April 15, 2020

Joe Thiegs photo

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) includes some provisions that could affect charitable giving. These changes are worth communicating to your donors, but should be done so in a way that is sensitive to the hardship and crisis that has become a reality for people around the globe.

The Changes

The CARES Act provides incentive for a large number of individuals to make cash gifts to charity, where before they received no tax benefit from charitable giving. Non-itemizers (people who take the standard deduction on their income tax returns) are allowed an above-the-line deduction of up to $300 for cash gifts to qualified charities. 

It’s also important to note that what was once the 60%-of-adjusted-gross-income (“AGI”) deduction limitation has now been temporarily increased to up to 100% of AGI for cash gifts to public charities. This means that donors making large cash gifts can completely offset their income for 2020.

One provision giving some fundraisers pause is that required minimum distributions (“RMDs”) from qualified retirement accounts in 2020 have been suspended as part of the CARES Act. This could mean that some people who otherwise would have made qualified charitable distributions (“QCDs”) from their IRAs this year might not do so. However, many donors making QCDs are doing it for the primary purpose of supporting organizations whose missions are important to them, and the tax benefits often are of minor or at least secondary consideration. Donors age 70-½ or older still can make QCDs even if they are not required to take distributions. 

Communicating With Donors

There is a lot to consider when deciding how and when to communicate with donors about giving opportunities during moments of crisis. Donors want to feel connected in this moment and they want to make a difference. So continuing strong communication with them and giving them knowledge about planned giving opportunities is the right thing to do.

Of course, we also must exercise higher-than-ordinary thoughtfulness about how to position such communications. Many stations have opted to postpone standard planned giving messaging that might come across as tone-deaf and upset supporters. At the same time, anecdotal evidence and reports suggest that the public has shown an understandably increased interest in estate planning. When donors decide to establish or update their plans, charities want to be top-of-mind.

Some stations were already planning messaging about giving incentives resulting from the SECURE Act, for example, which was passed in December of 2019. These communications should also be handled with care.

If you want to communicate with donors about changes in giving incentives related to either the CARES Act or the SECURE Act, consider combining them into one communication under a “headline” or subject line that focuses more on the unparalleled, essential service public media provides to the community right now and new opportunities or ways to make a difference. By leading with the reason so many want to give in this moment, and connecting that desire with the value your station provides, you’re acknowledging the main drivers of donors’ decisions to give. Then you can highlight particular giving opportunities that might suit individual donors.

On-air donor testimonials in the donors’ own voices explaining why your station is important to them and why they support it, without a hard ask but a soft invitation to learn more on your website or by contacting an appropriate staff member, are another way to convey the importance of giving in a gentle way. These broadcast promos can be effective in good times and in bad.

At the end of the day, working with our supporters in difficult times is much like it should be all the time: putting their needs first, asking how they and their families are doing, and checking in. Individual stewardship calls always are a good idea, and now more than ever. Give updates, show you care, and share your personal experiences. You’ll come out at the end of the day with stronger donor relationships, and that will lead to more and more significant gifts.

Joe Thiegs photo