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Charitable Giving May Be Easier Than You Think

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by Bill Hurd '61

Would you like to be able to give more to charity? Most people today just don’t have extra income. Even those with a pretty good income are being careful about spending, and are trying to save for a rainy day or for retirement. Retired people are especially careful, because they are probably not in a position to go out and earn more money if they ever need it. Retired people who have pensions, IRAs or savings are worried that they might outlive their money, and today’s low interest rates make them very concerned as they have to dip into their savings.  Some retired people have a nice home, but little income; they are called house-poor. Many people in one of these circumstances would like to donate to some or more to charity, but they just don’t have the cash flow to be as generous as they would like to be.

If you would like to be more charitable, you could consider gifting to charity when you no longer have need for your assets. Yes, I mean leaving a bequest to charity. A typical resistance to making a charitable bequest is that people have family who will get their estates. People say “Why should I give everything to charity when I have children and grandchildren?” Or, “All I have is my house, and my son, daughter or children will get that.”  Well, I’m not suggesting you give everything to charity, or that you deprive your children and grandchildren, but if you ever wanted to tithe, this may be the opportunity. And I’m not saying you should give ten percent, but I am suggesting that you consider giving a percentage or dollar amount that makes you happy and comfortable.

Don’t worry that your gift might be too small. Clarkson and many other charities will appreciate your gift of any size. Small gifts are very important to Clarkson, because large philanthropies like to donate to colleges that have a large and loyal base of donors. When you donate to Clarkson, you can specify how your gift will be used. For example, if you would like to support scholarships, you might donate to an existing scholarship fund.

I am also not saying that Clarkson should be your only charity. Wherever you live, there are small local charities that do good work. Most of them work on a shoestring budget. Many charities that do good work are in danger of running out of money and folding. They do so much good work that there is never enough money. Even a small gift to one of these important charities might be the gift that keeps them going. Yes, you can make a difference!

One Clarkson friend told me his children were pretty comfortable, so he planned to leave his considerable estate to his many grandchildren. It seems to me that these heirs would not be harmed if he added one more share for charity. He could explain why he did this, and probably make the grandchildren happy that they were able to contribute indirectly. Maybe it would even teach the grandkids the value and pleasure of being charitable.

How about those of you who are house-poor? When I was active in a church, there was an older man who wished he could give more that his usual five dollars, but his social security and small fixed pension did not allow this. He wished he could do more, but his house – his only valuable asset – was going to his only son. It was obvious to me, but not to the older gentleman, that his son would sell the house, because he already owned a home quite a distance away, near where he worked. It really wouldn’t have harmed the son if the father had left a small percentage of the value of the house to the church, and it might have made both father and son feel very generous.

The house-poor situation is more obvious when there are several heirs. Then everyone realizes that the house will be sold, and each heir will get a share. So a small share to charity is not much of an obstacle.

How about those of you with an IRA, 401(k) or other retirement account? These accounts are intended to provide retirement security, with benefits to heirs being secondary. It is simple to name Clarkson as a beneficiary for a percentage of what is left when you no longer need it. If you are married, you probably want to name your spouse as the primary beneficiary, and name you children and possibly a charity as contingent beneficiaries with your desired percentages. If you pass on before your spouse, your spouse can either change the beneficiaries, or promote your contingent beneficiaries to be the new primary beneficiaries. A charitable bequest from an IRA is also a tax-efficient way of giving, because a charity does not have to pay tax on withdrawals from an IRA, as do individuals.

Please don’t get the idea that I’m trying to push you into something that is not right for you. I’m merely suggesting possible ways to be more charitable than you ever thought possible, if you are so inclined.


Read Bill's article, "Family First with a Charitable Trust"
Read Bill's article, "Trust Your Children or Trust a Trust"
Read Bill's article, "Take Care of Yourself First"
Read Bill's article, "Retirement Income for Financial Conservatives"
Read Bill's article, "A Charitable Trust Might be for You"
Read Bill's article, "Do You Have a Tax Problem?"
Read Bill's article, "Why and How We Give to Clarkson"

Footnote: Bill Hurd passed away in 2016.  This article is published in thanks and admiration to a loyal Clarkson alumnus.

(rev. 12/2016)