Charitable Giving and Estate Planning: Elevate Your Pitch to Potential Donors

Date November 28, 2022
Article Authors

Almost all charitable organizations have one thing in common. They rely on donor support to carry out their tax-exempt purposes. However, attracting donors and receiving sufficient funds to continue operations year-to-year is often challenging and timeconsuming, requiring valuable resources that an organization might or might not have. Following is a guide for charitable organizations that want to elevate their pitch to potential donors by highlighting the tax planning benefits available to your charitable organization and the donor.

Income Tax vs. Estate Tax

It is important to understand which type of tax most concerns the donor. In most instances, it will be the immediate benefits: “Will I get an income tax deduction from this donation, and how much will it save me in income taxes?” But focusing solely on the immediate benefits ignores the value of a proper charitable giving provision within an estate plan.

The donors most sought after, those with significant assets, likely have an estate that is or will be subject to estate tax. With the current estate tax rate at 40 percent and the estate tax exclusion (the amount that can pass to a decedent’s heirs free of estate tax) set to be cut in half in 2026, these high net worth individuals are likely to consider charitable planning as a means of mitigating or eliminating future estate taxes.

Understanding the Assets

Not all assets are equal when it comes to charitable giving. For example, donating a minority interest in a closely held corporation may not provide the same charitable deduction benefits as a gift of publicly traded securities. In addition, the gift of the closely held corporation generally results in greater complexity for the charitable organization, often leading to compliance issues that a nonprofit might not have the resources to address properly.

Donors often are willing to use retirement funds for charitable giving. Retirement fund distributions are taxable at ordinary income tax rates, whether received by the original owner of the fund or a beneficiary. Retirement plans are also subject to estate tax if the owner has a taxable estate. The ultimate tax rate on inherited retirement funds can exceed 40 percent. As such, the donor can generate significant tax savings by leaving retirement funds to a charity, generally higher than tax savings achieved by donating other estate assets.

During life, a donor meeting the age requirements can also make a qualified charitable distribution from their retirement plan directly to a charity and exclude the distribution from income. Because those distributions will count as part of their required minimum distribution, donors can get a greater overall tax benefit by using this strategy for their charitable giving.

Nonprofits that understand and can discuss the tax consequences of donating different kinds of assets to both the donor and the charitable organization will go a long way to protecting the organization and impressing the donor. Organizations should have a written policy that addresses the types of donations they can and will receive. This will help guide discussions with potential donors and provide guidelines for minimizing risk to the organization.

Charitable Trust Strategies

Many high-net-worth individuals explore using trusts to accomplish some of their charitable giving. These types of trusts can provide both income tax and estate tax savings to the donor and can also provide a significant benefit to the charitable organization beneficiary if structured and funded correctly. Two types of charitable trusts are generally used; a Charitable Remainder Trust (CRT) or a Charitable Lead Trust (CLT). A CRT has a non-charitable beneficiary during the term of the trust, with the remainder payable to a charitable beneficiary. A CLT is the reverse, with a charitable beneficiary during the term of the trust and the remainder payable to a noncharitable beneficiary.

  • Charitable Remainder Trust: Donors preferring to receive income tax benefits generally use a CRT. The donor will typically fund a CRT with low-basis assets that the CRT will then generally sell. The gain recognized on the sale will then pass to the non-charitable beneficiary over the term of the CRT, which allows the non-charitable beneficiary to spread the tax effects of the gain over multiple years instead of in one year. Often a charitable organization will help manage a CRT, on the one hand, to relieve some of the administrative burdens, but also to maintain greater control over the trust investments to ensure a greater remainder value for the organization.
  • Charitable Lead Trust: Donors generally use a CLT for estate planning purposes either to limit future appreciation and “freeze” the value of the assets included in the gross estate or to provide a charitable benefit without giving away an incomeproducing asset. Donors can claim an income tax deduction for a portion of the transfer to the CLT, but if they do they will essentially recapture that deduction in future years when they will be responsible for paying income tax on the earnings of the CLT. If they do not claim an income tax deduction, then the CLT itself claims a charitable deduction when payments are made to the charitable beneficiary.
  • Payment Terms: Both a CRT and a CLT can be structured either as an annuity or a unitrust. An annuity is calculated when the trust is funded, and the income beneficiary—the non-charitable beneficiary of a CRT or the charitable beneficiary of a CLT—will receive the same amount each year for the term of the trust. The annuity is generally calculated to allow for a residuary payment to the remainder beneficiary when the trust terminates, but if the trust assets lose value over time, the annuity payments may fully deplete the trust assets. A unitrust payment helps to hedge against a potential loss in the value of the assets in the trust. The unitrust payment is a percentage, typically between five and ten percent, calculated annually using the fair market value of the trust assets as of a defined date. This means that the annual payment owed to the income beneficiary will either increase or decrease as the assets of the trust increase or decrease. In other words, it puts all beneficiaries on the same side, benefitting if the assets are properly invested to allow for future growth.
  • Other Considerations

    Many, if not most of the families we work with who are charitably inclined, want a charitable legacy that will carry on through the generations. They are often provided with the option of creating their own private foundation or contributing to a donoradvised fund, allowing all family members to plan for charitable giving together. While these recommendations will provide them with a method for maintaining their charitable giving into the future, they are not the only options that can and should be provided to donors. One often overlooked option is to find a charitable organization whose exempt purpose resonates with the family and help fund an endowment that can provide a lasting income stream to the organization. If fundraising for an endowment is done properly, and the organization can speak to the family’s desire to have a charitable legacy that will continue for years, then both the donor and the organization benefit.

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