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How to give more to [your favorite charity] and pay less in taxes

5 pro tips for every Iowan

Gordon Fischer, JD, CAP®

It’s been said, “You should be giving while you are living, so you’re knowing where it’s going.” Giving now allows you more say over how your gifts are handled, and you’ll get to experience the joy that comes with helping the causes you care about most. Gifts to charities made during your lifetime also provide significant tax advantages. Here are five pro tips to stretch your charitable dollar.

Pro tip #1: Don’t give cash.

Sure, it’s easiest to give by cash or check. But cash gifts are not tax-wise gifts. As you’ll see throughout this short article, it makes much more tax sense to give other assets. Almost any other asset is smarter (tax-wise) than cash to give.

Pro tip #2:  Use the federal income tax charitable deduction.

A Forbes magazine columnist says she cringes at church, when the collection plate goes around. The reason? The columnist worries churchgoers who toss in cash aren’t keeping records, and so are losing money by not claiming the federal income tax charitable deduction.

I don’t go that far, I don’t cringe in church, but I do think we should all keep records of our charitable gifts. What information you have to keep, and perhaps provide to the IRS, depends on the size of your gift.

Pro tip #3: Use appreciated assets.

Gifts of long-term capital assets can receive a double federal tax benefit. Long-term capital assets may include items such as stock, real estate, and farmland, or even artwork, or collections, like stamps or coins. The first tax benefit was just discussed; donors can receive an immediate federal income tax charitable deduction, equal to the fair market value of the long-term capital asset. Second, assuming the donor owned the asset for more than one year, the donor can avoid long-term capital gain taxes which would have been owed if the asset was sold instead of donated.

Pop Quiz!

Let’s look at a concrete example to make the first three pro tips more clear. Pat owns farmland and she want to give one acre. Let’s assume one acre has a fair market value of $1,000. She wants to use the farmland to help her favorite causes. Which would be better for Pat — to sell the farmland and donate the cash, or give the farmland directly to her favorite charities? Assume the farmland was originally purchased at $200 (basis), Pat’s income tax rate is 39.6%, and her capital gains tax rate is 20%.


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Pat receives a double benefit; she gets a federal income tax charitable deduction equal to the fair market value of the asset, and avoids paying capital gains tax.

Pro tip #4: Make gifts which are eligible for the Endow Iowa Tax Credit: a 25% state tax credit.

Through the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program, donors can receive a 25% state tax credit for gifts made during lifetime. Endow Iowa has three requirements to qualify. The first two requirements are simple; the third requirement is tougher.

First, the gift must be given to, and receipted by, a community foundation. Opening a fund at your local community foundation is easy.

The second requirement is also straightforward. The gift must be to an Iowa charity. But nearly all charities have an Iowa organization. In other words, to get the Endow Iowa tax credit, you couldn’t give to Girl Scouts of America, while you could give to Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa. To get the Endow Iowa tax credit, you couldn’t give to National Public Radio, but you could give to Iowa Public Radio. And so on.

The third requirement is tougher. The Endow Iowa Tax Credit program was designed to encourage endowments. Endowment means a permanent fund, something that will go on forever. So, to get the Endow Iowa tax credit, there is a limit on spending. You can only give out a maximum of 5% per year. This may, or may not, square with your charitable goals. But for a tax credit of 25% off your gift, it’s something you should seriously consider.

Note: Endow Iowa Tax Credits are capped. The Iowa Legislature sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa Tax Credits, and it’s available on a first-come, first-served basis. In 2014, approximately $6 million in tax credits were available annually through Endow Iowa. So get your application in now, as tax credits often run out toward year end.

Endow Iowa also has a cap for individuals and couples. Tax credits of 25% of the gifted amount are limited to $300,000 in tax credits per individual for a gift of $1.2 million, or $600,000 in tax credits per couple for a gift of $2.4 million.

Pro tip #5: Combine Pro Tips #1, #2, #3, and #4 for dramatic tax savings.

Pro Tip Five: Combine the first four pro tips! If you combine the first four pro tips, you can achieve dramatic tax savings. Let’s look again at the case of Pat and her donation of a long-term capital gain asset, farmland. Check out Pat’s tax savings:


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Pat gave her favorite charity $1,000, a significant and generous gift. But combine the federal income tax charitable deduction, the capital gains tax savings, and the Endow Iowa Tax Credit, and the out-of-pocket cost of that gift of $1,000 is less than $200. Because the gift was endowed, it will be invested by the local community foundation and presumably will grow. It will continue benefiting the charities Pat cares about forever.

Cautionary Note

Remember, all individuals, families, businesses, and farms are unique and so have unique tax and legal issues. This article is presented for informational purposes only, not as tax advice or legal advice. Consult a professional for specific advice.

Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C. is dedicated to maximizing charitable giving in Iowa. Gordon can be reached by phone at 515-371-6077; by email at; and through his website at

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