Incorporating Philanthropy into Your Financial Plan, Part 1

Smart giving strategies for every economic climate

Key Takeaways:

  • As record numbers of boomers approach retirement age, their focus shifts to distribution of assets rather than accumulating wealth.

  • Affluent millennials look for ways to have impact rather than just give away dollars.

  • Do your homework before you give.

  • A Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is a perfect giving tool for all economic climates. Sock away money in the good years, and give from it in the lean years.

The latest Giving USA data shows that charitable donations rose for the fifth consecutive year to nearly $360 billion—passing its pre-recession peak and likely to continue the upward trend.  Researchers indicated that another recession could hurt giving slightly, even though the number of aging boomers coming into liquidity events should offset a downturn to some extent.

As more and more boomers turn 65 every day, the focus shifts to distribution of assets rather than to thinking solely about accumulation of wealth. Giving is a function of individual capacity, which too often is a perception rather than an actual quantified ability.

Giving is not just for boomers and retirees

More and more wealthy younger people are giving generously earlier in their lives. Are millennials really more charitably inclined than boomers and Gen Xers, or are we just hearing more about the good deeds of extremely wealthy tech entrepreneurs?

Experts on philanthropy say that millennials have a more overt concern about the world around them. The problems of the world are very much “front and center” for them because of the Internet and its social media outlets. That said, millennials look for ways to have impact rather than just give away dollars.

Is charitable giving really tied to the economy and financial markets?

Many experts believe there is a tremendous linkage between levels of giving and the types of giving and investment and economic cycles. Charitable giving rises in good times, and, sadly, falls when times are tough. A study of charitable giving during recessions since 1967 found that giving during recessions dropped by slightly more than 1 percent on average, while it rose significantly during the good years. This poses a serious dilemma for charities that don’t have endowments to help cushion the drying up of charitable giving during the lean years. It also creates strategic challenges for family foundations and individual philanthropists who during the lean times see greater need in the human services arena.

We know of one family that was faced with having to reduce its commitment to environmental causes during the economic blizzard of 2008-09. As the family’s wealth and its foundation capital recovered dramatically post-crisis, they are giving even more today they did prior to 2008 to environmental causes they support.

As for good and bad years in the economy, a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) is a perfect tool. Sock away money in your good years, and give from it in the lean years. For donors approaching retirement, the same logic applies. Fund the DAF during your highly taxed working years, get the deduction then, and in your retirement years, make gifts from the DAF. For those who are more technically minded, or if you are the owner of a closely held business or commercial real estate, gifting such property to a DAF can be a smart move. Such transfers can be part of a business exit plan if you have philanthropic goals and want to become more involved in your community post-exit.

How can people of means to have a more “balanced portfolio” of giving?
The most effective philanthropy needs to be driven not by balance but by three things: head, heart and mind. And not necessarily in that order.

Giving to arts and culture has always been strong. People strongly support a wide range of causes that they’re passionate about--and there is some status assigned to supporting the arts. Giving to human services is a challenge with program effectiveness and real change. While arts received larger portions of giving, a balanced portfolio is generally not advised. Much of the giving research indicates that depth, not width, is advisable for donors. More impact can be achieved, more data evaluated by narrowing focus.

We know from the world of business how critical sustainability is to long-term success. Why should it be any different within the realm of charity? It’s imperative that philanthropists and foundations look critically at the sustainability of the organizations and projects they are funding. Failure to think “sustainably” creates a great risk charitable dollars won’t have as much impact or as lasting an impact as the giver might hope.

Purposeful philanthropy is the art of thoughtfully, intentionally and purposefully integrating the passion, spirit and commitment of philanthropy into the fabric of your family system. When you encourage each member of your family to participate in giving that honors the individual values and interests of your family members, there is an almost inevitable balancing that will occur in the grant-making and giving process.

A good next step for a donor hoping to be more strategic and impactful in giving would be exploring a Community Foundation and books such as, Inspired Legacies by Tracy Gary or Give Smart by Tierney and Fleishman.

Philanthropy is not necessarily about giving away to charities. It is about having impact. It is about the sustainability for your children and grandchildren of the world you live in. It is about the recognition that every dollar you invest is impact investing because it is impacting something.


In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss charitable tools, techniques and philosophies that you can use today to add value to your planned giving goals.

Robert J. Pyle, CFP®, CFA is president of Diversified Asset Management, Inc. (DAMI). DAMI is licensed as an investment adviser with the State of Colorado Division of Securities, and its investment advisory representatives are licensed by the State of Colorado. DAMI will only transact business in other states to the extent DAMI has made the requisite notice filings or obtained the necessary licensing in such state. No follow up or individualized responses to persons in other jurisdictions that involve either rendering or attempting to render personalized investment advice for compensation will be made absent compliance with applicable legal requirements, or an applicable exemption or exclusion. It does not constitute investment or tax advice. To contact Robert, call 303-440-2906 or e-mail


The views, opinion, information and content provided here are solely those of the respective authors, and may not represent the views or opinions of Diversified Asset Management, Inc.  The selection of any posts or articles should not be regarded as an explicit or implicit endorsement or recommendation of any such posts or articles, or services provided or referenced and statements made by the authors of such posts or articles.  Diversified Asset Management, Inc. cannot guarantee the accuracy or currency of any such third party information or content, and does not undertake to verify or update such information or content. Any such information or other content should not be construed as investment, legal, accounting or tax advice.