Charity Donation Check Signature

Americans distributed an average of $9,200 from their IRAs to charities from 2017 to 2018, according to a new report from FreeWill, a fundraising firm.

These qualified charitable distributions — commonly known as IRA charitable rollover gifts — surged by 73.8% over that period, and 92% of nonprofit organizations surveyed by FreeWill reported increases in QCD giving.

The 7% of nonprofits that reported a decrease were mainly very small charities that received few QCD donations in both years, the report said.

FreeWill noted that QCDs are open to anyone 70-1/2 and older with a traditional IRA — 401(k)s are not eligible for QCDs. Distributions from IRAs can satisfy the IRS’s minimum distribution requirement. These gifts can be made annually up to a maximum of $100,000 per year; there is no minimum.

FreeWill’s research comprised a survey and conversations with upward of 120 nonprofits with total revenue ranging from $1 million to $1 billion.

The research showed that QCD gifts are getting bigger. Fifty-two percent of charities surveyed reported that the average gift had increased since 2017. Only 12% said the average had decreased, and 30% reported no change.

What accounts for the sharp growth in giving via QCDs? Fifty percent of respondents said demographics were responsible, while 27% pointed to changes in the tax law.

According to the report, the tax law changes mean that for many donors older than 70, QCDs may be their only way to get a meaningful tax benefit from charitable contributions as they will no longer itemize deductions and so will not have access to the charitable deduction.

Besides tax incentives, demographic shifts are fundamentally changing charitable giving in the U.S., according to the report. Americans between 70 and 80 are the fastest growing age bracket, and their numbers will continue to grow over the coming decade.

Nonprofits in the study reported several obstacles that keep donors from making QCD contributions. Eight in 10 respondents said their biggest challenge when processing these gifts was lack of information shared by IRA custodians.

Respondents said a second challenge to QCDs reaching their coffers was that many donors are unaware that the option exists or are confused by the process of making contributions. Planned giving officers reported that as many as 75% of all questions in estate planning sessions with donors were about QCDs.

The third major challenge comes from confusion within nonprofits about which department is responsible for QCDs from IRA rollovers. Twenty-four percent of respondents said the responsibility devolved on a combination of departments.

FreeWill offered two recommendations:

  1. Increase marketing and donor education around QCDs — three in five respondents said they planned to do so
  2. Simplify the process for donors — “Making a QCD is an unnecessarily arduous endeavor, thanks to little support from IRA custodians.”

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