Giving Means Letting Go

At The Community Foundation Serving Richmond and Central Virginia, I have helped many donors structure their charitable gifts, both short-term and long-term. In doing so, I have come to understand that the specificity of a donor's guidance should decrease as the time frame of the gift lengthens.

Why so? In the short run, the donor typically feels a personal attachment to the work of a charitable organization. He or she has been touched or in some way or has participated in the charity's mission. The leaders are known. Their focus is clear. The need that the charity addresses is palpable.

The savvy donor also realizes that clarity diminishes over time. The staff leaders of the favored charitable organization will change. Board members will change. The charity's focus may change, and its execution may change. In the very long run, the need the charity addresses may change.

Thus, short term gifts can be very specific. A donor may justifiably feel comfortable giving to a specific charity for a very specific use. With the passage of time, however, a highly restrictive gift can become problematic. The need it addresses may change, or the charity's capability to deploy the gift effectively may diminish due to staff and volunteer turnover.

Thus, I advise donors to think strategically when they contemplate the long-term impact of their giving. If a donor feels highly confident in the long-term viability of a charity, then a long-term endowment may designate that charity but should provide it with broad flexibility. If the charity is not well endowed and relies on a handful of individuals for its viability, then a long-term endowment should address broadly the charity's field of interest rather than accrue to the charity specifically. The favored charity may be given preference as long as it operates effectively, but should not be the exclusive grantee.

Giving is hard work. Givers are passionate about people, charitable organizations and charitable causes that touch their lives. The most strategic givers are similarly dispassionate in the long run, understanding that the people and charitable organizations they know are less enduring than the charitable causes these people and charitable organizations serve.

Robert Thalhimer

Posted at 6:12 AM, Jun 15, 2007 in High Net Worth Donors | Permalink | Comment