Last week, I mentioned I met my goal for charitable giving for 2007. The modest goal, which I set for myself at the end of last year, was to provide $1,000 in support of an organization meaningful to me. This year, I decided to separate myself further from the organization I normally support, which also happens to be a former employer. It’s not that I don’t believe in what they do, but I have some issues with their methods.
I want to make sure my money helps an organization reach its stated goal, and I will only give to an organization whose goals, mission statement, and vision match my own values. In addition, it helps to have a strong knowledge of the inner workings of the organization. Unfortunately, it’s this strong knowledge that has turned away from the group I formerly supported.
This past year, I’ve had difficulty coming up with a replacement besides the pfblogs.org Financial Literacy Challenge. This has been a frustration for me, particularly because I wouldn’t mind managing an arts education foundation of some sort. While researching methods for starting a foundation — an endeavor better attempted by someone with millions of dollars ready to be dedicated and willingness to spend a lot of money just to run the foundation — I came across the idea of the charitable gift fund.
The charitable gift fund allows me to make a contribution to a general fund now without specifying a direct recipient. That also allows me to take a tax deduction for the contribution this year while taking my time to decide where the money should go. In the mean time, the funds are invested and presumably appreciated along with the rest of the stock market.
Charitable gift funds, or more specifically donor-advised funds, are organized by several brokerages and public charities. I chose the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund thanks to its low barrier of entry (only $5,000 to open an account and subsequent investments must be at least $1,000) and its relatively low fees (0.6% including the underlying expense ratios, with a minimum of $100).
In return for the ability to take the tax deduction now, I give up my ability to manage and distribute the funds directly. However, I can recommend grants to charities as long as they are registered under regulation 401(c)3, and therefore legal non-profit entities. It would be very rare for Fidelity or any other custodian to reject a donee suggested by the donor as long as the organizations are not-for-profit and the donor doesn’t directly benefit from the organization’s receipt of the funds.
When I sent in my $5,000 to establish my donor-advised fund, I selected to invest the money in Fidelity’s Spartan 500 Index Fund (FSMKX), which carries an expense ratio of 0.1%. I could have transferred securities or other assets to the fund, but I opted to send cash. Unfortunately, they don’t support ACH transfers, so I had to write a check. A wire would have cost extra money.
Now that the fund is established, I can suggest grants at any time in amounts of $100 or more. The $5,000 I sent to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund is irrevocable, so it can only be used for charity. I’ve surpassed my “stretch goal” of $2,000 for 2007. In the process of establishing the fund, I sort of circumvented the most important part, getting that money into the hands of organizations for their use towards their missions. However, I’ve ensured that once I select recipients I will be contributing more than I would have otherwise.
If you’re interested in starting your own philanthropic endeavors through a charitable gift fund, here are some resources to get you started.
- Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund (minimum of $5,000 to establish an account)
- Vangard Charitable Endowment Program: Donor-Advised Funds (minimum of $25,000 to establish an account)
- National Philanthropic Trust: Independent Charitable Gift Fund (minimum of $25,000 to establish an account)
- Charitable Gift Trusts at The Motley Fool
- You Can Be Your Own Charitable Foundation at MSN Money
photo credit: johntrainor
Updated August 9, 2011 and originally published December 27, 2007.