fund, say, 20 years, after which the money is given away and the fund closes.  In this way you can prevent the fund from becoming a source of funding for causes you detest - as perhaps happened with, say, Henry Ford's Foundation. Perhaps for progressives, a possible place to consider for stewardship of donor advised funds might be Tides.  Local community foundations which you share a focus on local causes may be another solution.  But, regardless, of where you park the gift money, whether in a donor advised fund, charitable lead trust, or private foundation it is worth puzzling out the question: "Who will direct the gifts when I am gone, and what safeguards are there to keep the gifts in line with my philosophy and intent?"

Perhaps, too, at some level, one might want to ask: "Am I so wise? Might others see farther?"

How many of the best things in your life have you accomplished by intention, control, and the accountability of those subservient to your imperious will? Your marriage, for example? Your children? Your best ideas? Most of what matters comes from luck, fortune, grace or in productive conflict.   Unless we are wise, our good intentions may be what the road to hell is paved with.  Henry Ford if in Hell rues the Ford Foundation for deviating from his designs; if in Heaven, he has the Foundation to thank for it, given his labor practices and neolithic politics. 

Woody Tasch of Investors Circle on Slow Money

Excellent articles on the slow money philosophy:

  • Invest for a balance of social and financial return
  • Get to know investees and look for a mission match
  • Seek sustainable return, not the highest possible short term hit
  • Stay invested, rather than cash out and turn the investee organization over to the tender ministrations of Wall Street
  • Align the investment fund's philosophy with that of the investors
  • Keep investors informed not just about financial return, but also about how the investee organizations are doing.
  • Keep it real; keep it human: "Barefoot Economics."

This philosophy came home to me sitting in the IONS Conference Center, in the hills around San Francisco, talking about Transforming Money, only to learn from Mark Finser, who was sitting there with us in the Conference Center, that the mortgage on the place is held by the foundation he heads up, Rudolph Steiner Foundation. Seemed sensible, cozy, and caring. I can see how having such a hands-on experience with an investee organization might incline a good-hearted person to put their donor advised money with Steiner Foundation, thereby putting not only the grants but the principle to work.

Rudolph Steiner Foundation

Interesting funding model for a foundation:

RSF is an innovative charitable service organization that uses several financial vehicles to fulfill its charitable purposes. RSF has no endowment, and its ability to accomplish its mission rests on the generosity of those who make loans  to RSF - our "investors" - and those who make gifts through RSF – our donor advisors. By investing in and donating through RSF,; you share in the accomplishment of our charitable mission and help expand  its impact....

There are two general ways you can place your financial resource in alignment with your ideals at RSF– by investing         and by donating.

Investing at RSF is simple and easy. Much like a savings account, you make an initial investment, and we start paying you interest. Unlike other financial institutions, though, with RSF you will know that your funds will be loaned by us directly to mission-aligned projects and organizations.  We take great care to protect your investment—and we have a remarkable  record of success with our mission-related loans. We will keep you informed  about the projects you support through your investment at RSF through our Quarterly news and our website, so that you will know where your money is working.

Donating to RSF is the beginning of a philanthropic journey. You can choose the best timing for your gift, then take time to recommend grants to your favorite charitable domestic and international organizations. Our service is designed to connect your heartfelt intentions to important and creative work being done in service to the world. A number of pathways exist at RSF to help you use your charitable contributions to further mission-related work.



Newdea, reviewed earlier, is now Centrastone. Their value proposition cannot be reduced to a soundbite, but they bring together advsiors, advisory firms,  donors and nonprofits around an information database that allows these parties to the gift transaction to "find, fund, and follow" the cash flows from donor to organization, right down to the project implementation level as the nonprofit. If implemented successfully with a critical mass of donors, advisory firms, and nonprofits, Centrastone could be a "game-changing" innovation. As with any "market" the initial issue critical mass. How many donors will give through the system? How many advisory firms will adopt it? How many nonprofits will find a niche within it and actively promote themselves through the network? A complex story is hard to tell. But there was time when Ebay seemed like a wild idea too.   

Charitable Tools

I am often asked to explain various charitable tools. I do so reluctantly. Tools come last, after you have gotten to know the donor and what they want in life, for society, for themselves, family, and others. If you want to glance at the tools, and get a sense of what they do, that would be good. Just remember that explaining the tools and using them as part of an overall plan is the advisor's job. If you are a do-it-yourselfer, take up carpentry instead. Discussed or illustrated here are Charitable Remainder Trusts, Gift Annuities, Charitable Lead Trusts, Life Estate Reserved, and Foundations and their Alternatives.

Numbing? Yes! Intimidating? Yes? Daunting? Yes! That is why, I really think that charities and donors should put relationship and caritas way ahead of tools. Once you know what you want to accomplish from now until dusty death, and what legacy you want to leave for family and society, what kind of impact you want to have, then the tools will come into focus as means to those noble ends.

What you see here, friends, is the problem, the dysfunction, in miniature, the missed opportunity. If your own blood runs cold reading the technical stuff, so will other caring peoples'. Keep it focused on ends. Make friends in the advisor community. Forgive them for being so technical. Forgive them for these printouts, and the rest of the necessary tax rigmarole. Use the advisor to find the means to the ends. But, here among friends, let us try to keep the flame of love burning, because when that goes out, the rest is dust.

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