four faces covered by health masks

Consequences from COVID-19 including skyrocketing unemployment, mental health concerns, and general basic supply scarcity has meant an increased demand for services from nonprofits in a multitude of sectors. I’ve seen a number of successful efforts to help out local businesses, such as restaurants and shops, that are hurting from lack of foot traffic. These campaigns have focused on alternative revenue streams such as delivery deals and gift cards. The same concept can and should go be applied to your favorite nonprofit organizations as well.

Here are three ways you can help nonprofits while continuing to practice safe social distancing.

Donate cash under the CARES Act

The federal “Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security” (CARES) Act was recently passed and among other policy goals, aims to incentivize charitable giving. The CARES Act creates a new federal income tax charitable deduction for total charitable contributions of up to $300. The incentive applies to cash contributions made in 2020 and can be claimed on tax forms next year. This deduction is an “above-the-line” deduction. This means it’s a deduction that applies to all taxpayers, regardless if they elect to itemize.

For those taxpayers who do itemize, the law lifts the existing cap on annual contributions from 60 to 100 percent of adjusted gross income. For corporations, the law raises the annual contributions limit from 10 to 25 percent. Likewise, the cap on corporate food donations has increased from 15 to 25 percent.

Protect yourself from coronavirus

Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

Gift retirement benefit plans

If you have a retirement benefit plan, like an IRA or 401(k), you may gift the entire plan, or just a percentage, to your favorite charity or charities upon your death. Retirement plans can be an ideal asset donation to a nonprofit organization because of the tax burden the plans may carry if paid to non-charitable beneficiaries, such as family members.

This can be accomplished by fully completing a beneficiary designation form from the account holder and name the intended nonprofit organization(s) as a beneficiary of your qualified plan. The funds you designate to charitable organizations will be distributed directly to the organizations tax-free and will pass outside of your estate, Individuals who elect this type of charitable giving can continue to make withdrawals from retirement plans during their lifetime.

Write in bequests to your estate plan

Execute an estate plan, or update an existing one, to include bequests (gifts) to the nonprofit organizations you care about. There are multiple different types of bequests which means testators have flexibility with the structure of their estate plans. An experienced estate planner will be able to advise you on all of your options, but here is a brief overview.

Pecuniary bequest

A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will or trust.

Demonstrative bequest

A gift that comes from an explicit source such as a particular bank account.

Percentage bequest

A percentage bequest devises a set percentage—for example 5 percent of the value of the estate. A percentage bequest may be the best format for charitable bequest since it lets the charity benefit from any estate growth during the donor’s lifetime.

Specific bequest

A gift of a designated or specific item (like real estate, a vehicle, or artwork) in the will or trust. The item will very likely be sold by the nonprofit and the proceeds would benefit that nonprofit.

Residuary bequest

A gift of all or a portion of the remainder of the donor’s assets after all other bequests have been made as well as debts and taxes paid.

Contingent bequest

A gift made on the condition of a certain event that might or might not happen. A contingent bequest is specific and fails if the condition is not made. An example of a charitable contingent bequest might be if a certain person predeceases you,

This is just a small list, as there are many ways to efficiently and effectively make charitable donations in a tax-wise manner that benefits both parties involved. Because each individual’s financial situation is unique it’s highly recommended to consult with the appropriate professional advisors.

I’d be happy to discuss any questions, concerns, or ideas you may have. Contact me via email at or by phone at 515-371-6077.

September calendar

Recently my social media feeds were alight with friends and family member’s grinning kiddos holding signs announcing their first day of a new grade. It made me nostalgic! While I wouldn’t want to repeat law school all over again, I do think it’s never too late to head back to the classroom—proverbial or real. So, the GFLF is heading back to school with lessons in English (like legal words/phrases of the day), reading (GoFisch book club) history, finance and the like. Today’s lesson on planned giving crosses over between business and economics, and it’s super important for donors of all gift amounts and nonprofit pros alike.

Back to school

What is planned giving?

Planned giving is the process of charitably donating planned gifts. A planned gift is a charitable donation that is arranged in the present and allocated at a future date. A planned gift is often, but not always, donated through a will or trust. (I would say this is true 80-90% of the time; put another way, planned gifts are bequests 80-90% of the time). As such, planned gifts are very often granted after the donor’s death.

Besides charitable gifts made through wills and trusts after death, other planned gifts include charitable gift annuities; charitable remainder trusts (along with the entire alphabet soup of CRATS; CRUTS; NIMCRUTS; FLIPCRUTS; etc.); charitable lead trusts, and remainder interest/life estates in real property. All these gifting tools/techniques/vehicles I’ve discussed previously, sometimes numerous times.

What is a Nonprofit?

  • You give $20 to a person you meet on the street who lost his bus ticket home.
  • At your local gas station, there is a collection jar for a local child with leukemia. You donate your change.
  • You leave money in your will for your niece Jane, hoping she uses it to continue her collegiate studies in engineering.
  • You have a neighbor who suffers from dementia. You and your friends decide to have an informal walk to raise awareness about the disease and raise money for your neighbor’s health care needs.

While noble, these are not examples of “charitable giving,” as we use the term here. In this context, we are talking about charitable giving to an organization formed under 501c3 of the Internal Revenue Service Tax Code. A 501c3 agency can be known by several terms in general usage, including “nonprofit organization” and “public charity.” For simplicity’s sake, we’ll use the term nonprofit throughout.

Nonprofits cover an extremely broad swath of types of organizations, including schools, churches, hospitals, museums, social services organizations, animal welfare groups, and community foundations.

Nonprofits Must Embrace Planned Gifts

Sometimes nonprofits are overwhelmed at the thought of expansive planned giving because of the number and complexity of some of the planned giving vehicles. How does this match up when you want to donate a less obvious gift than cash, such as stocks and bonds or grain? Nonprofits need to expand their ability to accept gifts of many varieties for at least three reasons:

Craft Beer Factor

The first reason I call the “craft beer factor.” (Bear with me here for a moment). I’m old enough to remember when there were just two kinds of beer. Don’t believe me? You should, as it was immortalized in one of the most famous advertising campaigns of all time–“tastes great, less filling!” This ad campaign strongly implied there were really just two types of beers.

craft beer on table

Then came the craft beer movement. I’m not sure whether craft beers were a response to consumers, or whether craft beers created a demand; presumably both. In any case, now a place like Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa, has about thirty varieties of beers (this is based on an informal count from their website).

Now any retail establishment which sells beer must offer lots and lots of different kinds of beer. Any retail establishment which isn’t able to offer its customers wide variety risks irrelevance, or worse.

This is true not just of beer, but of everything. Another quick example– McDonald’s has around 145 menu items, that’s up from about 85 items in 2007. Also, McDonald’s now offers breakfast items not just in the morning, but all day-long.

Consumers want what they want, when they want, how they want.

Donors expect and often demand the opportunity to use many different options to assist their favorite charities. No longer can nonprofits simply ask folks to pony up cash, or just accept credit cards. Donors want to be able to converse with their fave charity and discuss using their whole portfolio. Nonprofits need to be able to accept, and intelligently discuss, gifting of many different types of non-cash assets.

A nonprofit which doesn’t offer its supporters a wide variety of giving options risks irrelevance, or even worse fates! So, as a donor, if you’re interested in donating an asset that your favorite nonprofit doesn’t typically facilitate, connect them with an experienced nonprofit attorney to make the gift a reality.

Planned Gifts Consist Overwhelmingly of Bequests

Second, planned giving is still mostly about wills and trusts. As already stated, I estimate 80-90% of planned gifts are bequests. Simple! Nonprofits should put substantial efforts to encouraging increased, larger testamentary bequests. Donors who already have an estate plan, but didn’t realize they could designate their favorite organizations as beneficiaries should contact an estate planning attorney.

Everyone can Understand Planned Giving!

Be it strategies for a monthly giving program or facilitating complex planned giving vehicles like NIMCRUTs, the opportunities for continuous learning about different planned giving technique are seemingly endless! And, there are so many different options, that all donors should feel great about supporting their fave causes with tax-wise gifts that work best for them. I strive to offer free information that breaks down different aspects of planned giving in human terms, as well as promoting community opportunities/events for nonprofit professionals.

heart on blue wood

Still need help understanding planned giving or any particular tool or technique? Want assistance coordinating a complex gift? Reach out to me anytime. I offer a free one-hour consultation to anyone and everyone. You can contact at my email ( or on my cell (515-371-6077). I’d truly love to hear from you.

Rotary Logo

I’m proud to be an active Rotarian. I’m also proud to be an Iowa lawyer.

And, I am proud of the singular, perhaps even unique, mission of my law firm. The mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm is to promote and maximize charitable giving in Iowa.

Iowa City Noon Rotary

To achieve this mission, I help individuals, families, and businesses with estate planning that ranges from simple wills to complex trusts. I assist nonprofits reach their philanthropic goals. I guide donors in increasing their charitable giving.

Naturally, my membership in Rotary and the mission of my law firm intersect perfectly when it comes to supporting the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary Foundation does so much good both here at home and around the world.

As the Rotary Foundation states on its website, the Foundation “taps into a global network of Rotarians who invest their time, money, and expertise into our priorities, such as eradicating polio and promoting peace. The Foundation grants empower Rotarians to approach challenges such as poverty, illiteracy, and malnutrition with sustainable solutions that leave a lasting impact.”

Rotary Club Cover Photo

As a Rotarian, and as a lawyer, I wanted to share some of my expertise to allow Rotarians to give even more generously, so the Rotary Foundation can continue to do, and perhaps even expand, their great work.


It’s easiest to understand charitable giving by looking at it in two broad categories: giving during lifetime (called inter vivos transfers), and giving at death (testamentary transfers). There is a third category which lawyers call “split interest gifts”—tools that can be used during life or by operation of a will (such as, charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts).

Read on to learn more about testamentary gifts made through your estate plan. Then we’ll talk about charitable giving during your lifetime. Finally, we’ll discuss two special philanthropic tools that can both be used during life and at death.


You can help on chalkboard

Estate plan is set of legal documents

An estate plan is simply a set of legal documents to prepare for the event of your death or disability. Note I said “estate plan,” and not “will.” While these terms are often used synonymously, they are not at all the same thing. An estate plan is a set of legal documents, and a will is just one of those documents, albeit an important one.

Six “Must Have” Estate Planning Documents

There are six documents that should be part of most everyone’s estate plan. Plus, you should keep these documents updated and current. Also, don’t forget about assets with beneficiary designations, such as savings and checking accounts, and retirement benefit plans. For many Iowans, that’s enough— keeping six documents and assets with beneficiary designations current.

I’ll just briefly touch on five of the six documents, before we dive into your will and charitable gifting to the Rotary Foundation.

Estate Planning Questionnaire

You should begin with an estate planning questionnaire. (Like this one on my website.) An estate plan questionnaire is an easy way to get all of your information in one place, and it should help you understand and prioritize estate planning goals.

Powers of Attorney

A power of attorney for healthcare designates someone to handle your healthcare decisions for you if you become unable to make those decisions for yourself. This essentially gives another person the power to make medical decisions on your behalf.

The power of attorney for financial matters is similar, only your designated agent has the power to make decisions and act on your behalf regarding your finances. This document gives your agent the authority to pay bills, settle debts, sell property, or anything else that needs to be done if you become incapacitated and unable to do this yourself.

Disposition of Personal Property

Another useful document is the disposition of personal property. This is where you get to be specific about items you want people to have, say, your eldest daughter getting your wedding ring, or your nephew getting your baseball card collection.

Disposition of Final Remains

Yet another helpful document is the disposition of final remains, where you get to tell your loved ones exactly how you want your body to be treated after you pass away. This could include details on burial or cremation, and what type of service(s) you want.

Where there’s a Will, There’s A Way to Help Rotary Foundation

Now let’s get to the will. With your will, you’ll be answering four major questions:

  1. Who do you want to have your stuff? A will provides orderly distribution of your property at death per your wishes. Your property includes both tangible and intangible things. (An example of tangible items would be your coin collection. An example of an intangible asset would be stocks.)
  1. Who do you want to be in charge of carrying out your wishes as expressed in the will? The “executor” is the person who will be responsible for making sure the will is carried out as written.
  1. Who do you want to take care of your kids? If you have minor children (i.e., kids under age 18), you’ll want to designate a legal guardian(s) who will take care of your children until they are adults.
  1. What charities do you want to support with your estate assets? Which of your favorite causes do you want to support at death, like the Rotary Foundation?

Four Types of Bequests

Charitable gifts in a will are called “bequests.” Generally speaking, there are four types of bequests.

  1. Pecuniary Bequest: A gift of a fixed or stated sum of money designated in a donor’s will. An example: “I give the sum of $10,000 (ten thousand dollars) to Rotary Foundation.”
  1. Specific Bequest: A gift of a designated or specific item in the will. The item will most likely be sold by the organization and the proceeds would benefit that nonprofit. An example: “I give my Grant Wood painting to Rotary Foundation.”
  1. Residuary Bequest: In legal terms, a “residue” of the estate is what is left of the estate after payment of debts, funeral expenses, executors’ fees, taxes, legal, and other expenses incurred in the administration of the estate, and after any gifts of specific assets or specific sums of cash. The estate residue would include all property, both personal and real estate. A residuary clause is a provision in a will that passes the residue of an estate to beneficiaries identified in the will. An example: “I give all of the residue of my estate to the Rotary Foundation.”
  1. Contingent Bequest: A gift in a will made on the condition of a certain event that might or might not happen. A contingent bequest is specific and fails if the condition is not made. An example: “I give the sum of $10,000 (ten thousand dollars) to my niece, Jane Smith, if still living. If my niece fails to survive me, I give the sum of $10,000 (ten thousand dollars) to the Rotary Foundation.”

Which type of bequest to the Rotary Foundation should you choose? It really depends on your personal circumstances. Consult your individual estate planner for specific advice.


It’s been said, “you should be giving while you are living, so you’re knowing where it’s going.” Many Rotarians have intentions to donate eventually to the Rotary Foundation, often, as we’ve been discussing, at death through their estate plan. But why not give now? You can have more say about your gifts while you are still alive, and also feel the joy that comes with helping the cause you care about most. There are also lots of good tax reasons for giving now rather than later.

Imagine Rotarian Jill Donor, wanting to help her favorite nonprofit. When asked for a charitable gift to the Rotary Foundation, Donor agrees and immediately reaches for her checkbook, or goes online to donate with a debit/credit card.

It’s noble for Donor to give. However, consider this question: should Donor give cash? Or, does Donor own other non-cash assets which might be more tax-savvy? Can Donor be even more generous in support of her favorite cause, while lowering her out-of-pocket costs for charitable gifts?

Also, keep in mind that cash is only a small sliver of Donor’s overall assets and net worth. Even putting aside tax benefits, couldn’t Donor give more to the Rotary Foundation by looking at her much more robust non-cash assets? Let’s explore some non-cash gift options.

Giving quote

Appreciated, Long Term, Publicly Traded Stock

All sorts of non-cash assets can be used for charitable gifts to the Rotary Foundation, but for several reasons, appreciated, long-term, publicly traded stock is a wise choice. It’s convenient to give, you can save money on capital gains taxes you would have paid had you sold the stock, and it’s easy to value.

Endow Iowa Tax Credit


All Iowans should be aware of the Endow Iowa Tax Credit. Endow Iowa allows donors who give qualifying charitable gifts to receive a whopping 25% state tax credit. I have some illustrations showing what great tax savings can be realized by use of the Endow Iowa Tax Credit.

IRA Charitable Rollover

The federal law known as the IRA Charitable Rollover allows individuals aged 70½ and older to donate up to $100,000, tax free, from their IRAs directly to Rotary Foundation. There are two threshold requirements. First, you must be age 70½ or older. Second, the retirement plan account must be an IRA. Want more details? This blog post digs in.

Retirement Benefit Plans

For those not yet 70 ½ and/or who don’t have an IRA, but another type of retirement plan, think about this. Sometimes owners’ retirement benefit plans must make what are called Required Minimum Distributions, or RMDs. Since you must withdraw RMDs, anyway, why not give the money to a worthy charity like Rotary Foundation?

For those who don’t yet have to make RMDs, remember that after age 59 ½, generally you can make withdrawals from your retirement benefit plan without any tax penalty. If indeed there’s no penalty, and you make a charitable gift from your retirement benefit plan, you can presumably take an income tax charitable deduction. This should therefore be a “wash” for tax purposes.

Also, keep in mind: you can make a very meaningful gift simply by naming the Rotary Foundation as beneficiary of an IRA, 401(k), 403(b), or other retirement plan. Giving retirement assets in this way is quite easy. Simply contact the institution holding your retirement plan, request a change of beneficiary form, fill the form out completely and correctly, and return the form. Typically naming a beneficiary in this way does not require drafting or amending a will or trust.


A “split interest” gift is when a donor makes a gift to a qualified charity, like the Rotary Foundation, but retains the right to a portion of the gift. Typically, the gift is divided into lifetime income and asset value at death. The majority of donors retain income during their lifetime.

There are two split interest gifts which might be greatly helpful to donors wanting to support the Rotary Foundation. Let’s discuss each briefly.

Charitable Gift Annuity

A Charitable Gift Annuity (CGA) is a contract. It’s a contract that combines the benefits of an immediate income tax deduction and a lifetime income stream. Also, your future taxable estate will be reduced for the remainder value of the property transferred to charity.

A CGA is an arrangement in which you make a gift of cash, or other property, in exchange for a guaranteed income annuity for life. This is similar to buying an annuity in the commercial marketplace, except that you can claim an immediate charitable tax deduction for the excess of the value of the property over the value of the annuity, based on IRS tables. The charity must receive at least 10% of the initial net value of the property transferred in order for you to claim a charitable deduction for a portion of the purchase price.

There’s much more to say about CGAs. I wrote an article detailing more specifics, as well as their benefit, check it out here.

Charitable Remainder Trust

A charitable remainder trust (CRT) provides a unique opportunity for donors to retain lifetime income from property while obtaining a current income tax deduction (or estate tax deduction) for the remainder interest which will pass to charity.

Charitable remainder trusts are often appealing to donors with appreciated assets, producing little or no income, such as real estate or securities. This is because the assets can be sold without capital gains tax and invested to provide a higher income stream.

A CRT separates the current interest and future interests in property and disposes of each differently. Income from trust assets is paid to at least one non-charitable beneficiary (often, the grantor or the grantor’s family) for a certain period. The payments can be made for the non-charitable beneficiary’s lifetime (or joint lives for multiple beneficiaries), or over a fixed period of up to 20 years. When the non-charitable beneficiary’s interest ends, the trust assets pass irrevocably to a charity. I’m doing a deep dive into CRTs with a three-part series, you can read the first post, here.


Iowa City Noon Rotary

What all this means is that you, dedicated Rotarian, have a treasure chest of choices when it comes to making charitable gifts that can have an impact. Charitable giving can, and should, be a mutual positive situation that benefits the Rotary Foundation as well as the donor. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I would love to start a conversation with you about your estate planning and charitable giving goals. Feel free to reach out at any time; you can find me by email at or by phone at 515-371-6077. Or just grab me at Rotary Lunch!

Gordon Fischer has been an active and accomplished Iowa lawyer for more than 20 years. Gordon received his law degree, summa cum laude, from Southern Illinois University. After law school, Gordon clerked for the Iowa Court of Appeals. He then joined the Des Moines firm of Bradshaw, Fowler, Proctor & Fairgrave, P.C. He became a partner and gained a reputation for skilled and conscientious litigation in all areas of law, with a focus on employment. In 2013, Gordon left the firm to become Vice President of Gift Planning Strategies for the Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, where he helped donors plan and achieve their philanthropic goals. In 2014, he received the Chartered Advisor in Philanthropy designation from The American College of Financial Services.   

Gordon serves his community and his profession in a variety of ways, on boards and commissions and as a mentor and hands-on volunteer, and through his involvement as a Rotarian. At Gordon Fischer Law Firm, P.C., he blends his legal expertise and commitment to the charitable sector and those who support its work.