Daily Progress, April 14, 2017 -- What will your legacy be?
“In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” These words still ring true today, long after they were penned by Benjamin Franklin in 1789.
The procrastinators among us may be contemplating their taxes this weekend, with Tuesday’s IRS filing deadline looming. Most of us were relieved to put this annual chore behind us. But little did we know that there is cause for celebration this year, as 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of the federal charitable tax deduction.
Never thought about it? Most people don’t. The deduction came about during World War I, when heavy new taxes to pay for the war meant that donations to charities might dry up, affecting charities’ ability to survive. According to the Charitable Giving Coalition, which represents a prominent array of philanthropic organizations, for every $1 subject to the charitable deduction, communities receive $3 in benefits, an impressive return on investment. Congress’ intent in enacting the deduction was to encourage individuals to invest in their communities, and it has done just that for 100 years.
Ben Franklin may have had it right about death and taxes. He died five months after writing the letter, at the age of 83. Fascinated with the idea of compounding interest, he bequeathed $4,444 ($67,674 in today’s dollars) each to his native Boston and his adopted city of Philadelphia, with explicit instructions on distributions over a 200-year period. His legacy lives on as those monies still benefit the cities today.
In my role at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging, I have the privilege of seeing firsthand how people choose to be remembered. In fact, the building in which I work — JABA’s home office — was made possible largely by a bequest many years ago from Ruth Heede. She was a local philanthropist who cared deeply about the needs of older adults and wanted to ensure that JABA’s services would be available for seniors in the future.
Mrs. Heede recognized, even then, that our community was getting older. U.S. Census data reveal that by 2029, when all of the baby boomers will be 65 and older, more than 20 percent of the U.S. population will be older than 65. In Central Virginia, that number is projected to be even higher — and will happen sooner — at 25 percent by 2025. Government support for senior needs has declined steadily for years and will continue to face threats in this volatile political climate.
As we age, we likely will depend on housing, healthcare and other services provided by nonprofit organizations. Yet, according to a recent report by Giving USA, “Giving and the Golden Years,” only 6 percent of nonprofit organizations focus on serving the aging populations. The report also states that 69 percent of charitable giving comes from those born prior to 1964. This is particularly ironic given the impact that older generations have had on nonprofits through their leadership and generosity. Now they may come to depend on the very institutions they helped to establish and sustain.
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Like Benjamin Franklin and Ruth Heede, most of us want to leave an imprint on this world and feel like we have truly made a difference in the lives of others.
Leaving a legacy is rarely just about money. For many of us, it means contributing to something meaningful and knowing we’re leaving the world a little better off than we found it. It’s behind our core values: building relationships with like-minded people, supporting our communities and setting an example for our families.
When you think about giving, what do you care about in your community? What do you dream about for this place you call “home” today and for your grandchildren? What will your legacy be?
Kim Peel is the director of philanthropy & communications for the Jefferson Area Board for Aging.