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How Transformational Gifts Fit Into Your Charitable Giving Strategy

Dec 14, 2021 Charitable Giving & Philanthropy

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Transformational gifts got their name for a good reason—they have the ability to positively support or redirect the trajectory of a program, project, or even organization. Transformational gifts can take many forms, from endowing a scholarship fund to supporting the construction of a new building, creating or expanding a community support program, and more.

A transformational gift doesn’t necessarily mean a huge donation amount. Depending on the size of the organization, a transformational gift can be $25,000 or $25,000,000. What marks a gift as transformational is the outstanding impact it will have on an organization’s mission.

When you make a transformational gift, you are becoming a partner with the organization. That’s why it’s important to identify beforehand both what is important to the organization AND what is important to you, the donor.

How to Know If the Time Is Right to Make a Transformational Gift

Making a transformational gift means you’re going above and beyond your usual giving. You most likely aren’t going to make transformational gifts all the time or to every charity you support. But, if you’re considering making a larger donation, how do you know that the timing and organization are right?

  • Relationship: You’ve been working with this organization for years or possibly decades. You trust their leadership and financial stewardship and understand their priorities and strategic objectives. You know the organization’s leaders are open to your questions and feedback.
  • Impact: Can you pinpoint how your past support has made an impact on the organization’s mission or the community it supports? This will give you confidence that your transformational gift will have a similar or greater impact.
  • Timing: If the organization is approaching a point that could be pivotal for its future growth, it could benefit from a financial boost. Or maybe you’re experiencing a big income year, and you want to make a larger gift as part of your tax planning strategy.
  • Potential: You feel there is a reasonably high chance that the organization will be successful and/or be able to scale their work.

Questions to Ask the Organization

Before you write a check or schedule a wire transfer, you should talk to the non-profit, university or hospital you’re considering donating to. A transformational gift isn’t like annual support for general operations. Because it is extraordinary, you will want to make sure you and the organization are aligned on needs, goals, and implementation.

To start, get in touch with a development officer at the organization. They’ll be able to tell you about the organization’s priorities for the future and help you figure out which of these priorities best fit with your own philanthropic goals. Your gift will mean more if it’s supporting a cause that you believe in.

Ask the development officer these questions:

What will be the impact of this transformational gift?

Maybe your gift will combine multiple programs under one umbrella, expand operations to serve more people, or be an anchor gift that inspires donations from others.

What is the strategic plan for implementing your gift?

Just like how you have a plan for making your gift, the organization should have a plan for how it will spend your donation. Ask the development officer how your donation will be used and on what timeline.

Will the donation cover the costs involved?

The organization should have a good idea of the costs that come with a large-scale undertaking. Will your donation cover all of those costs? Or will others need to donate as well in order to accomplish the vision?

Is there an advisory council or leadership body that you’ll be a part of?

A fantastic way to ensure your gift will accomplish its goals is to get involved yourself. A role on a board or council can be beneficial, but it isn’t critical. As long as you’re able to keep up a relationship with the development officer or program director, then you’ll be able to get updates and ask questions.

Questions to Ask Yourself

In addition to the organization’s priorities, you need to think about your own. And once you do answer these questions for yourself, share the answers with the development officer to ensure the organization’s expectations align with yours. 

How do I want to fund and structure my gift?

Let’s be honest: most non-profits will take your donation any way you’d like to give it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think strategically before transferring funds.


Step 1: Choose YourCharitable Giving Vehicle
Determining how to fund your gift comes down to cash flow and tax planning. Working with a wealth management team can help you decide if it’s best to donate cash, transfer appreciated securities (but double-check with the organization that they can accept stock transfers), or use a Donor Advised Fund (DAF) or another charitable giving vehicle.

Step 2: Create a Timetable
Do you want to make your gift as one lump sum, or pay it out over the course of several years? Lump-sum can provide a major cash infusion to get a project off the ground. But multi-year gifts can help the organization forecast its finances and make steady progress.

If you do a multi-year pledge, I don’t recommend making future-year payments contingent upon the organization meeting certain metrics—go into it planning to make all the payments (unless something completely goes awry).

Regardless of timing, the organization may ask you to sign a pledge letter agreeing to the total amount and scheduled payments of your donation. Thinking about using your Donor Advised Fund? Know one important thing first: The IRS prohibits donors from using DAFs to make payments on any pledges to contribute funds, either one-time or multi-year payments. You can talk to the organization about your intent to make a donation, but avoid committing in writing.

Step 3: Determine Where Your Donation is Going
Knowing where your donation is going isn’t referring to what your funding will support, but rather its actual account destination. Do you want your donation to be put in a cash account for immediate use? Or do you prefer it to be invested as part of the organization’s endowment for future use? If in the endowment, ask: how is the endowment invested? What is the investment philosophy? Is it managed in-house or by an outside manager? Ask all the same questions you would ask your own investment manager.

How do I want to be acknowledged and recognized?

Do you want to be publicly acknowledged for your support? It’s a great way to let others know that you believe in the work the organization is doing. Aside from being listed in the organization’s annual report and possibly on a donor recognition wall, do you want to be part of an event launching the initiative you’re supporting? Do you want your name associated with the program, scholarship, or building?

Do you want to make your gift in honor of someone else, and have them share in the recognition?

Or would you rather your gift be anonymous? People give anonymously for various reasons–because they don’t like the spotlight, they prefer privacy, or they don’t want to be targeted by other non-profits for a donation (yes, non-profits look at other organizations’ donor rolls to find new donors).

There isn’t a right answer here. It comes down to what’s the best fit for you.

How do I want to receive updates on the impact of my gift?

You’re making a major donation, and your gift can have an impact over the course of years, so you want to be kept in the loop on how it’s going.

Whether you prefer written reports, financial statements, invitations to events, or conversations with the project’s leader, work with the development officer to decide on the form and cadence those updates will take.

Getting the Answers You Need

By making a transformational charitable gift, you have the opportunity to make an extraordinary impact on an organization’s mission and promote the values that are important to you. These transformational gifts need careful planning, but you don’t need to do that alone. A wealth management team that understands your bigger picture and has expertise in charitable giving can help you reap the greatest benefits for yourself and the organization you’re supporting.

Not every wealth management firm is created equal. You should look for a team of experts who create individual Private Wealth Designs and will walk you through every step to achieve your charitable goals. You should look for a team that will be fully transparent, throw aside industry jargon, and talk to you like a real person.

The Monument Wealth Management Team is ready to help you build a charitable giving strategy that works for you. We’re straight-shooting, dog-loving, financial experts who will help you develop a wealth strategy as unique as you.

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Jessica L. photo

Jessica L. Gibbs, CFP®

Vice President & Partner

Jessica was inspired by a podcast to become a financial planner. At the time, she was working at the Brookings Institution as part of their fundraising team. Even though she enjoyed working with individuals on their philanthropic giving, Jessica decided that wealth management was a better way to build the type of long-term, advice-driven relationships she values. After completing Georgetown University’s Certificate in Financial Planning program....

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