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Guest Column: Time for year-end giving

December 21, 2011

By John R. Mecklenburg

Did anyone happen to catch the special section on philanthropy in The Wall Street Journal on the Monday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 28)? The lead story focused on a debate whether philanthropies should operate like businesses or not.

A full page and a half was devoted to two opposing viewpoints concerning philanthropies operating, or not operating, like businesses. The “business-like proponents” argue that “If your acts of philanthropy come only from your soul, you may be throwing your money into a stream of underperforming organizations that mean well.” And the “non-business proponents” argue that by focusing on return-on-investment (ROI) numbers, “the poorest will suffer,” because the problems that are the easiest to solve (greater ROI) generally aren’t those of society’s neediest.

It’s not that much of a debate, in my opinion. Of course, philanthropies need to employ reasonable decision-making and follow acceptable business practices … because we live in a “no money — no mission” society. At the same time, there are many times when the needs of society must come before the “safest” or “highest ROI” solutions. Likewise, in stable economic times, funds need to be placed “in reserve,” to replenish reserve resources or to build reserves for the future (rather than being spent immediately).

I appreciate the Wall shining their national light on philanthropy, here at year-end, but I think they could have found a more important topic to use in their cover article.

• Once again, the tax-free IRA/charitable rollover provisions are scheduled to expire Dec. 31 of this year. This is the provision that allows individuals 70-1/2 or older to rollover up to $100,000 directly from a traditional (or Roth) IRA to a charity, without declaring the funds as income on their tax return.

Restrictions on the provision do not allow gifts from a 401(k) or to donor-advised funds or supporting organizations, and the gift is not tax deductible as a charitable gift. At the same time, the rollover CAN be counted as part of your minimum annual distribution. If this is something that may have benefits for you, contact your accountant or financial adviser for specifics … and complete your gift prior to Dec. 31.

And remember, all year-end giving must be POST-MARKED by Dec. 31, to be deductible in this tax year. The date on the check is irrelevant. And FedEx or UPS are not considered the same as a U.S. Post Office postmark. Think about your year-end giving and put your Social Capital to work today helping us build a better community tomorrow.

John R. Mecklenburg is executive vice president and CEO of SwedishAmerican Foundation.

From the Dec. 21-27, 2011, issue

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