Posts Tagged ‘charitable’

This week’s blogger is Raymond G. Russolillo, CPA, tax partner and leader of Withum’s Family Office service niche.

In an earlier post we described an interesting charitable technique known as thRaymond Russolilloe “conservation easement.”  In a nutshell, this technique allows you to swap some (permanent) flexibility with respect to your property for a healthy charitable deduction.  It is designed to encourage taxpayers to preserve open space for conservation or recreation purposes and to protect certain historic structures.   I encourage you to read the prior post for more details.  We think it is a great technique because, as we said then and still maintain now, it is the very essence of having your cake and eating it, too.

But, as in all things tax, you have to make sure you dot your I’s and cross your T’s.  A recently decided Tax Court case (David R. Gemplerle, et ux. v. Commissioner, TC Memo 2016-1) underscores the tax truism that form prevails over substance, especially in cases like this.

The Gemperle’s owned and lived in an historic home.  In 2007, they granted a facade easement on the property to the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois.  The Council guided them through the process, including the hiring of an appraiser who subsequently determined the value of the easement to be $108,000 which the taxpayers then claimed on their 2007 tax return.  On later examination, the IRS disallowed the deduction for the simple reason that the taxpayers did not attach a copy of the appraisal to the return as filed nor did they fully complete Form 8283, Noncash Charitable Contributions.  The Tax Court agreed with the IRS position, basically eliminating the deduction and, on top of it all, assessing  a 20% accuracy related penalty and a 40% valuation penalty.

In court, the IRS argued five points:  (1) the absence of a “qualified” appraisal; (2) the existence of some technical deficiencies with respect to the facade easement itself; (3) the failure of the taxpayers to include a copy of the appraisal with the return; (4) the failure of the taxpayers to attach an appraisal summary as required by regulations and; (5) the ultimate failure of the taxpayers to prove that the decrease in value was indeed $108,000.  The Tax Court stripped the issue down to its simplest and harshest essence – they threw out the taxpayer’s case because of the taxpayers’ failure to attach a copy of the appraisal to the tax return.  Because they were relying on this simple test of fact (was an appraisal attached? – No) they did not even need to consider any of the IRS’ other points.

We can argue this heavy handed decision on the part of the Court, but the moral of the story should be clear to taxpayers and practitioners alike – if the rules say to attach certain documentation to a return, do it!  Particularly in the area of valuation, form will often beat out substance.

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I love this time of year. The final tax silly season is over, Thanksgiving (greatest holiday EVER!) is in a couple of weeks, the weather is generally…volatile….Christmas decorations are appearing, and for those who partake, football season is in full swing – it’s just perfect! But amidst all the turkey-stuffing and stocking-stuffers I want to remind you to not forget about the most fun and profitable activity of all – year-end tax planning!

So, ok, a call to your CPA and crunching a few numbers may not rank up there with holiday cards and eggnog, but it can make a big difference to your tax bill in any given year. Think of it as a holiday bonus to yourself.

And, in fact, it is not all that difficult. Tax planning is not rocket science. (The first time I ever uttered those words was about 20 years ago at a seminar I was conducting for employees of a defense contractor on Long Island. As the words came out of my mouth I realized that pretty much everyone in the room was, indeed, a rocket scientist!) Anyway, tax planning essentially involves reducing, eliminating, or deferring tax or taxable income. That’s it. All the rest is commentary. Go and learn.

So in the spirit of pumpkin pie and cranberries, here are a few items to consider at this time of year with your CPA and investment advisor:

  • Prepare a baseline projection of your 2014 and 2015 tax liabilities. This projection will enable you to test the effectiveness of various tax planning strategies. It is impossible to plan on the back of an envelope.
  • Determine if you have the ability to defer or accelerate ordinary income from one year to the next. Examples: bonuses, client fees, IRA/Keogh distributions. Test and evaluate the impact.
  • Review your portfolio and prune for tax purposes. Try to match capital gains and losses to lower the tax bite as much as you can. Remember, however, that investment considerations ALWAYS trump tax considerations, so do this carefully involving your advisors in the decision.
  • Manage your deductions. Keep in mind that, except for charitable contributions, prepayment of most expenses has significant implications for the alternative minimum tax (AMT). Most commonly deferred or accelerated deductions include:
    • Charitable contributions
    • State and local income taxes
    • Real property taxes
    • Some interest expense
    • Miscellaneous itemized deductions
  • Make sure that you have funded all retirement plans and IRA’s to which you are entitled.
  • Fund the educational savings plan of your choice for yourself and/or your beneficiary. These “529 plans” enable you to accumulate savings free of federal income tax if the eventual proceeds are used to pay for qualified post-secondary education expenses. Compare the plans at http://www.savingforcollege.com/.
  • Review your family’s gifting program. Up to $14,000 in gift-tax-free, present value gifts ($28,000 if married and gift splitting) can be made to as many donees as you would like. (Note: lots of kids and grandkids = lots of annual exclusion gifts). A special opportunity exists to accelerate up to five years’ worth of annual exclusions for a beneficiary by front-end loading a 529 plan. So, grandparents (hint, hint) under the right circumstances you can invest up to $140,000 in a 529 plan for your darling grandbaby free of any gift tax. This is a huge planning opportunity that your kids will thank you for. (Remind them to pay it forward when they get to be grandparents themselves!)
  • Finally, my favorite (and, frankly, the whole point of this blog) – CHARITABLE GIVING! In the past we have discussed a number of serious planning opportunities that can take you from casual donor to serious philanthropist and if you have been in planning mode over the past year, now may be the time to pull the trigger on some or all of these plans. However, if you have not been involved in any serious philanthropic/income/transfer tax planning over the past year, then I don’t recommend stepping on the gas just yet. Consider, instead, funding your current charitable commitments as simply as possible and get the planning going for next year.

Here is a short, simple “to-do” list for your 2014 yearend charitable giving:

  • Cash gifts are the simplest and can be accomplished by check or credit card, as long as you make them by year end. Be sure to get a receipt from the charity for any gifts of $250 or more. Cancelled checks are insufficient proof in the case of an IRS audit.
  • Contribution of appreciated long term securities to charity is only marginally more complicated than cash, but generally vastly superior for tax purposes. The built-in capital gain is never taxed to you and your deduction is the fair market value of the security.
  • The flip side is using depreciated securities for charity – don’t do it! Instead, sell the securities, recognize the loss, and contribute the cash to charity.
  • There are several limitations to charitable deductions based on income. The basic overall limitation is 50% of adjusted gross income (AGI). If you exceed the limitation(s), you get a five year carryover of the excess. There are a number of caveats to this and I urge you to talk to your CPA first if you are that seriously philanthropic.
  • Donor advised funds (DAF) are a godsend at this time of year. Let’s say for tax purposes you want to generate a $100,000 charitable contribution. You are obviously generous, but you do not yet know which charities you want to benefit. Setting up a DAF gives you the ability to fund the account and claim the deduction in the current year and distribute the gifts to the ultimate charities in future years. I love these funds; see these prior posts for more details:
  • Finally, here’s a fun family outing – clean out your closets and visit a local thrift store sponsored by a 501(c)(3) charity with your “still-in-good-shape-but-not-quite-your-style-anymore” clothing, furniture, and household appliances. The fair market value of these items (generally the thrift store price they will be sold for) is deductible. If any single item or group of similar items is valued at $500 or more, additional disclosures will be required on your tax return. And if the claimed value is $5,000 or more, a qualified appraisal will be required to substantiate the deduction. Your deduction will most likely pass muster at audit time if you are reasonable, maintain impeccable records, and adequately disclose the required information.

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Ice-BagSeemingly out of nowhere it has become all the rage to video one’s self making a pitch for ALS and dumping a bucket of ice water over one’s head.  Celebrities?  Fuggedaboutit!  This ritual is virtually required for them to remain in the public eye.  Ordinary citizens?  Everywhere.  Even one of my more conservative and reserved partners has humiliated himself with this test.  And lest you think the insanity is limited to the United States – think again.  Just this morning I saw the two kids of an Australian Facebook friend of mine dump an entire cooler over her head.   While it may be a fleeting fad, it is certainly having an impact – according to the New York Times, between June 1st and August 13th, participants have shared more than 1.2 million videos on Facebook of themselves partaking in this somewhat odd activity and have mentioned the phenomenon more than 2.2 million times on Twitter. 


Basically, the “Ice Bucket Challenge” is a brilliant, grassroots marketing idea that originated earlier this spring before being tied to ALS.  It works like this – A “friend” challenges or nominates you to participate.  Once challenged, you have 24 hours to do the deed, video yourself doing so, and post it on a social media site like Facebook or Instagram.  If you don’t participate, well, you are then shamed into donating $100 to the cause.  If you do participate, you’ll probably give even more!  When you post your video, you then challenge others to do the same.  It’s not unlike a multilevel marketing scheme and it’s big time – check out this motley crew if you don’t believe me – former President George W. Bush, singer/songwriter Carole King, entrepreneur/philanthropist Bill Gates, athlete LeBron James, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (come on, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, where are you?), self-promoter Kim Kardashian, and fallen teen idol Lindsay Lohan.  The good, the bad, and the ugly – the list goes on and on, but at this point I’m tired of inserting hyperlinks about famous people.  I would embarrass some of my close associates, friends, and family who have participated, but I suspect that would not be much appreciated (although I did consider it Bob, Steve, and Sharon)! 

The serious part, of course, is the cause – raising awareness of the disease and the funds to fight it.  ALS is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a debilitating condition that attacks nerve cells and eventually leads to total paralysis and death within two to five years from the date of diagnosis.  30,000 Americans are afflicted with this condition, but prior to the challenge, public awareness was fairly low.  Now?  Well, the numbers don’t lie.  According to a recent press release from the ALS Association

As of Wednesday, August 27, The ALS Association has received $94.3 million in donations compared to $2.7 million during the same time period last year (July 29 to August 27). These donations have come from existing donors and 2.1 million new donors. The ALS Association is tremendously thankful for all of the generous support and awareness that this summer phenomenon has generated for the cause.

Wow!  Truly impressive!  Certainly, we can’t expect such a fundraising pace to keep up, but for now it is a shot in the arm for the ALS Association.

Yes, there are critics and cynics.  There always are.  And each of us has to decide for ourselves what causes we support and play a part in.  But the runaway success that the ALS Association has experienced underscores a very important point.  Donors must be engaged at a level that works for them in order for them to open up their wallets.  This silly little ice bucket ritual, made possible because of the social media revolution and cheap video, has gone viral and grabbed millions because it engages folks at a very basic level and makes them feel part of something far bigger than themselves.  It’s not the same as donating a bunch of money to a university and getting your name on a building, but it plays on the same emotions – the need for recognition and a desire for personal satisfaction.  Engagement can be built in many ways.  How about all the groups that sponsor some form of physical activity requiring sponsorship (fundraising) to participate?  In the past, I have participated in Team in Training, the Leukemia and Lymphonia Society’s approach to physical fundraising.  In my case, I rode in a “century” bike ride (100 miles).  Truthfully?  I signed up because I wanted to do the ride, and TNT/LLS seemed like a decent organization.  I wasn’t particularly connected to the cause.  TNT/LLS provided three months of on-the-road training and plenty of encouragement and camaraderie.  The fundraising commitment was fairly steep but I accomplished it and, guess what?  I am now a fan for life of LLS.  My awareness of blood cancers was raised while my desire for engagement was satisfied. 

In this hyper-connected and frenetically paced world, all organizations have to find ways to stand out and be noticed.  It’s not easy by any stretch.  Those who are successful know that it’s not just about raising money – it’s all about engagement.

Enjoy Labor Day 2014!

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The private foundation (PF) is a great tool for an individual or family that wants to be in the “business of philanthropy.” It provides a tax exempt shell within which to house assets to operate the business of philanthropy. It is a structure that survives the grantor and establishes the family as philanthropists for the ages.

It can also be a royal pain in the neck in terms of its care and feeding, with tedious initial and ongoing filings and returns, meetings and other documentation.

Today, we are going to outline the life cycle of a PF so that you can see a bit of what is involved and why I always say that PF’s are appropriate for those who want to be in the “business of philanthropy” rather than those who are looking to fund a charitable pocketbook. It is not meant to be exhaustive by any means. (Warning: Don’t attempt to implement any of this on your own!) Thank you to www.irs.gov for its great article “Life Cycle of a Private Foundation.”   Check it out for more detailed information including sample documents.

Starting Out and Applying to the IRS

  1. As basic as it sounds, the first thing to do is determine the type of foundation you want to establish: “private operating,” “exempt operating,” or “grant making.” Hint: most folks use “grant making” a/k/a “private non-operating” foundations.
  2. Draft and execute the proper organizing documents and bylaws so that the foundation will qualify as a §501(c)(3) organization. Typically, a PF is structured as a trust, corporation or association. Your attorney should be sure to include certain provisions that prohibit the foundation from engaging in behavior that could trigger the PF excise taxes under §§4941, 4942, 4943, 4944, and 4945.
  3. Obtain an employer identification number (EIN). Note that entity must be in existence first before applying for the EIN.
  4. Determine the registration requirements for the state(s) in which your foundation may be required to file. For more information, including how to determine in which states a foundation may be required to register, see the website of the National Association of State Charity Officials.
  5. Submit an application (form 1023) along with the user fee ($850) to the IRS to establish your tax exempt status. Such application should be filed within 27 months after the end of the month of legal formation and tax exempt status, if warranted, will be retroactively applied back to the date of formation.

Required Annual Filings & Ongoing Compliance

  1. Form 990PF – an onerous return in which, in my humble opinion, the required disclosures about the activity of the PF are primary and the numbers and excise tax calculation are clearly secondary. It is very important to note that, unlike virtually any other return with which you are familiar, the 990PF is a PUBLIC DOCUMENT which means that “private” foundations are anything but private.
    • Excise tax on net investment income – a basic 2% tax which can be reduced to 1% if certain conditions are met.
    • Possible excise taxes related to self-dealing, failure to distribute income, excess business holdings, jeopardizing investments, and taxable expenditures.
  2. Form 990-T – Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBTI) return, if required
  3. Employment tax forms, if the PF has employees
  4. State Filing Requirements – Example – in New York, Form CHAR500 must be filed annually along with a copy of the foundation’s Federal Form 990PF plus a filing fee.
  5. Substantiation and disclosure of charitable contributions – All grants are disclosed on the 990PF, giving potential readers (which can be anyone since the 990PF is a public document) full knowledge of what the PF has supported during the year.

Other Significant Events

  1. IRS audits may be field, office, or correspondence audits. As with audits of taxable entities, the results are subject to administrative and judicial appeal. They are about as pleasant as root canal without anesthesia.
  2. Termination of a PF
    • Voluntary termination by notifying the IRS and paying a termination tax.
      • The termination tax is equal to the lesser of the combined tax benefit resulting from the 501(c)(3) status of the organization or the value of the net assets of the organization
      • A foundation may also transfer its assets to another private foundation, commence voluntary termination, and pay no termination tax because it has no assets. In this case, the transferee acquires all of the aggregate tax benefits of the transferor associated with the transferred assets.
    • Involuntary termination for either willful repeated violations or a willful and flagrant violation of the private foundation excise tax provisions and becoming subject to the termination tax.
    • Transfer of assets to certain public charities
    • Operating as a public charity for a continuous period of 60 months after giving appropriate notice.
  • Administrative Headaches
    1. Trustee/directors’ meetings – to review performance, set policy, and approve grants. Minutes should be kept.
    2. Responding to requests for copies of the 990PF – Again, a public document that has to be provided to those who request it.
    3. Maintenance of a Website – optional
    4. Responding to requests for grants – even if the PF “opts out” of entertaining such requests, they still, somehow, find their way to the PF office and need to be addressed.

Again, this short outline is by no means exhaustive but it illustrates a few basic points. Here are the takeaways:

  • Starting a private foundation is like starting a for-profit business. There are ground rules and boundaries that must be understood and respected. It is best to go in with your eyes open.
  • A PF requires thought and ongoing attention. It is best used to advance a philanthropic agenda that is clearly stated and generally accepted by the founder and the governing board.
  • Because philanthropic agendas will change over time, it is best for founders to go in with an open mind and remain flexible, not tying up the PF with too many restrictions. If this is not possible, perhaps a shorter term, specific gift to charity may be more to the liking of the donor.
  • A PF should not be viewed as a charitable pocketbook. Its highest and best use is to engage in the business of philanthropy, the same way a private, for-profit company engages in the family business.

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Engaging in estate planning can be troublesome. It forces you to face your mortality. Those who are superstitious ascribe all kinds of evil consequences to the contemplation of death while the rest of us are just plain uncomfortable with the finality of it all.  But engage in such planning we must if we want to ensure that our estates – our legacies, really – efficiently pass to heirs and other beneficiaries in the manner and amounts we intend.

So, how to handle charitable giving?  Is it better to make such gifts now or at death?  Charitable bequests are often included in wills to fulfill existing pledges or to round out a lifetime of giving to favorite causes.  This approach is especially advantageous when there are no other “noncharitable” heirs involved, or when the estate owner wants to limit the amounts ultimately passing to these heirs.  Also, a testamentary transfer may be the only practical way to accomplish giving an entire estate over to charity, particularly if depleting the estate during lifetime effectively impoverishes the estate owner.

But what if there is a choice?  What if, during your lifetime, you can give away something, even a significant something, and not dangerously deplete the estate in so doing?  Are you better off giving at death or during life?

Obviously, there are pros and cons to each, and everyone’s situation is different.  But a general rule to follow is that lifetime charitable gifts are better than the exact same gifts made at death, both for tax and non-tax purposes.

  • Charitable gifts made during your lifetime are deductible for Federal income tax purposes.[1] This is the big one. Any gifts you make during your lifetime will save you income tax dollars at the federal level and possibly at the state and local level as well. There are lots of caveats to this, so speak to your tax advisor to get a sense of what the actual benefit may be for you. But as a rough example, consider that a New York City resident taxpayer in the top income tax bracket (and not subject to the alternative minimum tax) would save approximately 43 cents on the dollar in income taxes on a lifetime charitable gift. Not bad — a $50,000 charitable donation would effectively cost only $28,500.
  • But charitable bequests reduce your taxable estate, don’t they? Isn’t that effectively an estate tax deduction offering roughly the same benefit? Yes, such bequests do reduce your taxable estate. Continuing the example from the first bullet point, our hypothetical rich NYC taxpayer would save, at the top rate for estate taxes, approximately 57 cents on the dollar. But this savings is very deceiving – had he given away the same money during lifetime his estate would be that much less, and he will have effectively accomplished the same thing – and gotten current income tax deductions during lifetime to boot!
  • Charitable gifts made during your lifetime enable you to enjoy seeing the fruits of your giving. It can be as small as knowing that the shelves are stocked in the food pantry that you support or as large as seeing your name on a building on the campus of your alma mater – face it, many of us crave the “warm fuzzies” we feel when we support a cause, particularly when we see results or achieve personal recognition for our efforts. Certainly this is a non-tax benefit of lifetime charity, a guilty pleasure if you will, but one you can enjoy without having to admit it!
  • Lifetime giving patterns are a good indicator of your charitable intent and can be instructive for those who survive you. This is most important if you create a private foundation or some other charitable vehicle that will outlive you. Your surviving board members, often family, can view your lifetime actions as a roadmap of your values. Such a roadmap may help them continue your legacy in a way that, presumably, reflects your charitable intent.

Again, these are general rules which should be discussed and quantified with your tax advisor before implementation.  But the fact is, in most cases, charitable gifts made during lifetime yield better tax results and often more personal satisfaction for the donor.

[1] Subject to income and other limitations, including the type of contribution and the type of charity.

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Charitable Nation has, from time to time, showcased various wealthy individuals who are to be admired for their generosity and systematic approach to philanthropy.  (See, especially, Peter Lewis, David Geffen, Warren Buffett, John D. RockefellerChuck Feeney and Lady Gaga)  It can be both interesting and instructive to learn a bit about what makes these folks tick.

Now, the predictable response from the cynics among us is “Yeah, but did you know what a [nasty person] s/he was?”  I can’t and won’t argue that – building and maintaining a fortune is not easy and those who do so tend to have somewhat aggressive personalities.  And, in truth, the philanthropic impulses of some of the “1%” may be suspect, but I prefer to focus on the potential for good that results therefrom and give credit where credit is due.  The philanthropy of the 1% has made a big difference in this world by being impactful and long-lasting.  We can criticize the timing and/or amount of funding or the seemingly parochial views of some of the donors, but we must accept the fact that marketplace of philanthropic impulses is alive and well and made more vibrant by such generosity.

Several weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a reader directing me to a very interesting website, “The Generous Billionaires Club.” In this one website we can find information about the “Forbes Billionaires List,” “The Giving Pledge,” “Who’s Not Giving An Inheritance,” “Who’s Been Generous” and “Who’s Been Very Generous.”  (Almost makes me want to break out in song: “he’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice…”)

Some interesting factoids:

  • According to the Forbes Billionaires List, 16 of the top 25 billionaires in the world are Americans but NONE of the 26 new tech billionaires are American.
  • The silver spoons in the mouths of the progeny of guys like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Michael Bloomberg and T. Boone Pickens may be a bit tarnished – in their parents’ estate plans, inheritances are minimized and philanthropy is maximized.  But, it’s not all bad – as Buffett has famously stated, he will give his children “enough money so they would feel they can do anything but not so much that they could do nothing.” In other words, the concept of “no” inheritance is relative.
  • Of the top 10 folks who have given away at least $1B of their net worth over time, 2 of them (James Stower and Herbert Sandler) are no longer billionaires.  Not mentioned in these statistics is Chuck Feeney, the co-founder of Duty Free Shops, who is definitely a former billionaire and whose private foundation, the Atlantic Philanthropies will have funneled $9B into charitable works by the time of it self-liquidation in 2016.

Whether you are a casual observer or an unabashed philanthropy geek, you can obviously have a lot of fun with these facts and stats.  In any case, I hope the information contained therein is instructive and inspirational for us all, regardless of the number of zeros that follow the value of our charitable giving

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I am a proud alumnus of Binghamton University, one of four major university centers in the 64 campus State University of New York (SUNY) system.  Binghamton is a young school, founded in 1946 as Triple Cities College, an extension of Syracuse University.  It became part of the SUNY system in 1950 and grew dramatically during the Rockefeller years, attaining its current status as a doctoral granting university center in 1965.  The 1970’s were tough for the University as New York State faced hard economic times and funding suffered accordingly.  Interestingly, the University never wavered – it continued to burnish its reputation as a very selective, high quality, world-class center of learning.  Over time, the financial hard times eased, but the evolution of Binghamton from a “state school” to a “state supported school” continued.  (What’s the difference, you may ask, between a “state” and a “state supported” school?  Essentially, “state supported” means less and less money each year from State sources.)  Regardless, Binghamton is today both the shining star of the SUNY system and an up-and-coming player in the international major leagues of colleges and universities.  Most important, it is a relative bargain, making high quality higher education available to a diverse population of students from all economic backgrounds.  binghamton-university-bearcats-logo

Sounds like a great success story, doesn’t it?  The problem is, because Binghamton is both young and part of a state system, its culture of philanthropy has not yet fully developed.  This issue is front and center on the agendas of both the boards of the Alumni Association and the Binghamton University Foundation – how to build and permanently sustain a culture of philanthropy within the University and alumni communities.  The question is obviously multi-faceted and complex.  Today, I wanted to spend a little time on one seemingly small but very profound step that the University itself has taken to help build that culture right at the true grass roots of the cause, the campus community and the student body.  The Student Philanthropy Committee was established earlier this year as a joint effort between the University and the student body.  The Committee functions under the auspices of the Binghamton Fund, the University’s annual giving program, and its director, Caitlyn Carlson.  Its mission is simple – to build a culture of philanthropy among students by cultivating awareness and engagement.  I recently caught up with committee co-chairs Andrew Loso, Class of 2015 and Dillon Schade, Class of 2016, to talk about what they were trying to accomplish.  It essentially boils down to the two parts of the Committee’s mission, awareness and engagement.

  • Awareness: According to Andrew and Dillon, the students today are more aware of the need for philanthropic support beyond tuition and fees than the members of my generation ever were. The committee has received little negative pushback from students, which is surprising when one considers that many, if not most of them come from modest financial backgrounds where cash is generally in short supply. The committee has gotten the word out en masse through events such as “Tag Day,” where physical assets made possible by donations were tagged throughout campus; manning a table at Spring Fling, a major, campus-wide social event; and giving a speech at the Senior Brunch. And, of course, there is nothing like the personal touch, where members of the committee use their personal connections to get the word out. The message is clear – “Join together – help ME do it!”
  • Engagement: One very simple yet concrete metric that the Committee had to work with was the Senior Challenge. Many schools have this – they encourage graduating seniors to make a modest donation equal in dollar value to their graduation year, i.e. $20.14. Simple, catchy and cheap, right? Unfortunately in fiscal year 2013 only 74 seniors (2.5%) participated. To Andrew and Dillon, this was simply unacceptable. Their goal for this year was to double participation to 150 students, which was still modest, but a step in the right direction. At 177 participants, the goal has been met and exceeded. Next year, they want to double again to 10%. Long term, they want to get to 30%, which experience at other schools has shown is about the upper limit for such a fundraiser.

Charities and nonprofits spend a lot of time and money to stay front and center in the minds of their current, former, and future donors.  It is not easy.  It is not a given.  Even if you assume that people want to give to certain causes, the fact is they have to know about the need and they have to be given an easy and nonthreatening way to contribute whatever combination of time, treasure and talent they can.  Binghamton University or [insert the name of your alma mater] cannot assume that current students see and appreciate the benefit of the education they are receiving.  They cannot assume as a given that alumni will automatically agree that paying it forward is the right thing to do.  Information, communication, and appreciation go a long way to making it all possible.  The students involved in the Student Philanthropy Committee are learning this first hand and at an early age and, in so doing, are helping the University in a small way now that will hopefully blossom over the years as giving becomes a habit – a habit begun in the undergraduate years of the college experience.

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