To Accept or Not to Accept: The Importance of Gift Acceptance Policies

You are approached by someone previously unknown to your organization about a gift of a large sculpture. She explains that she has recently downsized, and the sculpture no longer suits her living space. She purchased it through her interior designer years ago. It is an odd gift, to be certain.

With some tactful pressing, you learn that the sculpture is, in fact, not a sculpture at all, but an artistically mounted whale rib. She would like to sell the object and recoup her investment, but she has recently been advised that a sale between private parties would be a violation of the Marine Mammals Protection Act of 1972 (MMPA). Her lawyer advised her that she could donate the whale rib to charity if the charity agrees to display the rib. This would avoid conflict with the MMPA through the public display exception. Should you accept this gift?

This sounds like an extreme situation, yet offers of unusual and strange assets as gifts may be more common than believed. Some you should politely decline; some may be worth pursuing. How do you know?

This speaks to the need for every organization to have its own gift acceptance policies. Effective gift acceptance policies are not only understood throughout the organization, but they are also anticipatory. A maritime museum may need to consider the MMPA and its public display exception when developing its policies, whereas a not-for-profit rehabilitation facility in west Texas may not. They will have other idiosyncrasies to consider.

Beyond gift acceptance policies, the primary issue with any unusual gift is whether the gift creates greater liabilities for the charity than benefits. If so, the gift should be rejected regardless of the donor’s relationship to the charity.

Ultimately, donors are driven by charitable intentions. Thus, turning down unusual gifts may not cause as much ill will as fundraisers may fear. In all cases, the charity should avoid significant liabilities. The bottom line is a charity cannot allow its relationship with a donor to push an unsound business decision, interfere with the policies in place or impede the furtherance of its mission.

As Letitia Baldrige, the doyenne of protocol and etiquette, said:

“Manners make the world work. They’re not only based on kindness but also efficiency. When people know what to do, the world is smoother. When no one knows what to do, it’s chaos.”

The same could be said of gift acceptance policies.

If you need guidance on creating a gift acceptance policy, please reach out to us.

By Kristin Croone, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant

 

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Sharpe Group Consultants Share the Most Unusual Gifts They Have Worked With

Anyone with a background in major and planned giving knows there is no limit to how creative donors can be in making gifts to an organization. Some unusual offerings require major and planned giving officers to get creative and find a way to structure the gift in a way that will be beneficial to both the donor and the organization. Other gifts may seem simple but are surprisingly more valuable than they first appear.

We asked some of our consultants to share a few of the most unusual or surprising gifts they have ever worked with. Here are their stories.
 

John Jensen, Sharpe Group Senior Vice President & Senior Consultant

A gift of cash … crop

One gentleman decided to give his favorite charity a 20-acre California vineyard that his uncle left him. The donor had never seen the property. He rented it out to a nearby farmer, who paid him just a bit more than the annual property tax bill. The town assessment was $50,000, so he thought this was a reasonable thing to give. After talking with the donor about the property, I knew the value was much more.

California Proposition 13 passed in 1978 and limited the annual property valuation increase to no more than 2% or inflation—whichever was less. Sure enough, we determined the true value to be close to $500,000. This was too much for the donor to just give away.

After some discussion, we all agreed that the best approach would be to use it to fund a charitable gift annuity to provide him with extra retirement income. The charity accepted the gift and immediately sold the property to that same farmer, who removed the vineyard and planted almond trees—the primary cash crop in the area. By the way, this was a raisin vineyard rather than grapes for wine. This turned out to be a fine gift for everyone.

My first (and last) used car gift

Early in my career, I was the first executive director of the Maine chapter of The Nature Conservancy, back when it was a relatively small, largely unknown charity. I did anything I could to raise operating funds. I was offered a used station wagon from a donor in Rockland, some 80 miles from Portland. I had to be in Rockland for other business, so I picked up the car and drove it to Portland, where I lived at the time. A Portland car dealer had already agreed to buy it for $800. The problem was that a 1970s-era station wagon did not get the same mileage as today’s cars. I never thought to ask the owner about this. Driving the 80 miles, I ran out of gas three times. I did eventually get it to the dealer, but this was the last used car I ever accepted …

Kristin Croone, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant

Putting the fun in funeral home!

Truly, at 10 a.m. on my first day as a planned giving officer, I received a call from an elegant matriarch in town who happened to own one of the city’s oldest funeral homes. The funeral home, like many businesses at the time, was moving further east, near the suburbs. The original funeral home is a stately columned limestone building on one of the main streets.

The owner had the vision that our growing organization could use the building as our headquarters. We, in fact, had been looking for a permanent home. The timing was ideal except their new embalming facility was still under construction. The donor wanted to make the gift immediately but continue to use the embalming area until her new facility was complete.

We worked it out and moved in. Fortunately for us, the new facility was completed a bit ahead of schedule, and there was very little overlap in operations. Although our storage area still had a few “boxes.”

Our strange new home came in handy a few years later when we were working with a group to establish a music museum. One of their primary exhibits was to be a prominent musician’s metallic blue limousine with a white furry interior and built-in bar in the back. The limo was very long, and no one had a garage large enough to store it securely—no one except for the charity that had just moved into a funeral home! Our underground garage, complete with a drive-out ramp that once housed the hearses, became an ideal temporary home for the limousine!

Barlow Mann, Sharpe Group General Counsel

Catch me if you can

One Friday afternoon, I received a call from a university planned giving officer who had just gotten off the telephone with an alumnus donor. They discussed whether the donor could give an old car that was no longer running and receive an income for life.

It turns out the car in question was an early Ferrari that the alumnus bought used in the 1960s, while he was a student. The alumnus had stored the car in a shed for nearly 50 years.

It is possible to use tangible personal property to fund a charitable remainder trust, and that’s exactly what the donor did. The CRT sold the car at auction and netted over a million dollars, which has been making regular payments to the donor for over 15 years.

There were a number of tax and other issues that needed to be considered, but in the end, this gift provided a very happy ending for all involved.

A get-out-of-jail-free card?

One of the craziest gifts that one of our clients has received is a winning entry in a national promotional sweepstakes. The $1 million winning game piece arrived in the mail with no return address. However, under the promotion rules, the winning entry was nontransferable. Nonetheless, the for-profit company that sponsored the sweepstakes made the seven-figure payment to the charity.

At first, we weren’t sure what the tax treatment of the gift would be, considering there was no receipt and other charitable reduction rules. We would later find out that the donor had been involved in a criminal scheme to rig the outcome of the promotion and defraud the company.

Despite the unexpected turn of events, the corporation decided to let the payment to charity stand and fund its charitable mission.

Laura Knitt, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant

The house with a twist

I’ve always enjoyed working with people on gifts that take thought and coordination. I think it’s a privilege to get to know them—especially their backgrounds and motivation. While each relationship is unique, the lessons you learn increase your helpfulness to others and make the work fun.

I remember fondly a woman in Ohio who had recently moved to an apartment and called asking how she could give her house. As I asked her questions about the house, such as its value and whether she had previously tried to sell it, she described a groundwater issue requiring that a crank connected to the foundation be periodically turned. In our phone conversations, I guided her through selling the house herself, keeping a portion of the proceeds for her immediate needs and giving cash for a gift annuity. She was delighted by all of this and looked forward to my eventual visit to her small town near Lake Erie.

When I arrived, she proudly showed me her new duplex apartment and special furnishings. Then she drove us around town, showed me the house, introduced me around and took me out for lunch. Back at her apartment, we talked a little longer, and that’s when she shared that she had a son but didn’t know anything of his whereabouts. In previous conversations, she’d maintained that she was widowed and had no children.

Whatever may have eventually happened during administration of her estate, her contribution to my organization was made. I found it interesting that her situation of claiming to be childless—while actually having offspring somewhere—wasn’t the only one I encountered over the years.

Jana Lawyer, Sharpe Group Senior Consultant

A red kettle ring

We are all familiar with the sound of the bell that rings in front of our local grocery stores and malls during the holiday season, seeing the smiling face of a Salvation Army volunteer standing next to the red kettle hoping passersby will slip in their loose pocket change.

One anonymous stranger had a little more than spare change or single dollar bills in mind. According to the Salvation Army, a 1.81 carat antique diamond ring was placed into a red kettle in the Memphis area last year. The ring was inside of a plastic bag with a note that read, “Help the poor.” The ring, a vintage heirloom with 11 old miner cut diamonds, was appraised for more than $6,000 by a local jeweler.

The Salvation Army stated, “We may never know the story behind the ring’s original owner or what motivated them to so generously drop it into our red kettle on that December night, but year after year, we continue to be amazed by the unwavering love and support from our neighbors. To the anonymous ring donor, your gift will change countless lives in our community this Christmas. THANK YOU!”

Well, it just goes to show that the holiday season is truly the most generous time of the year! Stories such as this can encourage others to think outside of the box when it comes to giving. Sharing compelling donor stories in a planned giving newsletter will help encourage donors to one day leave a lasting legacy within your organization.

What unusual or surprising gifts have you worked with? Email info@SHARPEnet.com to share your story.

Learn more about our consultants.

Certifying the Plan as Acceptable (CPA) … The Role of Accountants

In navigating the last lap of the journey to a completed gift, the accountant looms prominently. Long regarded as the trusted advisor, the accountant, especially one with a financial planning practice, often has the entire picture of the donor’s cash flow and assets. The accountant often answers one or more of the following questions: Should? When? How? Which? And what if?

Should the gift be made? If the potential supporter has a good handle on their assets and income, their accountant is merely confirming the obvious capability. But the accountant’s role is to raise concern if a gift will disrupt future plans, cash flows or the margin of safety in maintaining the desired lifestyle.

When can the gift be made? Because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 dramatically expanded the standard deduction, more donors are considering the bunching technique in order to secure the tax benefit of charitable giving. Charities may need to wait longer as the donor makes, in effect, a balloon “pledge” payment.

How can the gift be made? Because the benefits from charitable giving are less widely available, donor advised funds will become an increasingly considered source of giving. Those trying to improve their cash flow will weigh other options, such as life-income gifts through annuities and trusts.

Which asset(s) should be given? Often in concert with a financial advisor, a donor might decide to give publicly traded securities with the most appreciation and perhaps diminished prospects for future at the same rate of growth. When more unconventional assets are being evaluated, the accountant’s analysis will be sought.

What Ifs … what can go wrong? In the case of life-income gifts, questions of exposure to inflation, sharing in market fluctuations and risk of nonpayment are predominantly featured in conversations. Additionally, for both life-income and outright gifts, the calculation of any carryforward and the likelihood of all of it being used over the five-year carryforward period must be thought through.

By Professor Chris Woehrle, Chair & Professor of Tax & Estate Planning Department, College for Financial Planning, Centennial, Colorado

 

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Thoughts on Taxes and Giving

This winter, Sharpe Group conducted a 3-day planned giving seminar, The Essentials of Gift Planning & Taxes, as part of our Sharpe Online Academy. This seminar is based on the 5-day comprehensive seminar traditionally held in person each year in Florida. The 5-day seminar typically includes twenty-two sessions in addition to multiple informal gatherings for “shop talk” and questions.

Converting a week-long training into a new 3-day virtual format was a monumental task. We needed to carefully think about the essential components of gift planning and taxes that should be included in a condensed 3-day seminar, as well as create a number of interactive panel discussions designed to enrich the learning experience. More than a dozen presenters and panelists—with several hundred years of combined experience working with donors and advisors to effectively plan their gifts—participated in this professional advancement seminar.

By focusing on the “essentials” of planned giving and taxes, presenters moved beyond the content in our broader 2-day Sharpe Online Academy presentations and focused on the most popular gift planning techniques and explored the appropriate role of taxes in the gift planning process.

As most experienced gift planners know, taxes are rarely the primary reason that donors make a charitable gift, but large gifts carefully planned to meet a donor’s specific personal and philanthropic objectives, often are influenced by favorable tax treatment. For example, what would happen to gifts of long-term appreciated stock if such gifts triggered capital gains tax?

It can be a mistake to over-emphasize various tax considerations, and it is also a mistake to underemphasize tax considerations that may apply to a particular gift scenario. The key is to listen to your donor and help them understand various options that may allow them to make a gift larger than would be otherwise possible.

When planning future gift planning communications and strategies, it’s important to consider that tax rates and deductions change but generous people are eager to make the most of their philanthropic intentions.

By Barlow T. Mann, General Counsel
 

Sharpe Group will continue to post helpful information for you here on our blog and on our social media sites. If this blog was shared with you and you wish to sign up, you can do so at www.SHARPEnet.com/blog.

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Does It Take a Village to Raise a Planned Gift?

Perhaps not, but often the completion of a planned gift does necessitate teamwork. Larger commitments (six figures and higher for most givers) trigger income tax, estate planning, retirement income and insurance consequences. The donor often contemplates a planned gift in response to the challenge of “wanting to do more” but “not sure if I (or we) have the resources.”

While most lifetime planned gifts can be described as exchanging assets for income, asset selection and implications to future income taxes arising from the tax deduction and income stream returning to the donor make the process complex. Even exclusively testamentary commitments merit study of their impact on family members.

Over the next several posts, I will examine the role of the players most likely to be involved, including the lawyer and tax accountant as well as investment and insurance counsel.

While many planned giving professionals often have close and trusted relationships with their supporters, there comes the moment in the finalizing of “the largest gift of a lifetime” when the involvement of others is needed. The outstanding development professionals understand, either intuitively or through hard-earned experience, that meeting the goals of the donor is most important. And they should welcome “outsiders” to the development process!

A donor contemplating that largest gift of a lifetime seeks a second opinion to reassure them that the form of the gift makes sense and that it will not be disrupting prior estate plans. The size of the gift relative to the resources of the donor is often the best driver of how many professionals need to be assembled. A lifetime gift of $1 million from a centimillionaire probably will not occasion a lot of planning. That same gift of $1 million from a decamillionaire will. The donor also will be sensitive to the fees being incurred, which may limit how much “teamwork” and communication among the professionals is feasible.

By Professor Chris Woehrle, Chair & Professor of Tax & Estate Planning Department, College for Financial Planning, Centennial, Colorado
 

Sharpe Group will continue to post helpful information for you here on our blog and on our social media sites. If this blog was shared with you and you wish to sign up, you can do so at www.SHARPEnet.com/blog.

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Can Not Asking for a Specific Amount Get You More? Part 2

In Part 1, I shared a story of client who asked for a residual gift instead a specific dollar amount and ended up with a rather large estate gift.

There is often great internal pressure to ask for and “book” a specific value for a gift, which is all but impossible for residuary gifts. This might be for campaign or FASB/accounting purposes. However, doing so can often mean a much smaller gift.

According to Sharpe studies (including those I have done), the average specific dollar bequest runs between $11,000 and $12,000. There are a few exceptions but very few, such as certain mass, low-average-gift charities that get a large number of very small (under $1,000) specific bequest gifts. This can drop the average specific dollar bequest to as low as $5,000-$7,000.

By comparison, Sharpe studies have found that the average residual gift is anywhere from 7 to 15 times larger than the average specific gift amount to those same charities. In most cases, it is closer to the higher figure.

Our studies show that the number of specific and residual gifts that most charities receive is roughly the same, with a slightly higher number of residual gifts.

For every single charity Sharpe has examined, we found that the NUMBER of residual and specific dollar gifts have been similar. However, in every single case, the residual gifts have generated between 85%-97% of the VALUE of all estate gifts.

Sharpe helps clients find ways to encourage the residual over the specific gifts.

This does not work in every individual case, but experience has shown that, over time, the residual gifts overwhelmingly outperform specific dollar gifts. As we all know, a significant aspect of planned giving is statistics and probabilities. This is a statistic that matters!

When faced with the internal pressure to get an estate gift commitment to “put a pelt on the wall,” it is almost always better to delay gratification and instead encourage that residuary gift.
 

By John Jensen, CFP®
 

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Can Not Asking for a Specific Amount Get You More? Part 1

Sharpe Group generally encourages its clients to seek out residuary estate gifts instead of gifts of specific dollar amounts.

Is this always a good idea? Let me share a story of two charities, one that requested a residual gift and one that requested a specific amount from the same donor, and how things unfolded.

After launching a capital campaign, a development officer for one of our national clients went to an older, very philanthropic donor and asked him to include a campaign gift in his estate plans. He was a long-time supporter of the charity—making a number of $1,000-$5,000 annual gifts. He also contributed $20,000 to a previous campaign. He quickly agreed to make an estate gift.

He asked the development officer to give him a number. Following Sharpe’s long-standing advice, she declined.

Rather than giving him a number, she suggested he consider making a gift of a percentage of whatever remained in his estate after family and specific dollar gifts.

He pressed her on this several times, and each time she declined to provide a specific amount.

Within a few weeks, the same donor was approached by a different national charity that was also mounting a capital campaign. They asked him to make a pledge by including them in his estate plan. He agreed and asked how much they were looking for.

At the suggestion of their capital campaign consultant, they asked him to consider a $500,000 gift pledge. He agreed and confirmed the adjustment in his estate plans.

Both charities were pleased with the result, but which approach was more successful?

The very thoughtful donor and his spouse passed away within a few years. Both gifts came to fruition. The charity that requested the $500,000 gift announced the pledge in its campaign and then again when the donor passed away.

In fact, my client read about the gift in the news soon after the donor passed away. She had not yet heard from the trustee about her gift and wondered if she had made a mistake. At this stage, the $500,000 going to her competitor was looking awfully good.

With this in mind, she called the trustee and asked if he might be able to share the details of the gift to her institution. The trustee informed her that it was a large and complex estate and that it would take some time before it would be final, but the charity could expect a gift of at least $2 million.

Ultimately, the Sharpe client received a $2.3 million estate gift, compared to a $500,000 gift to the competitor.

What lessons can we learn from this scenario? We will review this question and more in Part 2.

By John Jensen, CFP®
 

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Back on the Team!

Sharpe Group is pleased to welcome back to the team, Kristin Croone. Kristin recently returned to Sharpe as a Senior Consultant after taking a short break from the gift planning field. She has a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. She previously worked with Sharpe as a technical editor and has worked as an associate in tax and estate planning in Cleveland, Ohio and Memphis, Tennessee. She also served as director of planned giving and legal counsel for The Community Foundation of Greater Memphis. We are lucky to have her back!

I am very happy that Sharpe Group has invited me to return to their family. I have spent much of my adult life immersed in charitable tax and estate planning and have particularly enjoyed using that knowledge to advise nonprofits and their donors in leaving a significant gift as part of their legacy.

It seems that so much has changed: interest rates, stock market valuations, tax laws, even life expectancies! Yet as I’ve spent my last few weeks—I return to what drew me to the field in the first place—altruism, optimism and a hope for better outcomes. That’s the engine that drives the work of Sharpe Group, not only in its mission to serve nonprofits and their donors but also with our skeleton crew working out of our physical office in Memphis. These values permeate the culture at Sharpe at every level.

Sharpe Group has been long respected for their expertise in helping nonprofit organizations raise large gifts through a strong planned giving program. Their history is unmatched. I am honored to be a part of this impressive team, and I look forward to helping your organizations raise large gifts through planned giving.
Feel free to reach out to me through Sharpe Group at 800.342.2375 or info@SHARPEnet.com.

By Kristin Croone, J.D.

 

Sharpe Group will continue to post helpful information for you here on our blog and on our social media sites. If this blog was shared with you and you wish to sign up, you can do so at www.SHARPEnet.com/blog.

We can be found on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn @sharpegroup.

We welcome questions you’d like us to address. Email us at info@SHARPEnet.com and we’ll share your question and our thoughts in this blog and on social media.

2020 Planned Gifts

There’s something important about 2020 charitable giving that’s not been reported in the press.

2020 was a banner year for planned gifts. Annual giving held up well too. At least, that’s what I’ve heard from my clients—a mix of top-notch educational, healthcare, arts and social service organizations.

Good news, but no surprise to me. No surprise for three main reasons:

  • Pandemic or not, charities are central to the wellbeing of our country, and charitably motivated individuals know that better than many in the press, in elected office and even in some charities.
  • Pandemic has caused many potential donors to dust off their estate plans … meaning many charities have learned of estate provisions that will provide valuable future support.
  • Pandemic and corresponding fiscal stimulus have been good for the stock market indices.

There’s no reason in January 2021 to believe 2021 giving will be less than 2020 giving. Put another way, there’s no reason to believe 2021 will see a departure from the long upward moving trend line of year-to-year charitable giving.

There are wild cards, of course. Whether a particular charity persists in or forsakes its core mission is the most important wild card for that charity. Whether the stock market stays afloat or sinks is another wild card.

Uncertainty has always been a wild card. So have rising interest rates and inflation. As Yogi Berra once observed, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” But one can learn from the past. The past, meaning 2020 in this pandemic era, teaches that while plague, unforeseen adversity and jarring turmoil are unsettling, they are not inimical to charitable giving.

Bottom line: Charities can continue to be magnets for donations by continuing to fulfill their core missions.
 

By Jon Tidd, Esq

 
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How Do You Spell Relief in 2021?

In the final days of 2020, President Donald Trump signed the biggest COVID-19 relief package since the CARES Act passed last spring. Incoming President Joe Biden and Congress have signaled that additional help and stimulus are needed to battle the pandemic and accompanying economic woes that unfolded in the first quarter of 2020.

President Biden has introduced a $1.9 trillion package that is designed to be the first installment of legislation to address oncoming problems caused by the pandemic. The primary goals of this plan are to speed up vaccine distribution and to provide economic relief to millions of Americans.

This will likely be another bipartisan effort. While the new legislation has not yet been drafted, it is likely to lead off with supplemental payments to most individuals to bring the total up to $2,000 from $600. This could be accomplished with additional payments of $1,400 to those receiving the $600 approved in December, or it could be more targeted depending on other criteria.

There is also an extension of unemployment benefits of $400 per week, rent relief and other small business assistance. With a 50-50 split in the U.S. Senate, ideally the next round of relief will also reflect bipartisan support. The speed, details and legislation course of the next relief package will become more clear in the coming days of the new administration.

In addition to added payments to most American families and expanded unemployment relief, the proposal hopes to speed up and revamp vaccine distribution and testing plans as well as provide funds to reopen schools, expand paid sick and family medical leave and raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.

By Barlow T. Mann, J.D., General Counsel
 

Sharpe Group will continue to post helpful information for you here on our blog and on our social media sites. If this blog was shared with you and you wish to sign up, you can do so at www.SHARPEnet.com/blog.

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