By Sarah Ruef-Lindquist, JD, CTFA
In June 2018, the Chronicle of Philanthropy, in an article by Megan O’Neil, predicted a $16.3 billion drop in charitable giving due to the tax laws enacted in late 2017. That prediction was echoed throughout the news media, sending chills down the spines of executive and development directors in the non-profit sector.
Nine out of 10 wealthy households gave to charity in 2017, according to the 2018 Study of US High Net Worth Philanthropy conducted in partnership with the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy by US Trust/Bank of America Private Wealth Management, released October 24, 2018. (link for reference, new window) The average amount given to charity by these households was slightly more than $29,000, an increase of 15% over 2015.
The biennial report is in its seventh edition since the series began in 2006.
There has been much concern expressed about the impact on philanthropy of the 2017 tax law changes, specifically a predicted negative impact on charitable donations because of the increase in the standard deduction to $12,000 per person and reduced reliance on itemized deductions.
However, as we’ve opined previously about the degree to which tax benefits drive charitable give, the fear among this demographic cohort is likely unfounded. The vast majority of wealthy households expect to maintain (84 percent) or increase (4 percent) the amount they give to charity in 2018 under the new federal tax law passed late in 2017.
Receiving tax benefits is generally not a prime motivation for giving. Just 17% of those surveyed said this was always a motivation, and 51% indicated it sometimes did…which means for 49% it doesn’t and for the 51 % who indicated it did sometimes, that would imply that for 51% it doesn’t always.
The important take-away here is that for high net worth individuals, those often making the largest charitable gifts, charitable intent motivates their giving more than any tax benefit, which is good news in an era of decreasing tax benefit.
What we’ve discussed above is charitable support to operating or annual budgets of organizations that would often appear on an itemized income tax return of the donor. These gifts are often given from income, as contrasted with gifts from wealth, which are often deemed “planned gifts” through estates.
Indeed, even the elimination of estate taxes would cause only 5% of HNW individuals to reduce their planned giving according to the US Trust Study of the Philanthropic Conversation, examining the perspective that advisors have compared to their HNW clients on charitable giving. (link for reference, PDF, new window)
This study, released earlier in 2018 done in conjunction with The Philanthropic Initiative, also found that just 42% of high net worth individuals would reduce their charitable giving if income tax benefit was removed.
The sampling for the study was of approximately 1,600 households with net income of over $200,000 and/or assets of $1M or more, not including principal residence.
So perhaps this is some “good news” that organizations from which to gain hope for our society, as philanthropy continues to address some of the critical issues of our time through the work of the non-profit sector.
As always, consult your financial and tax advisors before making any significant gifts or changes to your financial plans to be sure they fit within your overall, long-term financial and estate planning goals.