Charles Schwab & Co.'s charitable giving division is usually in the business of donations, not ten-yard downs. And yet, in 2005, the division briefly found itself in the odd position of being part owner of the Minnesota Vikings. A client had decided to give up his stake in the team and punt it into a donor-advised fund.

A football team?

"We received this phone call from a financial advisor who says he's got a client who owns a portion of the Vikings and wants to liquidate it," says Schwab Charitable's president Kim Wright-Violich. "And he would like to use that to fund a charitable gift account. But he doesn't know if it's possible. So we say we think it is possible."

Schwab contacted an expert who focuses on difficult-to-value assets. "Of course, a portion of the Minnesota Vikings you can't pick up with your hands," Wright-Violich continues. "It's not traded on a stock exchange, so valuing it is a bit more complex. You can't go online and determine instantly what its value is."

Schwab's caveat to the advisor was that, in such a case, the company would want a buyer identified and already on hand (so that the company is not managing the team). The client then transferred the title to the donor-advised fund, which then turned around and sold it to the new buyer. "That cash funds the donor's charitable gift account, and they make grants out of it for as long as they like."

And it's not just those types of assets. Often it's real estate. Or it could be a racehorse. Or even a seat on a mercantile exchange (something else Schwab has taken on). Stuff that's a lot headier than taking old dungarees and dropping them off at the Salvation Army.

Charitable giving has changed a lot. Though some of the assets may be odd, what's sometimes more interesting is the way that more people are giving online-rating the charities they use themselves, tracking how the dollars are spent to see their money at work and getting their families involved.

Changes in the law have also made giving more interesting, and sometimes more frustrating. With the Pension Protection Act of 2006 donors could, for a while at least, take $100,000 out of their IRA tax free if they were over 70½ and put that directly into a charity. But that option changed back into a pumpkin at the beginning of 2008 and is no longer available, even though proponents are lobbying Congress to renew it. Other parts of the act were less kind, such as the one that curtailed some fractional giving rules, thus creating a freeze on the donation of paintings to museums. Another thing that took a hit was certain kinds of supporting organizations, which became prohibited for granting to under the act.  

"We had clients who may have been giving to their favorite alma mater via supporting organizations," says Page Snow, a senior vice president at Foundation Source, "and it was a huge surprise to them that they could no longer give to these organizations."
Snow says she's sure that donors who weren't given some sort of screening apparatus were running afoul of the law.

More Giving Than Ever

People may be currently watching the tax laws and biting their nails at a thought of recession, but even amid such crises in the past, charitable giving has been redoubtable. According to Giving USA, a publication written by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, Americans gave $295.02 billion in 2006, and this is 2.2% of GDP, higher than the 40-year average of 1.8%.

First « 1 2 3 4 » Next