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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 gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or by phone at 515-371-6077.

charitable gift tax limits - hand holding christmas gift

If you choose to itemize your taxes, charitable contributions can reduce your tax bill. Generally you would choose to itemize when the combined total of your anticipated deductions (like charitable gifts) add up to more than the standard deduction. For 2019 taxes the standard deductions are:

  • $12,200 for single individuals
  • $12,200 for married, filing separately
  • $24,400 for married filing jointly
  • $18,350 for head of household

If you do choose to itemize, limits on federal income tax charitable deductions are quite high, but they do exist. Keep this in mind as you make any year-end donations. The specific limitations are complicated, and there are numerous exceptions. The limits are based on your AGI (adjusted gross income). AGI is an individual’s total gross income minus specific deductions.

A quick rule-of-thumb for different types of donated assets to public charities:

  • Appreciated capital gains assets (such as stock) up to 20% of AGI
  • Non-cash assets up to 30% of AGI
  • Cash contributions, up to 60% of AGI
  • You can deduct transportation costs and other expenses related to volunteering

Note that these rates are for public tax-exempt organization and private operating foundations. Contributions to certain private foundations, veterans organizations, fraternal societies, and cemetery organizations are limited to 30% adjusted gross income. (Check out these IRS status codes and deductible limits if you’re unsure of an organization’s limit.)

As I mentioned, most people won’t exceed these limits indicated above, but it can happen. For instance, if Jane Donor is a retiree living off of savings and donates more than her investments yield over the year, her limit could be exceeded. The good news is that in this case the IRS allows you carry over excess contributions for up to five following tax years.

Don’t forget to take these steps if you plan to itemize your charitable deductions:

  • Make sure the nonprofit organization is a 501(c)(3) public charity or private foundation
  • Keep a record of the contribution (usually the tax receipt from the charity)
  • Depending on the donation amount/type, you may need to obtain a qualified appraisal to substantiate the claimed value of the deduction
  • Subtract the value of any benefits you received for your charitable contribution before you deduct it

I’m happy to advise on your situation and help you maximize your charitable giving for this tax year. I can be reached by phone at 515-371-6077 and by email at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com.

red ornaments Endow Iowa Tax Credit

 Thank you for reading the 25 Days of Giving series! In the spirit of the holiday season, I’m covering different aspects of charitable giving…perfect to get you thinking about your end-of-year giving.

There are many, many reasons Iowa is a great place to live and work. One reason is the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program—a smart way to stretch your charitable dollars. Iowa community foundations provide exclusive access to the Endow Iowa Tax Credit program. Giving through the Endow Iowa program allows Iowa taxpayers to receive a 25% Iowa tax credit, in addition to the federal charitable income tax deduction, for qualifying charitable gifts.

The Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program provides unique opportunities to meet philanthropic goals while receiving maximum tax benefits. Highlights of this program include:

  • A variety of gifts qualify for Endow Iowa Tax Credits including cash, real estate, grain, appreciated securities, and outright gifts of retirement assets. In fact, appreciated assets, like stocks or real estate, can provide even better value because the donor may avoid capital gains taxes.
  • To be eligible, Endowed Tax Iowa Credit gifts must be placed in a permanent endowment fund of a qualifying organization. The endowment funds are intended to exist in perpetuity (continual), and the spend rate from the fund may not exceed 5% annually.
  • 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, assuming both are Iowa taxpayers.
  • Eligible gifts will qualify for credits on a first-come/first-serve basis until the yearly appropriated limit is reached. If the current available Endow Iowa Tax Credits have been awarded, qualified donors will be eligible for the next year’s Endow Iowa Tax Credits. Donors should be encouraged to act as early in the year as possible to ensure receipt of credits as soon as possible.
  • All qualified donors can carry forward the tax credit for up to five years after the year the donation was made.

It should also be noted that the Endow Iowa Tax Credits are capped. The Iowa Legislature sets aside a pool of money for Endow Iowa, and it’s available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Submitting an application at the beginning of the tax year is advised, as tax credits often run out toward year’s end. In fact, this year approximately $6 million in tax credits were awarded and there are no more available credits to be granted. However, you can submit your application to be placed on the waitlist for 2020 tax credits.

In exchange for 25% Iowa tax credit and the opportunity to have an even greater impact on their philanthropic interests in the state of Iowa, now and into the future, the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program should be seriously considered by all. The impact is immense: in 2018, donors received tax credits for more than 3,434 separate donations to 76 different community foundations and affiliate organizations through Endow Iowa. And, since 2003, more than $263 million has been invested through the program to improve residents’ lives.

Any questions or thoughts on how the Endow Iowa Tax Credit Program could mean big benefits for your finances and your state? Don’t hesitate to contact me.

glittery ornaments

Passed in 2017, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ushered in many changes, including an increase in the standard deduction. The deduction for single filers is now $12,200 and $24,400 if you are a married joint-filer. In reality, this means that the number of households claiming the itemized deduction (including their exempt charitable donations) is much less compared with previous tax schemes. But, fear not. There are strategies to clear the initial standard deduction threshold.

What the Heck is Bunching?

One of the major options available to charitable donors is to “bunch” donations. To bunch donations you make larger charitable donations this year in a way that exceeds the standard deduction and then smaller ones next year to compensate. Depending on your charitable giving capacity and goals, this means you could alternate every other year or every few years.

Reminder, substantiated donations to a qualified nonprofit can be combined with mortgage interest and state/property taxes when calculating excess above the standard deduction limit. (The Greater Kansas City Community Foundation created a useful illustrated chart of this concept.

man in chair at christmas

Bunching in Practice

By way of example, instead of giving you “normal” $5,000 to charity annually, consider accelerating your gift two years worth of donations in 1 year. So you would end up giving $10,000 every two years. The $10,000 is the same amount you planned to give over the two years but strategically donated in a way that maximizes itemized tax benefits. With this option, you may claim your itemized deductions over the limit one year and then take the standard deduction the next.

Donor-Advised Fund

If you’re considering bunching donations, you may want to do so through a donor-advised fund (or DAF), which offers a unique level of donative flexibility. The DAF allows you to make charitable contributions and receive an immediate tax break for the full donation, even though you can choose to recommend grants to your fave nonprofits from the fund at a later date and over time.

Questions about bunching or how to maximize your charitable donations under current federal and state tax laws? Don’t hesitate to contact me for a free one-hour consultation!

Girl hanging ornaments on tree

Happy 25 Days of Giving Series! If you’ve been reading along throughout December so far, thank you. If you’ve happened upon the GoFisch blog just now, welcome. I hope to see you back here often.

Celebrating the holidays with children, be it family or friends’ children, can be a wonderful opportunity to “see” the magic and delight of the season through their experiences. The season of giving is also an opportune time to teach and reinforce the importance of a different kind of giving beyond the wish lists for Santa and filled stockings. Consider these few tips when teaching the future generation of philanthropists about why charitable giving is important, and how to practice charity during December…and all year round.

Think Tradition

holiday themed cupcakes

Just like decorating cookies, trimming the tree, singing carols, or any other one of your family traditions, charitable giving can be made into an annual family affair. Incorporate this in a way that works for you and your family. One idea is instead of the traditional advent calendar in which children would usually get a small toy or candy each day give some loose change or “gift” a charitable activity you can do together. For the money, the child can collect and then at the end of the advent period have then donate their money to a cause they care about.

Talk About It Together

Similarly to how I counsel my estate planning clients on the importance of speaking with family members about decisions for their estate, it’s important to actually talk about charitable giving as a family. Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy conducted a study and found that children whose parents talk with them about donating are 20% more likely to give to charity than kids who do not have those conversations with their parents.

snowmen figurines

Visit local charitable organizations together. (Or, if that’s not accessible at least go online to the charities’ websites.) Introduce your child to what the charity does and why it’s important. Organizations whose missions align with your child’s interests are a good place to start. For instance, the kid who loves animals may be interested to know that the local animal rescue helps animals when they get lost or hurt.

Practice What You Preach: Volunteer Time

Charitable giving doesn’t just have to be monetary. When possible set up volunteer activities you can do together. However, volunteer opportunities for children can be limited, so don’t be afraid to get creative. If your kiddo loves riding her bike around the park, plan a day where you pick up trash around the park. If your son loves to help you plant flowers, see if he can help out at the community garden. Of course, youth organizations like scouting programs (for example), can be a great opportunity for your child to put charitable work into action. Kids, just like most of us, will better be able to “see” the impact of charitable giving when they experience it firsthand. (Note: volunteer time is not tax-deductible, but out-of-pocket expenses associated with volunteer work are!)

child in front of stocking

Shared Generosity

From your year-end giving charitable dollars, set aside a portion specifically for the kids to decide how to allocate. Have them brainstorm on with you and provide them with any suggestions/charities to match the causes they care about. You could also try out a matching program. Explain to them that every dollar they save throughout the year and want to donate to charity, you’ll match. If you need a colorful visual explain with Monopoly money.

 How do you involve your entire family with charitable giving? I would love to hear your ideas. Remember, this doesn’t have to be your own children. If you’re a teacher or simply an involved aunt/uncle or grandparent you can still instill in children the important philosophy of why giving can be the best gift of all.
Questions about your own year-end charitable giving? Contact me by email or phone (515-371-6077) at any time. 
heart in pages of book

Welcome to the newest post in the 25 Days of Giving series. Have questions or a topic related to charitable giving you want covered as a part of the series? Contact me!

You want your favorite charity to be wildly successful. Whether you’re working for the nonprofit as staff, serving on the board of directors, or assisting as a donor or volunteer, you want your nonprofit to have every chance to reach its goals and objectives. 

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) strongly encourages nonprofits to adopt specific governance policies to limit potential abuse, protect against vulnerabilities, and prevent activities that would go beyond permitted nonprofit activities. The IRS also audits nonprofits, just as it audits companies and individuals, and having these policies in place can only help you should you be audited. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, having solid policies and procedures in place will provide a foundation for soliciting, accepting, and facilitating charitable donations. 

Each nonprofit is unique, and accordingly policies and procedures needed will vary for each. For instance, a non-operating private foundation will likely need a different set of documents than a public charity. However, most nonprofits will want, at the very least, to consider having the following policies in place. 

Articles of Incorporation

Articles of incorporation are necessary to even form a nonprofit corporation; the document is filed with the state and accompanied by a filing fee. This policy can be known by other monikers as “certificate of incorporation,” “articles of organization,” or “charter document.” Think of this as the constitution of the organization. While it can be fairly short, there are some necessary elements in the articles that are required for federal tax-exempt status. Those elements include a statement of purpose, legal address, emphasis on not-for-profit activities, duration, names and address of director(s), and a dissolution clause, among others. You may want to check out the IRS’ sample charter.

Board Roles and Responsibilities

Nonprofit board members are generally tasked with two major responsibilities of support and governance. A board’s rules and responsibilities document should outline the requirements and responsibilities of board members. Some examples of basic components include fundraising participation, determining the organization’s mission and direction, selecting and regularly evaluating the nonprofit director/CEO, and protection of public interest. A policy regarding board roles and responsibilities should encourage nothing short of ethical and legal integrity within board members.

boardroom chairs

Bylaws

If you’ve ever been part of any board or committee, you’ve definitely heard reference to the bylaws and received a copy upon joining the organization. Nonprofit bylaws serve as the internal operating methods and rules that specify things like the election process of directors, employee roles within the nonprofit, and operational manners of meetings. Specific language in the bylaws is not required by federal tax law, but some states may require nonprofits to have written bylaws to be considered tax-exempt. This document can most often be used to resolve uncertainty between board members and takes the guesswork out of operations.

Code of Ethics

Just as it sounds, a code of ethics document puts in place a set of guiding principles for behavior, decision making, and activities of those involved in the nonprofit, including board members, employees, and volunteers. While principles innate to your organization such as honesty, equity, integrity, and transparency may be understood by all involved, this formal adoption allows those involved to make a formal commitment to ethical actions and decisions. Sometimes this document is known as a “statement of values,” or “code of conduct.” Many organizations post their code on their website to demonstrate accountability and transparency.

Compensation Policy

Competitive compensation is just as important for employees of nonprofits as it is for for-profit employees. Having a set policy in place that objectively establishes salary ranges for positions, updated job descriptions, relevant salary administration, and performance management is used to establish equality and equity in compensation practices. A statement of compensation philosophy and strategy which explains to current and potential employees and board members how compensation supports the organization’s mission can be included in the compensation policy.

Confidentiality

A nonprofit’s board members have a duty of confidentiality due to their fiduciary obligation to the organization. This duty is there regardless of any written policy or not, but it’s certainly a best practice to clarify and explain why and how confidentiality is important to the specific organization. A confidentiality policy can include elements such as the following:

  • definitions of what matters are considered confidential
  • determination to whom the policy applies
  • a statement that board members do not make any public statements to the press without authorization
  • a process by which confidential material may be authorized for disclosure

secret mouth

Conflict of Interest

This is arguably one of the more essential policies a nonprofit board should adopt. A conflict of interest policy should do two important things:

  • require board members with a conflict (or a potential conflict) to disclose it, and
  • exclude individual board members from voting on matters in which there is a conflict.

Note the IRS Form 990 asks whether the nonprofit has such a policy as well as how the organization manages and determines board members who have a conflict of interest. This policy is all too important as conflicts of interest that are not successfully and ethically managed can result in “intermediate sanctions” against both the organization and the individual with the conflicts.

Document Retention

A document retention policy doesn’t mean that EVERY piece of paper and digital report should be kept for a specific duration. But, consider if a document is unknowingly tossed by a nonprofit employee and is later needed in a legal matter. That can cause irrevocable damage. So, ensure all board members, staffers, and volunteers are trained and have a copy of the document retention policy, which should clarify what types of documents should be retained, how they should be filed, and for what duration. This policy should also outline proper deletion/destruction techniques.

Employee Handbook

An employee handbook is another one of the more common nonprofit documents. A quality handbook should clearly communicate employment policies and enforce at-will provisions to all employees. Employment laws are complicated and complex. An employee handbook written/reviewed by a licensed attorney is a good legal step toward avoiding employment disputes. (Yes, just as you need a lawyer to write your estate plan, you’ll need a lawyer to craft/review your employee handbook.) Review your employee handbook regularly, as an out-of-date or poorly written handbook can leave the organization open to employment ambiguity and conflicts.

Financial Policies and Procedures

This document specifically addresses guidelines for making financial decisions, reporting the financial status of the organization, managing funds, and developing financial goals. The financial management policies and procedures should also outline the budgeting process, investment reporting, what accounts may be maintained by the nonprofit, and when scheduled auditing will take place.

Endowment

This resolution concerns funds (and the interest from these funds) that are kept long term. It generally aids the organization’s overall operations. An endowment policy should consider the purpose of the endowment, how the endowment will benefit the mission of the nonprofit, management practices of the endowment, disbursement policies, and investment strategy. (This blog post from GuideStar offers five steps to starting an endowment.)

Gift Acceptance

Gift acceptance is yet another policy the IRS considers to be a best practice for any tax-exempt nonprofit, and the gift acceptance policy can help set acceptance policies for both donors and the board/staffers. There is no federal legal requirement, but this policy does allow you to check “Yes” on Form 990. If well-written and applied across the organization, the policy can help the organization to kindly reject a non-cash gift that can carry extraneous liabilities and obligations the organization is not readily able to manage.

Outstretched hand

Investments

One way a Board of Directors can fulfill their fiduciary responsibility to the organization is through investing assets to further the nonprofit’s goals. But, before investment vehicles are invested in, the organization should have an investment policy in place to define who is accountable for the investment decisions. The policy should also offer guidance on activities of growing/protecting the investments, earning interest, and maintaining access to cash if necessary. Many organizations hire a professional financial advisor or investment manager to implement investments and offer advice. This person’s role can be accounted for in the investment policy.

Whistleblower

Nonprofits, along with all corporations, are prohibited from retaliating against employees who call out, draw attention to, or “blow the whistle” against employer practices. A whistleblower policy should set a process for complaints to be addressed and include protection for whistleblowers. Ultimately this policy can help insulate your organization from the risk of state and federal law violation and encourage sound, swift responses of investigation and solutions to complaints. Don’t just take it from me, the IRS also considers this an incredibly helpful policy:

“A whistleblower policy encourages staff and volunteers to come forward with credible information on illegal practices or violations of adopted policies of the organization, specifies that the organization will protect the individual from retaliation, and identifies those staff or board members or outside parties to whom such information can be reported. (Instructions to Form 990)

Policies = Powerful

While these documents may sound like a lot of work, the time and energy you place into ensuring your nonprofit is set up for success will pay off in the long run by saving you legal and IRS fees, internal conflict, violations, and compliance issues. Plus, you can enlist a qualified nonprofit attorney to do the leg work for you! 

You may say, “My organization already has a great set of policies in place!” Which is great. But, you should continuously update them as needed/wanted. A policy from 2002 may have been perfect at the time but could be in dire need of updates.

I’d advise making policies the main subject of a board meeting to review what policies have been adopted, which policies need revisions, and which policies you’re missing altogether. If you’re not sure where to start, or how policies should be drafted, read, or enacted, I would be happy to offer you a free one-hour consultation. You can also take me up on my 10 for 990 policy special.

I’m here to assist in drafting or revising your set of nonprofit policies, so don’t hesitate to contact me via email or phone (515-371-6077). We’ll schedule your free one-hour consultation and make a plan to set your organization up for success!

(Note this article is provided for general information only and not intended as legal advice for your specific nonprofit organization. Again, please contact me to discuss your organization’s unique needs.)

wreath on the door

Thanks for reading the 25 Days of Giving series. We’re “unwrapping” posts on various aspects (some well known, and some more obscure) of charitable giving each day through Christmas.

I know what you’re thinking…a bargain sale means discounts on stuff at the store. But, I’m talking about a different kind of sale—a useful charitable giving tool/technique.

Bargain sales defined

Bargain sales can be a useful charitable giving tool/technique. A bargain sale is a transaction in which a donor receives less than the full market value of property transferred to the charity. The transaction is treated as part sale, part gift, with the donor’s basis allocated proportionally between the gift amount and the sale amount.

Simple example of a bargain sale

Let’s take a simple example. Assume Jill Donor owns farmland worth $1 million, for which she paid $200,000 years ago. Jill sells the land to her local community foundation for $500,000 and starts her own donor-advised fund. Jill then makes a gift of the difference ($500,000) between the sale price and the fair market value of the farmland. Jill must pay tax on the gain element but may receive a charitable deduction on the gift element.

farmland bargain sale

The total basis of $200,000 is allocated between the gift and sale portions. Since Jill sold the land for half price of fair market value, the basis is allocated 50/50. Therefore, the allocated basis is $100,000. The gain, then, is $400,000; assuming the top capital gain tax rate of 20%, this would mean $80,000 of capital gains tax due. But Jill also avoided another $80,000 of capital gains tax by the bargain sale of the property.

The net result in this simple example is positive for Jill. Again, Jill received $500,000 in cash. But, she also may receive a charitable deduction for having gifted $500,000. The charitable deduction at, say, the top rate of income taxation, 37%, would be $185,000. One way to look at this entire transaction is that Jill received $500,000, paid $80,000 in capital gains taxes, but received a $185,000 deduction, meaning a net of positive cash flow of $605,000 to Jill.

Remember, all Iowans are unique and have individual legal and tax issues. Consult your own professional advisor for personal advice. Questions? Contact me at any time via email (gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com) or by phone (515-371-6077).

woman tossing leaves in air

With its feast of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes, Thanksgiving is the obvious holiday to look forward to in November. But the overall focus of Thanksgiving—the concepts of giving, sharing, practicing gratitude—is something you can cultivate for the entire month of November, especially on the lesser-known “holidays” of National Philanthropy Day and Giving Tuesday(technically in December this year).

National Philanthropy Day

National Philanthropy Day

On November 15 plan to celebrate National Philanthropy Day (NPD) with a donation of time or funding to a cause that’s near and dear to your heart. No matter how much you’re able to give, the point of this day to recognize that charitable donors and volunteers make a significant difference and impact. As the Association of Fundraising Professionals puts it:

“NPD is a celebration of philanthropy—giving, volunteering and charitable engagement—that highlights the accomplishments, large and small, that philanthropy—and all those involved in the philanthropic process—makes to our society and our world.”

A man by the name of Douglas Freeman conceptualized and organized the initial (unofficial) National Philanthropy Day in the early 1980s. Then in 1986, President Ronald Reagan designated NPD as an official day. NPD is also a key event a part of a grassroots movement that intends to raise awareness and interest for the importance of effective philanthropy.

Giving Tuesday

Giving Tuesday

Popular on and spurred forward through social media, Giving Tuesday is often found with an accompanying hashtag (#GivingTuesday). Billed as a “global giving movement” Giving Tuesday is the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and after the shopping sprees of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Held on December 3 this year, it’s seen as the sort of kickoff to end-of-year giving and it’s encouraged you donate your time, monetary donation, or even just your voice and ideas to a charity/cause that you care for.


With giving top of mind in November, maybe you have an idea for how you would like to support the important charities you care about but are unsure of how to go about making certain donations. For instance, did you know you can give to charity through your estate plan? How about the immense benefits of the retained life estate? How does giving fit in with your retirement benefit plan? I’m happy to help. Email me at gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com or drop me a line at 515-371-6077.

giving tuesday 2019

After the onslaught of Black Friday advertising and Cyber Monday announcements filling up your inbox, Giving Tuesday (December 3 this year) feels like a breath of fresh (wintery) air from the shopping rush. The “holiday,” often known by its social media tag of #GivingTuesday, is all about celebrating generosity and philanthropy. Giving charitably to your favorite organizations feels great and allows you to make a difference in your community, state, and the world. But, you also want to make sure your gift is legally compliant and beneficial, particularly for those who are “bunching” their donations to claim the charitable deduction on federal income taxes

Before you donate on #GivingTuesday (or any other day) consider these legal tips:

Make Sure the Charity is Qualified

A charitable deduction can result in significant tax savings, but for that to occur, the donation must be made to a qualified 501(c)(3). While that may sound basic, some initiatives may look like nonprofits but actually operate as a business, not a tax-exempt organization. A little bit of research can go a long way here. First, read up about the organization in question online and don’t hesitate to call to speak to a representative. You can also use the IRS’ Exempt Organizations Select Check; limit the search to organizations eligible for tax-deductible charitable contributions.

(If your favorite organization is in need of assistance for obtaining tax-deductible status, don’t hesitate to reach out.)

#GivingTuesday What Will You Give?

Sufficient Documentation

Proper documentation is required in order to take the charitable contribution deduction for contributions of $250 or more. This means you need written acknowledgment that expresses the required info of the donee (charity), date of donation, and monetary amount. It’s your legal obligation as the donor to ask for the written acknowledgment, not the charity’s obligation to offer it.

Here’s a simple breakdown of what’s needed for specific types of giving-

  • Gifts of less than $250 per donee — you need a canceled check or receipt
  • $250 or more per donee — you need a timely written acknowledgment from the donee
  • Total deductions for all property exceeds $500 — you need to file IRS Form 8283
  • Deductions exceeding $5,000 per item — you need a qualified appraisal completed by a qualified appraiser

Need more info? I go into detail about appraisers in this blog post.

Restrict in Writing

If you feel strongly about a specific program, region of operation, or use within the nonprofit, you’ll want to restrict the charitable donation. The restriction must be made in writing, at the same time as the donation is made.

Going Global

#GivingTuesday has expanded greatly since its founding in NYC to become a global event. You may hold a foreign-based charitable organization near and dear to your heart and, of course, you may give to that organization, however, your donation won’t qualify for a charitable tax deduction

Background Research

I work with my estate planning clients on defining their goals for their future and assets. The same baseline advice applies to charitable giving—what are your goals? Do the organizations you are donating to support your giving goals? Look at materials published by  One way to gauge this is by reviewing the nonprofit’s annual information on its Form 990, “Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax.” This form is intended for the public and includes important financial info. The IRS publishes Form 990 and it’s easy to check out the details on Guidestar, a nonprofit database.


If you have any questions on how to give charitably and do so wisely, don’t hesitate to reach out. Maximizing charitable giving in Iowa is the mission of Gordon Fischer Law Firm and we want to help as many Iowans give confidently as we can!

Dollar bill against white background

The Basics

A charitable gift annuity (CGA) is a contract in which a charity, in return for a transfer of assets, such as say, stocks or farmland, agrees to pay a fixed amount of money to one or two individuals, for their lifetime. A person who receives payments is called an “annuitant” or “beneficiary.”

For the entire term of the contract, the payments are fixed. A portion of the payments are considered to be a partial tax-free return of the donor’s gift, which are spread in equal payments over the life expectancy of the annuitant(s).

CGA cycle

Benefits of a CGA

There are at least six key benefits to a CGA:

  1. A CGA provides an immediate income tax charitable deduction to a donor for the gift portion.
  1. A CGA pays a lifetime income to one or two individuals, part of which is (most often) a return of principal and free from income tax.
  1. The income payout from the gift annuity can begin immediately or can be deferred.
  1. The charity’s obligation to pay the annuity is backed by the general assets of charity.
  1. When appreciated property is provided, and the donor is an annuitant, some of the capital gain is spread over donor’s life expectancy, and the rest is never recognized because it is attributed to the gift portion.
  1. A CGA is (relatively) simple to execute.

3 versions of CGA agreements

There are three versions of different CGA agreements depending on to whom the annuity is to be paid to:

  1. A “single life” agreement (annuity paid to only one person for his/her lifetime)
  1. A “two lives in succession” agreement (annuity paid to A, and then if B survives A, paid to B)
  1. A “joint and survivor” agreement (pay annuity paid to two persons simultaneously, and at death of first annuitant, the survivor is paid full annuity amount). This is most commonly used for married couples who file joint tax returns and/or who live in community property states.

Types of CGA agreements

In addition to the three versions there are three main types of CGA agreements that determine when the payments are issued to the annuitants: immediate, deferred, and flexible.

  1. Immediate Gift Annuity

Under an Immediate Gift Annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at the start/end of the payment period immediately following the contribution. Payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

  1. Deferred Gift Annuity

Under a Deferred Payment Gift Annuity, the annuitant(s) start(s) receiving payments at a future time, the date chosen by the donor, which must be more than one year after the date of the contribution. As with immediate gift annuities, payments can be made monthly, quarterly, semi-annually, or annually.

  1. Flexible Annuity

Under a Flexible Gift Annuity (also known as a Deferred Payment Gift Annuity), Donor need not choose the payment starting date at the time of her contribution. The annuitant (who may or may not be the donor) can choose the payment starting date based on her retirement date or other considerations.

Charities That Issue CGAs: The Rules

NOTE: Gift annuities are an exception to the general rule that charities cannot issue commercial insurance contracts. As such, charities which issue gift annuities must comply with several rules, which may be simplified as follows:

  1. The present value of the annuity must be less than 90% of the total value of the property transferred in exchange for the annuity. In other words, the charitable interest must be at least 10%.
  1. The annuity cannot be payable over more than two lives, and the individual(s) must be alive at the time the gift annuity is set up.
  1. The gift annuity agreement cannot specify a guaranteed minimum, nor a maximum, number of annuity payments.
  1. The actual income produced by the property transferred in exchange for the gift annuity cannot affect the amount of the annuity payments.

Rose in hand

CGAs and Tax Considerations

Federal income tax charitable deduction

A charitable gift annuity is considered part gift and part sale, as the donor contributes the property in exchange for annuity payments from the charity. The donor who itemizes may take an income tax charitable deduction for the gift portion (i.e., the value of the transferred property less the present value of the annuity).

This income tax charitable deduction is subject to the same limits as an outright gift of cash or property. For example, if cash is transferred for the CGA, the limitation of the deduction is 50% of the donor’s AGI; if long-term capital gain property is transferred, the limitation is generally 30% of AGI.

Any deduction in excess of the applicable percentage limitation may be carried forward for five years.

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Taxation of payouts

The annuity payments by the charity under a gift annuity are treated for income tax purposes as follows:

  1. Tax-free return of principal
  2. Long-term capital gain
  3. Ordinary income

Let’s break each of these categories down.

Tax-free return of principal

A portion of each payment received by Donor, or another annuitant, is a tax-free return of principal until the cost of the annuity is fully recovered when the annuitant reaches life expectancy.

The assumed cost of the annuity does not include the gift portion of the transaction. The donor’s cost basis must be allocated between the gift and sale portions in accordance with the respective proportions of the value of the property transferred.

Long-term capital gain

If property held for more than one year is transferred for a gift annuity, a portion of each payment will be taxed as LTCG. This will reduce the income tax-free return of principal portion of the annuity payments.

Capital gain is recognized only on the sale portion of the transaction and with the basis allocation previously described. Under general tax rules, long-term capital gain is recognized in the year the property is sold. However, with a charitable gift annuity, the donor may spread the gain over life expectancy provided the donor is the sole annuitant, or the donor and another individual named as a survivor annuitant.

Ordinary income

After the capital gain and tax-free portions of the annuity payment have been determined, the balance of the payment will be taxed as ordinary income.

Gift and estate taxation

giving gift

If the donor is the sole annuitant, there are no gift or estate tax issues because both the annuity is her own and the annuity terminates at death.

If the donor names anyone other than herself as an annuitant, gift and estate tax issues may arise.

Regarding gift tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the gift is the value of the annuity. An exception exists for a spouse under the gift tax marital deduction.

Another alternative to avoid gift tax: the donor could retain the right to revoke when the named annuitant has a survivor interest.

Regarding estate tax, if the donor names another person as an annuitant, the remaining value in the annuity is considered part of the donor’s estate. An exception exists for a joint annuity using only the donor’s life as the measuring life. Of course, there is also an estate tax marital deduction available if the surviving annuitant is a spouse.

Low-interest rates = higher tax-free income

The applicable federal rate (AFR) selection decision is more nuanced for gift annuities than for other split-interest gift tools.

A donor who wants to maximize their deduction will select the highest rate available, but this reduces the overall value of the annuity and increases the amount of the charitable gift.

Conversely, a donor who wants to maximize the income tax-free portion of the annuity payments will select the lowest available rate.

Choosing start date of deferred CGA

Under an immediate charitable gift annuity, annuity payments begin no later than one year after the initial contribution.

calendar on desk

A deferred gift annuity allows the donor to delay the start date of annuity payments. This delay will both increase the annuity amount when payments begin and result in a larger income tax charitable deduction which is available in the year of the contribution (subject, as always, to AGI limits).

A deferred gift annuity can, therefore, produce current tax savings during high-earning years while creating a supplemental retirement income. Generally, Donor sets a date for the deferred gift annuity to begin. However, the IRS approved a deferred gift annuity which did not specify a fixed starting date for the annuity payments [Ltr. Rul. 9743054].

Testamentary Gift Annuity

If carefully planned, it is possible to arrange a charitable gift annuity through a will. It is, of course, crucial that both the bequest amount and annuity payout are made clear by the terms of the will.

coffee mug and computer

A donor considering a testamentary gift annuity should directly address three important questions:

  1. What if the designated annuitant(s) predecease the testator? Donor may want to specify a contingent annuitant or provide for an outright bequest to Charity.
  2. What if the charity no longer exists at death? Or, what if the charity is either unable or unwilling to accept the gift? The donor may want to name a contingent charitable beneficiary.
  3. What about the payout rate? The donor should leave the charity some degree of flexibility in the payout rate, to assure the 10% minimum charitable interest requirement can be met in the future.

You may have many more questions regarding charitable gift annuities and your personal situation. Feel free to contact me any time to discuss how to maximize your gift. I offer a one-hour free consultation, without any obligation. I can be reached any time at my email, gordon@gordonfischerlawfirm.com, or on my cell, 515-371-6077.