Silence

There’s an old cliché that Silence is Golden.  When my kids were young and I was a stay at home mom I would have followed that cliché with a resounding Amen!  But as a giver I feel a little differently.

When I give it’s because I want to be a part of something – something bigger than myself.  The reality is that I am not Rockefeller or Gates when it comes to the dollars I give. . . but my heart doesn’t know the difference.  The dollars, limited as they may be, are expressions of my heart. I want to be a part of something. I want to make a difference. It is a journey that I am slowly growing in but I admit that I wonder if the organizations that I give to understand or care about that journey.

Being part of the Servant Foundation I get to be part of some pretty major gifts and as a Foundation representative I receive many notes of appreciation and encouragement.  But the personal giving side looks much different. A note of thanks is a rarity.  Sometimes there is literally no communication – form letter, receipt or otherwise.  In this case, Silence is Deafening. Without communication I assume my giving doesn’t matter.

Earlier this week the silence ended. I received a hand-written, personal note from a ministry leader that made my heart leap for joy. The interesting thing is that this ministry is one I haven’t given to in several years.  The note was a reflection of what our personal support (not just the giving but the words of encouragement, etc) meant to this leader.  It served as a reminder that maybe the little guy can make a difference.  The note caused me to revisit the ministry and re-engage my commitment to the cause.  Guess who’s on the top of my giving list this year?

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Giving Gone Wrong

For someone who is a huge proponent of giving and actually even makes a living based on it – it probably seems a little weird that I would be writing about ‘giving gone wrong.’

We all have those ‘Golden Rules’ that we operate from. I’m not talking about the 10 Commandments – those are a given. But those personal rules we set in place for ourselves to make sure we don’t make a fool of ourselves.  It’s funny when we break those rules it reminds us why we have those rules to begin with.

One of my Giving Golden Rules is not to give to desperation or in isolation.

As someone who meets with a lot of ministries, I’ve learned that I have to set boundaries. When I feel personally drawn to a ministry from a giving standpoint – I take the information home and share with my family. From there we pray over it and decide as a family if and/or how much we want to give from our family Giving Fund.

Earlier this year I broke that Golden Rule. I met with a ministry leader who shared the drastic desperation their ministry was in. Literally they were looking at not making payroll that week. After the meeting I went straight to my desk, logged in to our family Giving Fund and requested a grant be sent to the ministry.

As I reflect on it now I realize my motives were not what they should have been. I was in ‘hero mode’.  I wanted to be the hero of the story the one who ‘saved the day’ with my gift. I didn’t pray about it. I didn’t share it with my family.  I didn’t give because I greatly cared about the cause.

I don’t even know if my giving made a difference. I have not heard one word from the ministry. I am reminded that giving is not designed to make me the hero of the story but an opportunity for God to engage my heart in a cause. He wants my giving to be about my transformation, my spiritual growth and my dependency in Him.

I’ve Lost It All

“I’ve lost it all!”

Those were the words waiting for me on the other end of the telephone after I asked how my friend’s business was going. He was reeling from the market crash of 2008. For more than two years, he’d fought to keep his business alive. But he just couldn’t do it anymore and the bank was taking the last remaining assets.

What do you say to a friend whose net worth is gone? The entire family fortune has disappeared. They’re old enough that it’s likely they’ll not have time to rebuild a retirement fund. Social security and continuing to work for a living will be a norm. For their part, they feel the bloom is off the rose. What is there to celebrate?

The Bible is clear that God is the one who makes it possible for man to create wealth. He does not choose that all should have this privilege. Most won’t. So in my friend’s case, I was quick to remind him that he was not a failure. He’d been faithful to his wife, and his children loved him. His friends held him in high esteem and valued his opinion. His failure at work was not the result of some fraud on his part.

To the contrary, to the extent he failed, it was because he’d worked too hard—maybe even gave too much. It’s not likely the “why” question will be answered this side of heaven.

Unfortunately, in this up and down economy, this story of loss is often repeated with just the names changed. But the concept of loss is real and reminds us of temporal loss and eternal loss. In truth, all of us at some point in our life will be stripped of all our earthly possessions. When our time comes to depart this planet, none of our possessions or balance sheet will remain.

The only thing that will matter is how we stand before Jesus, how we stand before our friends and family. That is all. Indeed, we all will utter the statement, “I’ve lost it all”—in reference to our material possessions. Our hope is that we’ll say with sweetness, “but I’ve gained everything!”

William F. High is the President/General Counsel of the Servant Christian Community Foundation (www.servantchristian.com). Servant’s mission is to inspire, teach and facilitate revolutionary biblical generosity. He may be reached at whigh@servantchristian.com.

 

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Why Christians Should Not Use Private Foundations

I’ve seen it many times. A Christian family decides they want to formalize their giving. They go get advice from their lawyers and accountants who often are not Christians. Those advisors have the frame of reference of starting a private foundation, so off they go.

The first few years may be bumpy as they learn the ropes of minimum distributions, excise taxes, the types of organizations they can support and, of course, filing the tax return. But the problem they miss–and their advisors miss–is what happens when the founders pass away.

When the founders pass away, the foundation typically will have a set of bylaws allowing for the appointment of new board members. New board members are appointed, who realize that they are sitting on top of treasure. In other words, they have the opportunity to support organizations. The first generation successors are often kind to the wishes of the founders and tend to generally support the same organizations.

However, as more board members get added and as more generations intervene, the wishes of the founders get muted. Everyone tends to forget why the founders supported a particular organization. Accordingly, the wishes and desires of the foundation fall away, and values shift through generations. The foundation often morphs into something other than Christian.

Certainly, some wise founders associated with Christian council may wisely put in enough road blocks and provisions in the bylaws to keep the foundation Christian. But few do. If they make these protections, then it can be an appropriate vehicle.

One of the best solutions is using a Christian community foundation. A donor advised fund can be set up, which operates much like a private foundation. The tax benefits are higher, and the administration is simpler. But one of the key safeguards stems from the fact that the foundation is organized as Christian: it cannot distribute to anti-Christian organizations. To do so would put its own tax exempt status in jeopardy.

Thus, a Christian family engaged in family giving can rest assured that no matter what beliefs subsequent generations adopt, their original purpose of Christian giving will remain. I find it interesting that of the 100,000 private foundations in the country only 4,500 are Christian foundations which take applications. (See www.christianfoundationgrants.com). It causes one to wonder how the remaining 95,000 started out and then where they ended up.

William F. High is the President/General Counsel of the Servant Christian Community Foundation (www.servantchristian.com). Servant’s mission is to inspire, teach and facilitate revolutionary biblical generosity. He may be reached at whigh@servantchristian.com.

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Divorcing Charity

Divorcing charity – wow, that sounds unpleasant and painful. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal shared a personal story of such a struggle.  In the article, When to Divorce Charity, the author notes her deep affection for a cause and a heartfelt commitment to volunteering.  She goes on to share her struggle with feeling disconnected with a charity that she volunteers and raises funds for. She questions whether the charity would care about her concerns.  At one point she questions if her giving even matters.

The article offers some questions to consider for those struggling with idea of discarding a favorite charity.

  1. Is the group appropriately appreciative and do they keep me informed? Even small gifts are entitled to a proper thank you. Sending form letters or misspelling names of a large donor can be costly as well – even if in the long run. Statistically, a modest giver is much more likely to leave a gift to charity when they die – often an amount 20 times their annual donation.
  2. Is the group suffering from “mission creep,” drifting away from what originally attracted you? Givers are often passionate about a cause, not necessarily just an organization. Givers want to be a part of organizations that are having impact in the cause.
  3. Is the organization receptive to donors’ and volunteers’ concerns? Again, givers want to be a part of something. Givers want to know that what they are doing – whether giving treasure, talent or time – is making a difference and they want to be a valid voice in the cause.

I appreciate the author’s candidness in this article.  It reflects some of my heart as a giver but also as someone who is passionate about serving ministries it is a great reminder that giving is about the heart and growth of the giver.  As ministries we must ask ourselves: Do givers to our ministry feel connected and a part of the cause? And, how prepared are we to minister to the hearts of givers?

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Giving in the News: IRA Rollover Provision Extended

Today, Congress extended the IRA Charitable Rollover Provision to December 31, 2011. This new law gives you another opportunity to make an annual gift of up to $100,000 from your IRA to a public charity(s), if you qualify. Although gifts to donor-advised funds (such as your Servant Giving Fund) are not allowed, we can help you establish a “Designated Fund” that allows you to (a) contribute from your IRA, (b) designate which charity you wish to receive the funds, and (c) advise Servant about the timing of grant checks to the charity – as well as the investment of the funds prior to distribution.

Can I rollover funds from my IRA to charity for the 2010 tax year?
Yes, but only if your gift is made by January 31, 2011. Gifts made from February 1 – December 31, 2011, will qualify as 2011 gifts.

Who qualifies?
During 2010 and 2011, lifetime distributions from Traditional IRAs by plan owners who have attained at least age 70 ½ (on the date of distribution) to charity may distribute up to $100,000 per year from their IRA directly to a charitable organization and exclude the contributed amount from their gross income for tax purposes. This amount can be counted towards the annual mandatory IRA distribution.

Who can receive IRA distributions at Servant?
IRA distributions can be made to field of interest funds, designated funds, scholarships, and restricted/general endowments in which donors or their designees have no advisory rights. IRA distributions cannot go to a donor-advised fund, a supporting organization, or a private foundation. The distribution cannot be made in connection with a Charitable Gift Annuity or Charitable Trust, and the donor may receive no quid pro quo benefits in exchange for their contribution.

So, now that I qualify and my IRA qualifies, how do I do this?
1. Contact your IRA custodian. The custodian will make the check payable directly to Servant Foundation.
2. Establish your Designated Fund(s) with Servant indicating the recipient charity(s).
3. Obtain a written receipt from Servant.
4. Work with your accountant to determine the exclusion on your tax return and any net taxable income amount which will need to be included on your 1040.
5. Servant will distribute the funds in accordance with your Designated Fund Agreement.

To learn more about IRA Charitable Rollovers with Servant, call Jonathan at 913-310-0279.

Giving Mistakes to Avoid

I was intrigued by a recent Wall Street Journal article, Tis the Season to Be Stupid that offered tips to givers on avoiding financial mistakes in giving.  The article’s tips serve as good reminders and things we should be aware of but at the same time remember that God designed giving to be an opportunity for us to engage with Him. Don’t forget the cheerful part!

Below are their top 10 financial mistakes people make when giving to charities – I’ve added some of my thoughts.

1. Giving on impulse

Certainly, planning to give is a good thing – especially when it comes to leveraging your giving. At the same time we want to be open to the moving of the Holy Spirit. One giver I know does a great job in ‘planning for spontaneous giving’. They are very intentional about their giving and plan accordingly. But they also plan for spontaneous giving by setting aside an amount of cash designated for giving and they look for opportunities to give throughout the day.

2. Donating stock you’ve held for less than a year. .

The point here is that if you donate stock that you’ve owned less than a year you miss out on the ability to deduct fair market value. Look for stocks that you’ve held for more than a year and are worth more than you paid for them.

3. Or, giving away a stock that tanked

A depreciated stock is an example of when it’s better to sell then give. You may be able to claim a capital loss for the stock and receive a charitable deduction for the cash gift to charity.

4. Missteps over tickets

This is a great reminder about the tax rules surrounding tickets to charity events. Only the charitable portion of the price can come from a donor advised fund.

5. Donating property that won’t be used for it’s intended purposes

When giving a non-cash gift to charity, it is important to know if it is considered an in-kind gift that will be used in the ministry or will be liquidated for funds for the charity.  Types of assets have different rules when it comes to tax-deductibility. For example, when giving a car to charity with the intent of it being sold, the allowable deduction is what the car sells for.

6. Opting for gift annuities when interest rates are low

It’s important to look at all the options for meeting your charitable and income objectives. In an economy where interest rates are considerably low a gift annuity may not be the best option. As the article suggests, a charitable lead trust may be a better option.

7. Fixating on charity ratings

Keep in mind that some of the rating programs look merely at numbers and not necessarily the information behind the numbers. For example a maternity home may have a larger portion than norm allocated to payroll due to the fact that they must have round the clock staff to care for the girls. Engage with the charities that you give to and ask the questions that are on your mind to make your own assessments.

8. Giving to a charity that sells your info.

Ask the charities what you give to what their privacy policy is and make sure you have opted out of any options that include sharing your information with other organizations.

9. Picking the wrong donor advised fund

Make sure the organization that hosts your donor advised fund matches with your values and intentions. Also check out policies and guidelines before establishing a fund. The article points out a couple examples of not allowing for succession planning for a fund and no ability to transfer your fund if you are unhappy with the services.  Keep in mind, Servant allows you to create a succession plan for your donor advised fund as well the ability to transfer it at any time.

10. Not getting insured

If you serve on a nonprofit board it is important to get directors and officers insurance. Charity board members can be held personal liable for most of the charity’s decisions, whether it’s the mismanagement of investments or employment mishaps.

Article link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704369304575632241438956652.html?mod=WSJ_PersonalFinance_PF2

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