“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter.” Aristotle
The giving season is upon us as taxpayers look to charitable donations to help balance their year-end tax liabilities. Yet the challenge for donors, as it was for Aristotle, is finding the most effective way to do it. If you want your giving to have an impact, it’s not just about how much you give, but how well you give it.
Here are some tips to help you get the most from your charitable giving.
Deduct now and distribute later using a sub-fund
Sub-funds in public ancillary funds are one of the fastest growing charitable structures in Australia. They give a tax deduction immediately with the flexibility to determine the charitable recipients later, can be established immediately (which is especially helpful in the final days of June), and cost nothing to set up.
A sub-fund is a philanthropic giving account established within a public charitable trust known as a public ancillary fund (PuAF). In the Australian Philanthropic Services Foundation, you can establish a sub-fund by making an initial tax-deductible donation of $50,000. The tax deduction can be claimed in full immediately or spread over the next four years.
You then advise the Trustee of the public ancillary fund which charities are to receive a distribution from your sub-fund and the quantum of the distribution. To be eligible, a charity must have Deductible Gift Recipient Item 1 status, and there are over 25,000 charities to choose from.
A minimum of 4% of the sub-fund’s balance must be distributed to charities each year, allowing you to achieve a regular ongoing flow of distributions to your preferred charities as opposed to making larger one-off lump sum direct donations. You can also nominate successors to advise the Trustee, ensuring your giving legacy continues beyond your lifetime.
Whilst you take the time to do your due diligence in deciding which charities you want to support from your sub-fund, the balance is invested. Investment returns are tax-free and franking credits are refunded so there is real potential to grow the amount that you give to charity over time.
After you have built up the balance through donations and investment returns, should you decide that you want to take full control of investment and administrative responsibilities, you can choose to establish your own private ancillary fund. This makes sense for balances over $1,000,000 and you are usually able to transfer your sub-fund to a new private ancillary fund (some providers have restrictions on this, so it is best to check before establishing the sub-fund).
Treat your donation like an investment decision
Whether you give directly to charity or via a structure like an ancillary fund, allow yourself the time to consider the charities you will support, including:
Instead of spreading your giving across multiple charities, consider giving more to less. Charities incur costs in processing donations so it follows that the smaller the donation, the greater the percentage absorbed by these costs. There is no ‘right’ amount to give, but your impact can be enhanced by directing your charitable dollars, whatever the amount, to one or a select few working for the causes most meaningful to you.
Investigate the charities on your shortlist. The Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) is a great starting point. It maintains a public register with information on over 56,000 registered charities in Australia (including public ancillary funds). The register will confirm if a charity is committed to transparency by being up to date with its annual reporting obligations, and you can also download the financial statements of public charities with annual revenue of over $250,000.
Don’t hesitate to speak with the charity and ask about their goals – what they are, how they are measured, and the resources they need to achieve them. You can feel more confident giving to a charity with a clearly articulated goal and a strategic plan to get there.
3. Measure effectiveness in the right way
An investor will look for an opportunity supported by a strong team with solid systems to review and evaluate performance. A charitable investment should be no different. But qualified staff and infrastructure costs money, which is why you should resist measuring a charity’s effectiveness by its overheads. It can be more constructive to focus on the social impact of your donation, and not the ‘overhead’ cost incurred to achieve it.
4. Maintain an investment timeframe
Consider a multi-year charitable investment. You will benefit from deeper engagement with the charity and understanding the progress of their work. The charity will also appreciate the benefits that flow from the certainty of a committed donor. Remember that it takes time to deliver real change and your charitable investment needs sufficient time to mature.
5. Incorporate your tax planning
Donors are generally motivated by the desire to make a difference, but if access to tax deductibility can also be achieved, you can make up to twice the difference by giving to one or more of the 25,000 charities that have Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status.
The best results happen when you start early, taking the time to explore the causes meaningful to you and to research the charities working within them. If you find yourself close to 30 June without a clear idea of which charities you want to fund, establishing a sub-fund in a public ancillary fund is smart. You will receive a tax deduction now when you most need it, and the liberty of time to decide which DGR charities you ultimately want to support.
To explore further, check out this video: Chris Cuffe: A tax effective way to support philanthropy
Rachael Rofe is a Governance & Giving Adviser at Australian Philanthropic Services (APS), a not-for-profit organisation that sets up and administers private ancillary funds, and offers sub-funds in the public ancillary fund, The Australian Philanthropic Services Foundation. Chris Cuffe is the pro bono Founder and Chairman of APS, and a Director of the Trustee of the Australian Philanthropic Services Foundation.