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Special section Giving the gift of charity

Whether you plan to endow a university or just contribute, there are various paths to the role of benefactor.

Tax implications

Leaving a legacy, large and small

Want to establish an endowment chair at your dear alma mater? Donate your art collection to a museum? Underwrite a hospital wing or research facility?

If you're in the position to make a multimillion dollar gift to charitable causes and would like to leave a legacy of philanthropy to inspire your heirs, a private foundation gives you maximum flexibility over how the money is invested and where it ultimately goes.

But if your philanthropy isn't in the seven-figure range and you would still like to leave your mark, and perhaps your family name, on a worthy cause, you may find a donor-advised fund, or DAF; a supporting organization, or SO; or the new upstart donor-managed investment, or DMI, fund much easier to set up and more tax-efficient.

Each vehicle for donor-advised giving has its strengths and limitations, as well as a minimum investment threshold that may help you quickly narrow your options. But all of them have one thing in common: They help the 1.2 million charities in the United States, 85 percent of which have annual budgets of less than $100,000.

"Very few charities have a development office or sophisticated fundraising operation," says Andrew Hastings, vice president of the National Philanthropic Trust, or NPT, which serves as matchmaker between donors and the charities that need them. "Organizations like NPT serve as a great conduit by which to gather these assets, put them in an account, invest them and allow the donors to make their grant recommendations."

Let's take a closer look at the not-for-profit world of charitable giving and how you can retain some control over your giving, even after you're gone.

The oak-paneled paradigm
The oak-paneled foundation boardroom replete with a phalanx of lawyers comes in two varieties: public and private. The distinction: Public foundations receive at least 30 percent of their funding from the public, private foundations do not.

Private foundations come in two flavors: operating and nonoperating. The distinction: Operating foundations such as the Ford or Getty foundations operate as charities themselves, typically running museums, educational programs and the like, while nonoperating foundations are typically self-perpetuating sources of charitable grants.

According to Hastings, there are currently about 63,000 private foundations in this country, which owing to their high cost to establish and administer ("It's like opening up a bank," he says), represent less than 1 percent of this country's philanthropists.

Although foundations tend to get the publicity, they account for just 12 percent of the projected $250 billion that Americans will give this year to charities, individuals are by far the largest donors (76 percent), with the rest coming from will bequests (8 percent) and corporate giving (4 percent).

-- Updated: Dec. 3, 2007
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