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Op-ed: Don't let tax reform undermine charitable giving

Published August 16, 2014 5:57 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

American foundations gave nearly $50 billion in 2013. That's a massive investment in our nation through American generosity and supported by sound tax policies from Washington. Utah is by far the most charitable state in the nation. Utahns give, on average, an astounding 10.6 percent of their discretionary income to charities — nearly double the national average. With our congressional delegation back in Utah this month for August recess, now is the perfect time to showcase the important work of philanthropy in our community and highlight some important decisions they have to make in the future.

Foundations rooted in the communities they serve are uniquely able to combine resources across sectors to address their communities' emerging and ongoing needs. The Community Foundation of Utah is proud to contribute to our state's charitable efforts by creating events like Love UT Give UT, which in just 24 hours, raised over $1 million for hundreds of charities across our state. Hundreds of the state's brightest business leaders and entrepreneurs have used the foundation to engage their giving minds — sharing their expertise and assets with nonprofits large and small. And while the foundation's charitable assets have grown at an astonishing rate to nearly $40 million in just six years; these philanthropists have made over $12 million in gifts during this time, helping our charities through a very difficult economic time.

As the public sector continues cost-cutting measures, it's important our leaders in Washington understand philanthropy's importance here in Utah and are mindful of how their decisions affect Utahns' charitable nature. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp's laudable effort to achieve comprehensive tax reform illustrates how the decisions taken by Congress could have immediate benefits — or cascading consequences — for our community.

A provision establishing a permanent IRA charitable rollover, for instance, would give much needed clarity to donors as they decide how to support programs they care about. It was heartening to see the House of Representatives take action on this common sense reform by passing the America Gives More Act, and we hope to see it quickly become law.

Other proposals, however, such as a mandatory pay-out period for donor advised funds (DAFs), would restrict donors and threaten their ability to ensure a lasting impact from their hard-earned contributions. As it stands, many DAFs do quickly distribute their funds, but others are specifically designed with long-term benefits in mind. Dozens of such funds exist in our state, benefitting everything from piano scholarships at Utah State University to funds that support our incredible natural heritage. We strongly support keeping the current law, which permits community foundations to hold, manage, and advise DAFs because these charitable vehicles help philanthropists use their hard-earned money to provide reliable, long-term support to worthy causes in our community ensuring a better future for all of us.

Utah leads the nation in charitable giving and we encourage our elected officials to work with philanthropic leaders of all interests to ensure tax policies that enhance and build on that proud heritage.

Jeramy Lund is a private investor who lives in Park City. Fraser Nelson serves as the Community Foundation of Utah's Executive Director.