Charity takes many forms: your time, your talents, your efforts, your dreams, your treasure. Here I’m reflecting my opinion that it is often better to give a gift that will, over the long term, be more effective than a one-time gift. Many considerations enter when the size of a charitable gift enters the five-figure or more range. You may feel that you don’t have Gates’ gazillions, or Buffet’s billions, but if you can contribute several thousand dollars to an organization or institution, you can make a significant difference to that institution.
My personal charitable interests center around things like The Nature Conservancy, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the World Wildlife Fund, a few medical charities, my universities (SIU, Temple, Indiana University), and local theatre, musical, social, religious and other charities.
For many of the larger charities, a twenty-five or fifty dollar gift does little more than sustain your name on their mailing list. But at a local level, a regular several hundred to a thousand dollar gift can make a large difference. As your income rises, and you find yourself able to contribute more generously to charities, you may wish to feel that you can make a greater difference with your gift.
A substantial cash gift can make quite a difference, and many of the organizations mentioned above would certainly welcome that. The Nature Conservancy buys and preserves areas of land around the country (some land given, some land purchased), and large cash gifts enable more conservation, while smaller gifts enable the upkeep and maintenance necessary for on-going operation. In other instances, notably the University settings, a cash gift of, say, under a hundred thousand dollars could easily be lost in a pile of doo-dads buried in the massive budget of the institution – probably quite useful at the moment, but not of a materially lasting nature.
You can, however, set up charitable endowments of a fairly modest nature, and they can be quite useful. A hundred-thousand dollar endowment to a local symphony, theatre, park, homeless shelter, etc. can make a large contribution to the stability of its operations. If the endowment is set up to use part of its investment for growth, and part for a contribution to the “cause”, each year in the future, it will have a dependable, stable part of its income as a result of your contribution. Even a small endowment might be used, perhaps by your church, to support the upkeep and tuning of your grand piano or organ.
Universities and larger charitable organizations can be expected to have policies governing endowments, and a staff position to help people wishing to contribute endowments. How might a small endowment help a University? They may feel that any contribution under, say, fifty thousand, should simply be rolled into the University Foundation funds, the income from which is usually used for scholarships, fund-raising efforts, and its own growth. Above the University’s minimum, you might wish to set up an endowment for the support of a departmental scholarship; when the annual income available from the endowment may be only a few thousand dollars, that may make the difference between a student remaining in college or dropping out.
On a larger scale, almost every University has buildings that have been built as a result of a large cash donation. In the early ’80’s, I visited Temple University, and was delighted to see that there was an Annenburg Hall, housing the Department of Broadcasting and Mass Communications. Obviously a chunk of money had been given to build a building. In walking through it, I was disappointed to find it dingy, with equipment I felt was not state-of-the-art at that time. The point is, the building is not enough, and it needs the steady income an endowment can provide for annual upkeep and upgrades (of course, current pictures show current facilities—that’s a 25-year-old impression I’m relating).
Your charitable gifts can make a long-term difference, not just a temporary splash. Think long-term. Think endowment.