Thursday, December 31, 2009

Too many things & not enough of one?

Three years ago, another funder said to me, “You guys are worthless. You’re trying to satisfy so many people with such disparate charitable interests that your impact is diluted. Your grants don’t make a significant impact on anybody. Rather than give grants of $12,000 to 1,000 different organizations, you should be giving 100 grants of $120,000 – or better yet, give grants of $1.2 million to 10 organizations. You’re a pathetic example of the good that philanthropy can do.

We absolutely know for sure that small grants can make a big difference. There are thousands of examples, but how about this one? In 2006, when Elizabeth Tarrant Anderson was 17, she recommended a grant of $500 to underwrite a website for a new non-profit organization hardly anyone had heard of back then – Pattison’s Academy - now acclaimed as one of the most valuable programs in the Lowcountry for children with multiple disabilities, and recently approved as a Charter School.

The Board and staff of Coastal Community Foundation decide how to spend our time, but recommendations for how we spend our money comes from the community we serve – from our donors who have their own charitable agendas and want us to help them to achieve them, and from volunteer grant review committees whose combined wisdom has never let us down. Every grant we make, whether it’s for $500 or $500,000, is the result of deep thought by a donor or by a Committee charged with honoring donors’ charitable priorities.

Whether it’s a gift in a box with a bow or a charitable gift, its value is usually directly proportional not to the dollar value, but to the thought that went into it.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Quick tips to get credit for year-end charitable deductions

Just a few more hours to claim a charitable tax deduction for tax year 2009. If you are like most Americans you have already given something less than 3% of your income to charitable causes. I hope that does not feel right to you. In my thinking, it should be percentage-wise, more than 3% of your total income, given all the services the nonprofit sector provides.

If in looking back over 2009 you would like to do a bit more, well, the clock is ticking. Here are some tips on how to squeeze in a little more giving before the "aughties" decade ends. No need for heroics, just some simple tips to get the giving done.

The IRS is very strict on the timing of year-end gifts. The funds must be released to the nonprofit as a gift before year-end to count as a gift made in 2009. That makes sense. However, apparently people have a tendency to delay year-end giving up until the very end or even the very, very end. As a result the regulations are tough.

If you are making cash deliveries yourself, and by this I mean dropping off dollar bills, coins, or checks, you need to 1) hand deliver the cash to your favorite charity before midnight on December 31st, 2009 and 2) get a receipt dated prior to December 31st, 2009 to get credit for the 2009 tax year. Leaving a bag of money at their doorstep and getting a receipt after the New Year means your gift is credited in 2010. Opps. Get a receipt written before year-end for all gifts that are given face-to-face.

If you are mailing the gift you need it postmarked by December 31st for the gift to count in 2009. No backdating those checks and mailing them after New Year's Day. As mentioned earlier, the IRS is strict in its enforcement, so strict that we photocopy envelopes and checks in the weeks around New Year's Day. This means that even checks dated before December 31st, 2009 that get a mailed acknowledgement from the nonprofit after the start of 2010 do not count as being given in 2009 without the US Postal Service postmark on the incoming envelope.

Transfers of commonly held stock are even more troublesome. If you would like to give some of that highly appreciated Google stock to a nonprofit you need to allow time for the stock to go through Wall Street's version of purgatory (that ambiguous zone between brokerage accounts). Don't sell the stock unless you want to pay capital gains. You need to transfer the stock directly to the nonprofit. That way you can take a deduction for its current value rather than the amount you paid for it. (Note: Many small nonproifts do not have a brokerage account. More on this later.) This transfer, even under the best of circumstances can take days. It is not the fault of the nonprofit. Moving stock between brokers, even in these days of speed-of-light electrons takes much more time than it should. It is not clear where the problem lies. You may no longer "own" the stock but until it hits the brokerage account of the nonprofit you have not given it away either.

For transfers of common stock, the fastest, easiest way is to run the money through a local community foundation. They will have a brokerage account (as mentioned earler many nonprofits do not) and they will have had practice with the procedure. You will need its DTC number (i.e., Depository Trust Company number). For example, at Coastal Community Foundation you need to give your broker the following information: DTC # 418 (Smith Barney) for credit to Coastal Community Foundation A/C# 435-19851-1-6-212. Should you be so inclined to act on this suggestion, please call us first at 843-723-3635. We get so much stock during the last week of the year that we can have trouble sorting it out quickly. Not only does the stock go through Wall Street purgatory, it goes through without a record of who made the transfer. There has got to be a better way, but until there is it helps if you warn us or your local community foundation that the stock is coming.

If you intend to give illiquid assets: closely-held stock, precious metals like gold or silver, real estate, boats, or your uncle's stamp collection, well, you are out of luck. There simply is not enough time left in 2009. There is always next year. No reason not to start things moving with your New Year's Resolutions. The creation of a receipt that passes muster for the IRS will take more than a week and by then it really will be 2010.

For all of these rules and complications you might think that the IRS has got all of the year-end loopholes closed. However, there remains one way to make a gift in 2009 and pay for it in 2010. It is legal, too! Use a credit card. You will pay the credit card bill in 2010 but the gift will be credited in 2009 (provided you run the charge through before December 31st, 2009). The internet makes this easy. You can go to our website at and click on "Donate Now." You can specify which charitable need your gift aims to satisfy and get a tax deduction for 2009. When your credit card bill comes due in January, 2010 you will see a charge in 2009 that counts as a 2009 gift for tax purposes.

So if you like to run close to the edge, make that year-end gift with plastic. Just make sure your internet connection stays up all the way to midnight on New Year's Eve.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Things I learned in 2009 that scare me about 2010

Sometimes being scared is okay.  It gets you to pay attention.  Here are three things I learned in 2009 that scare me.   Not scare me in the sense of "this is the end of philanthropy as we know it" but scare me into thinking carefully about why I am scared and what giving up my fear can do.

Scary Thing One:  Where did the 100,000+ applications for the iPhone come from?  I remember just a few years ago smart people were saying that Apple was out of its mind trying to take on the cellphone industry.  Apple didn't know anything about cellphones.  Turns out, they didn't have to.  They knew enough about how people want information: form, format, and functionality.  Lesson Learned: I am just not smart enough to predict where philanthropy is going and how it will affect the nonprofit sector.  Neither is anyone else.

Scary Thing Two:  Matt Dunne, Head of Community Affairs at Google, spoke at the Philanthropy Day Luncheon in Charleston in early November.  He said the power of incumbency is fading.  The big nonprofits all want to look small.  Donors want to see deep inside organizations.  The more a donor's gift can be traced directly to the good being done the better.  This means that the more that small start-ups connect donors to people in need (think DonorsChoose) the more they will garner support.  It doesn't matter that Red Cross has been here for hundreds of years.  It doesn't matter that United Way is carefully measuring impact.  What matters is the connection between the gift and the child, the donation and the micro-loan recipient, the dollars and the individual scholars.  Lesson Learned:  Let the donor decide how the money is spent and take them out (physically or virtually) to see where and how it was spent.  (Sorta like Apple letting the App designers define "what is a cellphone."  We need to allow donors to decide what is worthy of a gift.)

Scary Thing Three:  Committees, crowds, and common folk are, in aggregate, smarter than I am.  We do not always agree but in the long term they will be right more often than I am.  Let them decide.  Create conditions where they will be able to make good decisions.  It will be okay.  Lesson Learned:  Listen.  Find new ways to listen.  Listen some more. Hire people around you who listen better than you do.

So what will 2010 bring?  You tell me.  Really.  Tell me.  Perhaps we, collectively, can figure it out as it happens (if not before).

Thursday, December 10, 2009

National Standards: You’re in Good Company

In 2005 Coastal Community Foundation participated in the first round of the Council on Foundation's (COF) National Standards and was confirmed to be in compliance with the national association's best practices for community foundations. We are now up for renewal in 2010; which entails reviewing organizational policies from every department to ensure accountability on all levels by our Staff and Board.

To learn more, check out the COF blog series:

Monday, December 7, 2009

A day "that will live in infamy", perhaps.

Today is Pearl Harbor Day.  For our parents this is their 9/11.  For many of us December 7th is a day that we have heard about all of our lives and one that still shapes our foreign policy, our sense of national self, and our place in history.  While I remembered this date without prompting, most of my younger colleagues had to be reminded.  For some, the day needed to be explained.  Looking around your collection of friends, elders, and institutions, where does communal memory reside?

The press provides reminders of events that have shaped our lives.  It is often in the form of opinion pieces rather than stories about how each of us is being affected by the memory.  Businesses sometimes link their advertizing campaigns to memorable events (consider the year-end holidays) but by necessity the memorial becomes sugar-coated or sepia-toned as firsthand witnesses pass away.

It is the business of community foundations to create permanent memorials for events past.  The endowment funds held by community foundations pay tribute to causes people care and cared about.  Our small contribution in this regard is Honor Flight, a fund that has been created to fund transportation of WWII veterans to Washington, DC to see the WWII memorial there.  While small in the broad array of endowment funds we hold, it serves the purpose of a placeholder, a reminder, of what we hold dear.
The memory of their service lives on.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Reinvent Yourself this Season

Reinventing one's self is the ticket to continued happiness. As thinking beings we are capable of starting over, trying again, and becoming anew.

This is the mantra of both the holiday season's inspiring poster child Ebeneezer Scrooge and local Charleston artist, Bernadette Cali.
At opening night of Charleston Stage's A Christmas Carol, Artistic Director Julian Wiles remarked about the performance's reinvention theme and how each day we face countless decisions, i.e. opportunities, to be whoever we want to be.

In tune, local artist Bernadette Cali has received this year's Griffith/Reyburn Lowcountry Artist of the Year to re-invent herself through her art. “The goal is to start my next important phase, new subject matter, new media. As I explore my elder-artist years (the most important years) I want to confront my subconscious, explore issues of space, and get serious,” says Cali explaining how her new work is just the start to a longer term goal of re-entering the art world after an eight-year hiatus.

Bernadette's new works will be exhibited December 4th- December 31st at the Charleston Library Society (who is going through their own re-invention process as we speak). An opening reception will be held a the Lower King Street library December 4th from 5:30pm-8:00pm during the French Quarter Art Walk.

This holiday season take every opportunity to reinvent yourself. You might surprise yourself.