A Time to Give


Thoughts often turn to charitable causes at the end of the year

Psychologists and neuroscientists have identified several ways that giving makes people more effective and successful. New research from the University of Oregon, for example, finds that charity stimulates parts of the brain associated with meeting basic needs such as food and shelter — suggesting to researchers that our brains know that giving is good for us.

The holiday season is often a bountiful one for non-profit organizations, primarily because donors assess what sort of year it was financially and determine how much they can pass along to charity. But many people are motivated to share their wealth for reasons other than tax credits or financial planning.

“Many people, at the end of each year, reflect on how much they have and feel compelled to give to those who have much less,” says Susan Fink, philanthropy officer at the American Refugee Committee (www.arcrelief.org), a Minneapolis-based organization providing humanitarian assistance to displaced refugees around the world. “We live in such a wealthy nation. Even those who struggle to put gifts under their own tree often realize they are still much better off than a significant portion of the world’s population.”

Setting An Example

Often, contributing to charities at year’s end is a tradition that has been handed down through generations.

“Giving is a learned behavior, yet it’s something that’s learned by experience more so than by being taught,” says Scott Nelson, director of Planned and Major Gifts for Gillette Children’s Foundation (www.curepity.org). The non-profit hospital, located in St. Paul, is internationally recognized for being at the forefront of medical treatment, technology, education, and research for children with disabilities.

“People generally learn by example, whether that’s from parents, pastors or someone else,” Nelson adds. “It’s often a ‘try it, you’ll like it’ concept.”

The challenge for most non-profit organizations is gaining the allegiance of individual donors so that their generosity becomes more than a one-time contribution. To that end, administrators like Nelson and Fink spend the bulk of their time working on “planned gifts,” in which individuals or families bequest money to the charity of their choice.

If donors don’t have a specific charity in mind, donor-advised funds allow them to contribute cash, stocks or other assets to a charitable foundation that manages the money. A donor receives the charitable deduction in the year they make the gift, but can determine over many years where those funds should go.

According to Nelson, “By making bequests and other planned gifts, you can continue to help organizations that are making an important difference in your community.”

Jean Vukas Roberts, vice president of development for two prominent Twin Cities community foundations, The Saint Paul Foundation (www.saintpaulfoundation.org) and the Minnesota Community Foundation (www.mncommunityfoundation.org), says a common misperception about foundations such as these is that they are vehicles for wealthy donors. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be Warren Buffet to give to a charity or foundation. People of all income levels contribute.

There are 800 donors between the two foundations, with donated amounts ranging from $10,000 to $78 million.

‘Tis the season to give, and giving to a community charity or foundation is a win-win for everyone involved.