While the most common way to satisfy charitable commitments is with cash and appreciated securities, an often uncommon means available to donors is to utilize “stuff:” items of value that are often very attractive to collectors and which can become practical ways to satisfy philanthropic obligations.
Donors at all levels, but most notably high net worth contributors, periodically utilize non-cash giving. Art museums have received benefactions of pieces of art for decades and other types of nonprofits have welcomed real estate, especially when property was highly valued and represented an easy way for a donor to avoid costly capital gains taxes while satisfying a pledge.
A recent synagogue client received a valuable sculpture, valued at $300,000, when a member inherited the piece from a deceased relative. The donor did not want the piece and made the gift with two important stipulations: the congregation had to hold the piece for at least three years and that it is displayed prominently (requirements made for tax considerations subject to the related-use and tax exempt purpose rules of the 501(c)3 ).
Another congregation was nearly the recipient of a time-share at a Poconos resort, carrying with it a value of about $10,000. Fortunately formal Gift Acceptance policies prohibited the institution from accepting a gift of this type and the donor ultimately made cash payment for a campaign pledge instead.
Laura Linder, executive director of the Jewish Foundation of Memphis, is talking passionately these days about two gifts the Foundation has received within recent months from older Jewish philanthropists originally unaware of the power of gifting valuable collections.
The Foundation received the first gift in late 2011 when a member of the Jewish community, Susan Adler Thorp, began breaking up the estate of her late parents, Herta and Dr. Justin Hans Adler, and considered ways to deal with a Tiffany glass collection her mother had amassed. Determining that no living relatives wanted the collection, she contacted the Foundation and made arrangements through Mrs. Linder to transfer a significant portion of the collection that took more than 50 years to create.
After cataloging the objects and working in concert with one of the nation’s top auction houses, the Foundation received very significant proceeds earmarked for and added to the Herta and Justin H. Adler Philanthropic Fund, the family’s donor advised fund (DAF). Proceeds from the auction of that collection will be used in part to help fund the purchase of life-saving prescription medications for senior citizens, the Temple Israel Museum, and other charitable organizations designed to help make life better for others.
While the Adlers were avid collectors of art, they also were dedicated philanthropists, often saying that “charity is the gift you give for having a good life,” noted Mrs. Thorp. “My parents shared an eye for beauty and a love for art,” she said. “My mother’s passion was collecting Tiffany glass. Nearly everything in the collection was found as my mother searched for Tiffany glass.” All of the items in the collection were sold in a special Heritage Signature Auction of Lalique and Art Glass in New York City on November 19th. The much- anticipated live auction generated far more than the book value of the collection.
A second non-cash gift came to the Memphis Foundation earlier this year as a result of an anonymous Jewish couple preparing to downsize. The donor had passionately developed an enormous coin collection, including U.S. coins, shekels, and other pieces of varying value. The Foundation has contracted with an auction house to catalogue the coins and it is expected to go to auction in several venues later in 2012. Proceeds could exceed $500,000 and will also be used to create a DAF for an as-yet-to-be-determined set of purposes.
“During the ten years I have been at the Foundation, we have received several real estate gifts,” Laura Linder told us. “But until recently I had never even considered the power of encouraging donors to make non-cash gifts of this type or of this magnitude. This is an eye-opener for all of us at the Foundation.”
Tax implications for donors using collected items are a motivator, for sure, especially if offspring have little or no appreciation for or interest in “the stuff,” a commonly used term voiced by Bob Koo, a Palm Beach-based art and philanthropy consultant to the high net worth philanthropically-focused. “While our work is focused especially on successful individuals and families, there are certainly implications for donors of all levels,” he says.
Koo conducts educational seminars across the U.S. and has written extensively about the approaches that nonprofits might consider to attract part or all of collected possessions. Very often, he says, “things” that people have collected probably have no significant value … other than to the collector. “But in other instances, fine art of all types, books and manuscripts, coins and medals, clocks and watches, entertainment and space memorabilia, furniture, jewelry, vintage motor cars or wines and whiskeys can have large price tags. And when estate planning requires significant taxes, nonprofits can benefit significantly when they openly encourage donors to make gifts of this type … prior to their passing.”
Both Koo and Linder have told us about other circumstances where donors have talked about people who have considered charitable gifts to either satisfy current priorities or pave the way for other charitable opportunities. Both share a common recommendation to nonprofits: market the concepts actively and showcase the values of gifting collectables.
One other important consideration for nonprofits accepting non-cash gifts: carefully review your Gift Acceptance policies and update the written, formal documents so that you minimize jeopardy and are prepared with responses when potential donors inquire about gifting collectibles. Nonprofits should review such policies annually but giving beyond “conventional” methods requires careful strategies and policies.