Earlier this year I discussed how I was going to follow Flexo’s lead  and open up a Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund . The idea behind the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund is that you can make a charitable donation now, have the assets appreciate, and then decide where donations will go later on. Much like how a mutual fund is actually an organization, the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund is an organization. When you donate money, you are donating to the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund and you have two options as to where the money goes. You can either open up a Giving Account under your name (or any name you wish) or open up a Pooled Income Fund.
This is the type of account Flexo talked about and one that I was seriously considering. What you do is open a Giving Account, contribute funds, direct how the funds are to be invested, and then recommend grants. You will notice that all the documents say that you will “recommend” which organizations will be the beneficiary of your funds, but they aren’t legally bound to honor your wishes. I think that specific language is used for legal purposes but they honor most recommendations.
Pooled Income Fund
This is the second option and one I hadn’t considered. It’s part charitable fund and half income generation, akin to an annuity, though the final payout goes to a charitable organization (up to 10). So let’s say you contribute $10,000. You direct where the contributions will be invested and you can select up to two beneficiaries. Each quarter, the proceeds from your investments will be paid out to the beneficiaries. Upon the death of the final beneficiary, the value of the account goes towards charities. It’s different than the Giving Account and less desirable for what I’d like to accomplish.
So, it sounds pretty easy right? Why wouldn’t everyone do this? (these concerns cover only the Giving Account)
- Initial limits and fees: The initial contribution has to be greater than $5,000 and each additional contribute has to be greater than $1,000. The fees include the expenses of the investments plus an Annual Administrative Fee. The administrative fee is the greater of 0.60% of the total fund value or $100 for the first half million, 0.3% for the second half million, 0.2% for the next million and a half, and 0.15% for the rest up to five million. Beyond that and the fees are different. If you were to contribute $5,000, you’d be talking an administrative fee of 2% plus the underlying investment fees. If you don’t have $5,000 or you don’t want to pay any of these fees, you might want to just donate directly to a charity.
- Time horizon: Since you do select investments for your contributions, there is the potential that your investments will lose value. So, if you plan on doing this, contribute funds you think you might want to use next year or the year after (or, ideally, in five years). Increasing the time horizon will smooth out the random walk of the stock market.
- Tax benefit: As much fun as it would be to have the Jim Charitable Trust, the tax benefits are better if you contribute appreciated stock. When you donate appreciated stock that you’ve held for over a year, you can deduct the entire value of the stock from your income, including the appreciation. (For more on that, read this article about reducing your capital gains by donating stock ) With the Giving Account, you deduct your initial contribution and not the amount actually granted, so you never actually benefit from the appreciation (but you can donate appreciated stock).
- Grant exclusions: Almost any recommendation you give will be accepted with the exception of several groups, though there are very good reasons. For example, you cannot recommend any donation that would result in you receiving any sort of gift or preferential treatment. The list is available here .
I’ll be honest, the idea of opening a small charitable gift fund in our name does sound like fun and it would be great to be able to leverage the market to help further our philanthropic goals but with a $5,000 start price and those annual fees, I may wait a little while before opening one up. The uncertainty of the market (and a short time horizon) are also serious considerations as well… what do you all think? Good idea? Bad idea? Wait? Go now? 🙂