Anonymous Charitable Giving

by Ervin Cohen & Jessup LLP
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Clients often ask how they can make their philanthropic gifts anonymously.  There are several reasons they cite for this practice: (a) their gifts may be published in the charity’s website, publications or annual reports, making them fair game for development people from all charities; (b) people who work for the charity or volunteers who see the charity’s donor list may similarly see them as someone to target for greater and greater donations or even (c) they adhere to a personal philosophy about giving without taking credit for it or receiving special treatment from it.

There are several ways to create a vehicle from which to make anonymous gifts.  A very easy one is to create a revocable living trust solely as the receptacle for your donation funds.  A revocable living trust for which the creator (called a “settlor”, “grantor” or “trustor”) serves as a sole Trustee or Co-Trustee, need not get a separate taxpayer identification number, and is disregarded for income tax purposes, so that any income tax deduction resulting from charitable giving will be available for the donor/grantor.

Several important steps need to be taken when creating such a single-purpose revocable trust.  First, the name of the trust should be something which has no relation to the grantor’s name, such as “The Making Change Trust” or “Brotherhood Trust”.  One client used his family’s original Hungarian name (which had been altered to an unrelated name when his forbears entered Ellis Island in 1901).  The name need not be unique, in any event.  Second, once the trust instrument is signed, the grantor should open a separate bank account with some minimum balance, so that this new account is used as a conduit for donations from the grantor/donor.  Third, the Trust should have checks created for this new account which utilize the Trust’s name (and not the grantor’s name) as well as an address which is not the donor’s home or office, such as a P.O. Box, and no telephone number.

Now, the system is set up.  If the grantor/donor wishes to make a charitable contribution, he/she merely writes a check from his/her personal account to the new Trust’s account (or wires the funds to the Trust’s account) and then writes a check on the Trust’s checkbook for the equal amount, submitting it as a donation.  The charity will return, to the address on the check, its donation acknowledgment letter, which the donor must keep for his/her personal income tax records.

If the contribution is significant in amount or the donor wants to restrict the charity’s use of the funds in any way, such that contact with the charity personnel must be involved, the donor should send a representative of the Trust, such as an attorney or other independent professional, who will explain that the donor requests anonymity even within the charity’s officers. While charity’s may pride themselves on maintaining a donor’s identity when requested to do so, just one slip will erase the donor’s efforts for invisibility, so I recommend that the donor leave nothing to chance and completely avoid any contact which would connect his/her identity to the donation.

Using this simple technique, clients have made sizable gifts to their favorite charities without exposing them to the solicitations of other charities or even from the recipient of his/her generosity.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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