Randolph Brinton, a financial advisor and senior vice president at Ferris, Baker Watts Inc. in Baltimore, had a client who wanted to give 10 different charities $5,000 a year each by selling some securities and other assets. It was a doable job, but a time-consuming one for both the advisor and the client. The solution was to give the lump sum to the Baltimore Community Foundation and let it sell the assets and dole out the money.
To use an overworked cliché, it was a win-win solution all the way around. "Giving the money to the Baltimore Community Foundation was a simple way for us to accomplish the client's goal, and it helped the foundation and it strengthened my relationship with the client because I helped him accomplish what he wanted," says Brinton, who works frequently with the foundation.
Helping wealthy clients set up charitable giving plans or donor-advised funds through one of the 650 community foundations that now exist in the United States is becoming more popular with financial advisors as they learn the advantages of working through the community groups. Community foundations know the local charity needs, they say, but also understand the national and international not-for-profit community, and they can simplify the process of achieving philanthropic goals for the wealthy.
Despite the current flagging economy, charitable giving is expected to total more than $2.7 trillion over the next 10 years, with a significant part of that going to donor-advised funds, and many of those funds will be set up through community foundations.
These entities started more than a century ago as vehicles for families or individuals to give to local charities or causes. Then, in the 1990s, say foundation members, some people started questioning the reliability of some not-for-profits to deliver charity where it was needed. Thus, the community foundations began to grow as a way to help donors screen charities, assure that more money went where the donors wanted it to go and assure that it helped the people in need. Donor-advised funds, which are charitable-giving vehicles administered by a third party on behalf of the donor, became a part of that.
Contributions to donor-advised funds, many of them established through these foundations, are growing by nearly 25% a year, says Bill Hewitt, national marketing director for Crown Philanthropic Solutions in New York, a company that builds software enabling philanthropists, financial advisors and the directors of donor-advised funds to communicate more easily. Much of that growth in donations stems from financial advisors who are helping clients fill their philanthropic goals and give back to their communities by directing the money to these foundations.
"We have really worked at establishing relationships with financial advisors of all sorts-bankers, broker-dealers, accountants, registered investment advisors and others, with the result that about 60% of our new business is coming from financial advisors," says Kenny Emson, vice president for development and donor services for The Community Foundation for the National Capital Region in Washington D.C.
Kelley McGeehan, philanthropic services officer for the Baltimore Community Foundation, one of the larger community organizations in the nation, adds, "We have a lengthy history of partnerships with financial advisors, but there are still a lot who do not know who we are or what we do.
"Many advisors ask why they should refer a client to us when they can manage the assets themselves, but there are several reasons why we can be good partners," McGeehan says. "The Baltimore Community Foundation can deal with cash contributions, but we can also accept any kind of assets: real estate, stocks, appreciated securities and many others."
The community foundation can hold the assets or reinvest them and then distribute them over time to the charities the donor prefers. Technically, because of IRS regulations, the donor cannot direct the investment or the distribution; he or she can only "advise" the foundation. But Nancy Fax, chairwoman of the Montgomery County (Virginia) Community Foundation, says, "I have never seen a situation when a donor wanted something done, that his or her wishes were not honored. We would always do that."