Some charities encouraging gifts of property, stocks in lieu of cash

By Dee DePass
Sunday, December 19, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS - If you usually "give at the office" during the holidays, listen up. Some charities now suggest that you forget cash. Instead, they want your art collections, homes, cabins, stocks, life insurance or a mere mention in your will.

In November, some Habitat for Humanity branches launched an Other Ways to Give campaign, which advocates "four non-cash gift ideas" for the holidays. The mailing from the Twin Cities chapter features four brightly wrapped gift boxes labeled "Personal Property," "Real Estate," "Stocks" and "Life Insurance."

The strategy is in sharp contrast to the recently launched Minnesota Give to the Max Day, which aimed to surpass the $14 million in cash that area charities took in last year. Some organizations have sought asset donations for years, but others - including Habitat - are turning to the strategy out of necessity.

Habitat - known for using lay volunteers to build homes for poor families - said its fundraising in the past was largely aimed at conventional cash donors. But it's showcasing other donation options to a wider audience because cash is "spread pretty thin."

"We, like a lot of other organizations, have really seen a dip in our fundraising. So we are actively promoting other ways that people can help," said Twin Cities Habitat spokeswoman Anne Weber-Smith. "We had to do it to maintain our level of production."

In place of cash, Habitat is happy to accept stock, vacation home, unwanted land or commercial property as a tax-deductible gift for the holidays. It also suggests that donors list the group as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy or simply "make us the owner."

"I'm for all these things," said Joe Selvaggio, 73, long known as the don of Minnesota philanthropy. He founded Project for Pride in Living, the One Percent Club for millionaires and most recently MicroGrants, which gives seven $1,000 grants or in-kind gifts to the poor each week. "Whether it is land or stocks or charitable remainder trusts, or insurance or in-kind contributions. Just use them all."

Over the years, Selvaggio's groups have received millions of dollars in tax-deductible donations in the form of land, stocks, cars, homes and cash. The assets are used to house, clothe or employ the families of hardworking people, he said. One time Project for Pride in Living received a $100,000 house as a gift, which it sold to a low-income family for just $50,000.

"Occasionally, you get these lemon assets that people want to get rid of," he said. "But by and large, I think it's a great idea."

- Star Tribune


© 2010 The Washington Post Company