Discussing Charitable Giving

Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) is very proud of the work we do to help professional advisors strengthen their relationships with clients.

“How You Ask the Question” matters — The UK Institute of Fundraising undertook a study in 2013 to compare the results when three different approaches were taken by lawyers preparing wills.

A better question led to over six times the support for charities!

  1. No question about charities was asked
  2. Test 1: “Would you like to leave any money to a charity in your will?
  3. Test 2: “Many of our clients like to leave money to a charity in their will. Are there causes you are passionate about?”

Amazingly, almost 5% of people included a gift to charity even when a question was not asked. The percent was doubled by asking the first question. The average value of the gift did not increase.

However, over 15% included a gift to charity in the third case. Not only that, the average gift amount was doubled. Six times!

It is unfair to ask most clients to “name that charity” because they may not have an accurate idea of which charities do the work they want to support – or even that a favorite organization is a registered charity.

It is extremely common that clients wanting to make a difference have never before described to anyone what they want to accomplish. After hundreds of meetings with donors, ECF has developed a process for helping clients to articulate areas of interest, favorite organizations and issues that concern them.

Some better starting questions may include (not exhaustive!):

  • Do you have favorite interests? Do you take part in any favorite activities?
  • Have you or someone important to you benefited from the services of any organization? Health? School? Library? Recreation?
  • Do you participate in a club or enjoy art opportunities (music, theatre, dance, visual arts?)
  • Are there any issues or concerns that you would like to help solve?
  • Are there organizations that you value? What makes them important to you? Did any of them contribute to your success?
  • If you could do anything at all to make a difference, do you have an idea that appeals to you?

The “giving question” makes more sense in the context of what they have told you:

  • Have you ever considered making a gift that would support any of these (if we could plan for it in a way that leaves plenty of your estate for your family)?
  • Would making those services available to others appeal to you (if we could save taxes along the way)?

All clients can benefit from discussing charitable gifts in life and through their estate because the tax savings are significant. Clients who have been identified as having the most need for charitable gift planning include:

  • Surviving spouses
  • People without children or with grown children (keeping Warren Buffet’s quote in mind)
  • People with appreciated publicly traded securities (wonderful tax rules apply to gifts in-kind of these)
  • Owners of other appreciated assets (securities, real estate, privately held companies)
  • People who are financially comfortable but do not consider themselves to be “wealthy”
  • People with a connection to one or more charities or causes (e.g. volunteers, donors, grateful recipients of services etc.).

Any time you want to get to know your client better, improve your relationship, and spark new discussions. Here are some of the most common effective “touch points”

  • Year-end tax planning or tax return preparation – gifts to Canadian registered charities save taxes
  • RRSP season – when there will be no surviving spouse, these assets can create significant taxes that a great charitable gift can reduce
  • Insurance discussions – particularly if a client wants to let an old insurance policy lapse because it has outlived its original purpose, a gift of the policy (option 1) or making a charity the beneficiary of the policy (option 2) are tax effective ways to revitalize an existing policy for a new purpose.
  • Will and estate discussions – there are many ways to allow your clients to choose the recipients of their estates by reducing taxes
  • If your client asks about a private foundation – you will know that they have charitable intentions – ECF can help you identify easier, less costly approaches to fulfilling your clients’ goals.
  • Especially during significant life transitions such as:
    • sale of a business or other major asset
    • especially planning for the year of the sale (charitable gifts cannot be “carried back” to prior years except in the case of a death)
    • retirement and retirement planning
    • as your clients reflect on their careers, next stages and what defines their values and purpose;
    • converting an RRSP into a RRIF
    • your clients may not need all of the required (and taxable) RRIF withdrawals for their lifestyle and may relish the opportunity to use these for another (tax saving) purpose
    • downsizing and sale of a home/cottage etc.
    • may provide your clients with the means to make gifts important to them
    • receiving an inheritance or other windfall
    • may lead clients to make gifts in memory of the person from whom they received the amount or make a previously unattainable gift possible
    • readjusting assets after the death of a loved one
    • which may also lead to memorial tribute gifts and reflection on matters of importance to the client.

Here are some additional/other questions and comments that you may find useful:

  • Are you making charitable donations now that you would like to continue after your lifetime?
  • (Where you already know your client well) — I know you have been very supportive of (cause/charity). Would you like to continue that support through your estate plan?
  • Have you considered what will happen to your estate if you live longer than some of your beneficiaries? Would you prefer their share to go to an organization or cause that is important to you rather than to more distant relatives.

Warren Buffet has been quoted as saying “Parents should leave children enough money so they feel they could do anything but not so much that they could do nothing.”

  • Do you share his vision?
  • If you have three adult children, will it make a tremendous difference to them if they receive 30% of your estate instead of 1/3rd? If not, you have 10 percent that you can use for other causes that are important to you.

Sir Alfred Nobel accidentally had the opportunity to read his own obituary, was deeply offended and changed how he would be remembered by creating the Nobel Peace Prizes.

  • If you could choose how the world will remember you, what would you like said?
  • Is there something we should be including in your estate plan that identifies your values?