Philanthropy

VOLUNTEERISM; The Higher Calling

Little did I know the moment I grasped the neatly curled Liberal Arts diploma from the Pennsylvania State University that the promise of the well-rounded education I’d earned was going to be defined much differently than the paper it was written on.  I do, however, peer at the wall periodically to admire the font. At […]

Little did I know the moment I grasped the neatly curled Liberal Arts diploma from the Pennsylvania State University that the promise of the well-rounded education I’d earned was going to be defined much differently than the paper it was written on.  I do, however, peer at the wall periodically to admire the font.

At the age of 43 hindsight paints a well-rounded picture as 22 years of service in the Chamber of Commerce 8 of which as President, 10 years of continued emergency medical services board ship and a crucial 2 years chairmanship of a consortium of not for profit volunteer groups who donated a $100,000.00 improvement project to the Borough in which I was raised.  I must say…. Bruce Springsteen’s ‘My Hometown’ is a song that now bears a more special meaning.  In our house – it’s required listening.

The references used to compile this snippet are the author’s point of view shaped by more than 150 individuals whose path were crossed; all contributing as they were willing and able listing results that have not really been advertised.

One quote that bears a place of prominence comes from a former coach who commented during a meeting, “In my years I’ve only had one favorite player…. he never looked at how many points he scored or cared to know how many infractions he incurred.  He just checked each time he came off the court to ensure the score was better than it was when he got on.”

The coach does a great deal to define ‘the150’.  Regardless of their walk in life each shares a common thread; putting their talents toward a greater good without expectation for compensation.  In a room with a handful of the 150 amazingly, uncommonly, one simple idea mentioned in its raw form is passed around and refined until is transformed into a sparkling diamond of an idea.  What’s more?  The 150 actually figure out how, by who, when and what resources are necessary to put the idea in motion turning it into a reality.  That’s the rarity.  That’s the magic.  That’s the core of volunteerism.

Having open, consistent access to a concentrate of creators and doers is equally as addicting as ice cream and movie popcorn.  It should be required curriculum with the option to jumbo size the soft drink.  Young or old, the sooner anyone can surround themselves with the activities of board meetings, exercise efforts in a committee, serve the food at the fundraiser and stock the shelves of the food pantry, the better.  It is the platform of volunteerism, not the workplace that best mixes the hands-on responsibility of taking to task turning an idea into reality.

The byproduct?  Schools that have additional funds to provide for children, fire departments and ambulance corps that are funded with the best equipment and training with which to save lives, family-owned businesses visited by customers outside the area, an improved life for future generations, municipalities that are rewarded for their efforts, a sharing of knowledge and experience academia simply cannot replicate, food delivered to those who cannot afford to eat, glasses for those who can’t afford to see, holiday gifts for those in need, children who learn sports at a young age, high school plays that place our youth under the lights and… and… wait for it…a community.  Nicely woven and tight-knit.

It’s a well-known fact that when gathered together we can accomplish more than on an individual basis.  Something very different occurs when we gather without expectation for compensation…we give back, we learn new talents while sharpening our own and things are left better than they were before we got there.

If you’re reading this by some definition, you’ve reached success.  Look around.  How’s the scoreboard?  Take the time to walk on the court, share your talents, pass along your successes and Volunteer.

Many a score will improve.

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Ms. Generous and Donor-Advised Funds in the Age of Tax Reform

As we return from summer vacations and enter the last few months of the year, many individuals will meet with their professional advisers to discuss tax reduction planning, wealth management goals, and estate plans.  We know that charitable giving is often an important element of these conversations, especially in the season of giving as many […]

As we return from summer vacations and enter the last few months of the year, many individuals will meet with their professional advisers to discuss tax reduction planning, wealth management goals, and estate plans.  We know that charitable giving is often an important element of these conversations, especially in the season of giving as many of us revisit and act on our philanthropy.  This year-end brings new considerations for the good-hearted, generous person as a result of last year’s tax reform.

At the same time, the nonprofit community is closely monitoring the impact of recent tax reform on donor generosity.  The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, primarily effective for years beginning in 2018, doubled the standard deduction for individuals, thereby greatly reducing the number of donors who itemize deductions on their income tax returns.  The financial reward for charitable giving is given to the taxpayer through itemized deductions (i.e., the charitable deduction), so there is some concern that removing the incentive of the charitable deduction may reduce annual giving.  Studies released at the end of 2017 showed some scary numbers, such as a study by the Tax Policy Center, who stated that charities could see a staggering loss of $12 – $20 billion in contributions annually, equal to 6 percent of all individual giving on the low end.

At the Lehigh Valley Community Foundation, we do not believe that we will see as steep of a drop in giving as some of these tax studies had inferred.  We know that an innate desire to do good exists on the part of philanthropists—we call it the “giving gene”—so philanthropy will continue in some way, with or without a financial incentive to do so.  Studies of donor wants, and preferences show that a reduced tax obligation is not the main driver of individual giving.  With that said, a lower income tax bill is certainly an added benefit to both the donor and the nonprofit, and it can be a call to action for the donor on an annual basis.

It is in this context of a new tax environment coupled with the desire to preserve individual philanthropy that we at the Community Foundation have seen a resurgence of an approach to giving that we call “donation bunching.”

Many professional advisers (accountants, attorneys, wealth managers, and others who work with clients’ money) have informed us that they are exploring “donation bunching” with their clients as a way to reduce income tax bills while preserving the current levels of charitable giving.  The donor-advised fund, or “DAF,” is a charitable giving tool that is popular in this tax strategy.  A DAF separates the tax decision from the giving decision.  Here’s how it works:  Ms. Generous makes a tax-deductible donation, let’s say $50,000, to a donor-advised fund now to exceed the newly increased standard deduction, therefore causing her to itemize deductions and reduce her tax bill as a direct result of the donation.  Ms. Generous then recommends grants from the donor-advised fund to nonprofits of her choice over a period of time, say $10,000 per year over five years.  She does not get a tax deduction for these grants because the initial $50,000 gift to her donor-advised fund allowed her to receive that deduction upfront.  Ms. Generous instead takes the standard deduction during these years.  Ms. Generous is thereby “bunching” the tax deduction of donations into a single tax year—the year the gift was made to the donor-advised fund—while maintaining her level of support to nonprofits.  An added benefit of a donor-advised fund is the ability to accept gifts of appreciated securities, which are particularly popular in this market environment.

The charitable deduction is one of the few itemized deductions that individuals can control, and even increase with joy!  Compare this to your real estate tax bill or your mortgage interest—one can quickly understand why Ms. Generous and her adviser would focus on charitable giving and a donor-advised fund as a tax reduction strategy.

As we approach this upcoming season of giving, we encourage you to continue to give to the causes that you care about—the community relies on the generosity of its residents regardless of tax law.  But, if you find yourself in your accountant’s office, discussing the need to reduce your tax obligations, remember “donation bunching” and the power of a donor-advised fund at your local community foundation.

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Help Yourself By Helping Others

“There aren’t enough hours in the day,” is muttered over and over both at work and at home. And now they want you to volunteer?  Despite every modern convenience, no one seems to have ample time to get everything done. We are over overcommitted and understaffed, but if you are not giving back to the […]

“There aren’t enough hours in the day,” is muttered over and over both at work and at home. And now they want you to volunteer?  Despite every modern convenience, no one seems to have ample time to get everything done. We are over overcommitted and understaffed, but if you are not giving back to the community, it is time to re-evaluate.

The personal benefits of volunteering are numerous and outlined in the following paragraphs, but first, we’ll give the argument a firm, fiscal foundation.  Many (and we mean a lot) of the Valley’s most influential and well-connected people are active with nonprofits. Not just in name, but out there getting their hands dirty.  What better way to meet local industry leaders than working together on a shared cause?  Our non-scientific evaluation suggests that there are countless ways to give back in the Greater Lehigh Valley.  No matter your focus, passion, raison d’être, there is a place for you. Serving a greater good can be a crucial part of your personal success and your company’s prosperity.  As a business owner, it is no longer good enough to write a check and move on.  Valued clients and potential employees seek civic-minded partners who make corporate responsibility a priority.  Additionally, we cannot emphasize enough that nonprofits are businesses that hire support services to run effectively and efficiently.  What better way to showcase your competencies?  So get ready to enjoy the benefits!  Volunteering doesn’t simply offer “good vibes’ by doing the right thing. It will enhance work and personal experiences in a number of ways.

Shape a new skill set:  It is difficult, if not impossible, to make a distinct job change within most organizations unless you continue your education.  And while that’s always a great idea, the reality is few of us have the time or means to return to school. Nonprofit organizations welcome help in whatever role you choose.  A committee position supporting a different discipline is a chance to cultivate a new skill set. The challenge is real, and the success you experience may be enough to build your resume and pivot your career. Even if you have no intention of changing vocations, the unique experience will offer a new perspective and a better understanding of the workplace.

Learn to be a leader:  Many employees are vital to their organizations and add value each day.  But what if your job doesn’t give you the chance to manage others?  Volunteering can allow you to lead a project, design through implementation, and manage a team.  Already in a leadership role?  Chances are, you and those you manage share similar competencies.  Through volunteering, you’ll have a chance to hone leadership and communication skills with people from a wide variety of career and personal backgrounds.

Build your network:  We can always use a little help from our friends, and there’s comfort staying within your circle. However, getting involved introduces you to new people and broadens horizons. Through teamwork and positive volunteer experiences, new acquaintances build trust and often seek out support on career and personal levels. Relaxed, positive community impact will spark growth in places you wouldn’t have expected.

Don’t worry, be healthy:  Studies demonstrate that volunteering makes you happy.  Helping others can reduce stress, keep you mentally challenged, increase self-confidence, combat depression, gets you physically active, and gives you a purpose.  Small acts on your part can lead to big changes in people’s lives, especially for those who really need it, and that feels good.  And volunteering doesn’t have to be a singular, long-term commitment.  In fact, the more diverse your experiences, the more you’ll grow.

Become a catalyst for change:  Don’t just re-tweet or like a post about an important issue, choose to make a difference in something meaningful to you. As you champion the mission among your friends and co-workers your influence can have far-reaching effects.  Your personal accountability and involvement may jump-start others to work for change as well.  From children to dogs, building homes to the environment, there is an organization in need of your help. Begin your search at www.volunteerlv.org or www.volunteermatch.org.

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Generosity for a New Generation

Giving back has never been so easy thanks to innovative initiatives making the most of a millennial mind state and the digital age. As a product of the closing generation of the 20th century, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced pre – tech living and been given the opportunity to witness the subsequent unfolding […]

Giving back has never been so easy thanks to innovative initiatives making the most of a millennial mind state and the digital age.

As a product of the closing generation of the 20th century, I consider myself fortunate to have experienced pre – tech living and been given the opportunity to witness the subsequent unfolding of the digital information age in its entire enormity.  Some thirty years ago the Internet was discovered and no one looked back.  It has hurled us into a space of unending global advancements. It provides us with a host of abilities to connect, including email and social media.  We make the most of these channels daily via a device so appropriately dubbed the ‘smart phone’ which has forever changed the way we communicate, travel, work and even pay bills.  Streamlining many of our day-to-day activities, rendering traditional ways to do business archaic and even obsolete, and technology has afforded us more than just sheer efficiency.  We are able to connect to relatives, public leaders and remote celebrities; all putting Globalization into overdrive.

Some years ago I was able to connect with a number of like-minded individuals who saw in modern technology, an avenue to shed light on global causes and enable any one person to make a difference simply by clicking a button and staying connected online. Based on the mandate that everyone has the right to survive and thrive, Global Citizen was born out of the drive to end global poverty. It has become an immensely influential network that empowers millions of individuals around the globe to make an impact on critical issues such as Women’s Rights, Health, Education, Water & Sanitation, Finance and Citizenship.

One thing this organization and I saw in common is the incentive created by the intrinsic need to give back coupled with the power of celebrity to influence people.  Every year, the organization hosts a larger-thanv-life concert in the middle of Central Park in New York City.  The largest names in music join in support and further encourage citizens everywhere to take action.

Fast-forward to a couple years ago, my core group and I moved in on what we saw as the future of philanthropic financial contribution. An innovative, one-of-a-kind platform that makes contributing to a cause you care about effortless.  By rounding up your digital spare change and donating to a charity of your choice, ChangUr allows you to go about your life, making normal transactions where you shop and eat while making a difference.  At a time where transparency is more important than ever, this application allows you to track where exactly your money is going and holding your organization of choice accountable to using funds appropriately.

We all share an innate desire to give back – a hunger to contribute to causes we care about.  It’s somewhat of a self-inflicted responsibility that ripples through cultural boundaries.  It is easy to become overwhelmed and uninformed by traditional means of charity.  I was attracted to the simplicity and authenticity of these models, and how they maximize our means in order to create lasting change. However, you chose to contribute, whether financially or physically, recognize that your efforts, time, money and skill are making a difference.

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How a Business Community Profits from a Healthy Arts Economy

Advocates for a good business economy have many reasons to encourage arts and culture. Data for the nation and Lehigh and Northampton Counties help to make that case. Since 2010, with Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, I’ve produced annual National Arts Index reports measuring the vitality of arts and culture in the U.S. […]

Advocates for a good business economy have many reasons to encourage arts and culture. Data for the nation and Lehigh and Northampton Counties help to make that case. Since 2010, with Randy Cohen of Americans for the Arts, I’ve produced annual National Arts Index reports measuring the vitality of arts and culture in the U.S. using 81 national-level indicators. Since 2012, we developed a web-accessible Local Arts Index with dozens of county-level indicators of the arts. Both projects show evidence of different ways that arts affect communities, and how they make for a good business environment. The indicators highlight the financial flows, participation, infrastructure and capital assets, and competitiveness of the arts. They describe activity in all sectors – individual, business, nonprofit, government, and in numerous artistic genres and disciplines. See the reports and data at www.artsindexusa.org, hosted by Allentown’s Kyle David Group. Here are a few high points of what we’ve found.

First, while the economics of the arts matter, they’re not the biggest part of the story. Arts advocates have always been especially attentive to showing economic impact, how investment in the arts produced positive economic flows rippling through an economy. Those are good arguments, but are not unique to the arts – other investments also increased economic activity. In fact, the competitiveness of the arts, and the ways they enhance our communities, rest on many other kinds of contributions:

  • Aesthetics: the arts create beauty and preserve it as part of culture
  • Creativity: the arts encourage creativity, a critical skill in a dynamic world
  • Expression: artistic work lets us communicate our interests and visions
  • Identity: arts goods, services, and experiences help define our culture
  • Innovation: the arts are sources of new ideas, futures, concepts, and connections
  • Preservation: arts and culture keep our collective memories intact
  • Prosperity: the arts create millions of jobs and enhance economic health
  • Skills: arts aptitudes and techniques are needed in all sectors of society and work
  • Social Capital: we enjoy the arts together, across races, generations, and places

The dynamic Lehigh Valley market environment experiences many benefits of those virtues. Our communities – not just the feature attractions in Bethlehem, Easton, and Allentown, but also the boroughs and townships, are seeing residents come out for arts and culture activities. More restaurants have original art, more coffeehouses have music, and more innovation and entrepreneurship among arts nonprofits old and new. The theme of “creative placemaking” (developed by Anne Gadwa Nicodemus of Metris Arts Consulting in Easton) is how places across the country view the arts contribution to community character and vitality.

Lehigh Valley consumers are avid arts consumers, spending more than $360 per year on arts and culture products and services, compared to median U.S. spending of $345. One household in five contributes to arts and culture or public broadcasting. Local arts and culture attractions and events draw consumers from a wide radius. It’s more and more part of our brand and identity.

There are multiple pathways for enhancing business performance through the arts. In products and services, superior design can be the main reason for competitive advantage. In managing people, fostering creativity and unorthodox thinking unleashes innovation and entrepreneurship. The arts show people with different backgrounds and professional skills how to collaborate. These new competencies promote superior competitive position for companies of all sizes.

Business leaders are always seeking out new avenues of advantage and better performance. Companies can engage in the arts as supporters, use the arts in human resource management, and foster artistic environments in their workplaces, and recognize their workers’ interests in the arts. These are good arguments anywhere, but they’re especially relevant in our Lehigh Valley with its arts-rich environment. Being a champion of the arts is good business.

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