Different Types of Charitable Efforts

September 18, 2019

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Nancy Vailakis from IQ-EQ joins Matt Kerzner and Tim Schuster to discuss various types of charitable efforts.  

IQ-EQ is a leading investor services group supporting fund managers, global companies, family offices and private clients operating worldwide.

Nancy can be reached at nancy.vailakis@iqeq.com.


Transcript

Tim Schuster: Welcome to our podcast for “Generations in Family Business: Past, Present and Future.” Our hosts for this podcast are myself, Tim Schuster, and I'm a senior manager in EisnerAmper’s Center for Family Business Excellence, and along with us is …
Matt Kerzner: … Matt Kerzner and I'm a director at the Center for Family Business Excellence.

TS: We're fortunate enough again today to have one of our favorite guests around. If you wouldn't mind introducing yourself.
NV: My name is Nancy Volakis. I'm a director of funds at IQ-EQ, a firm with 2,450 people worldwide. We're an investor solutions firm.
TS: That's fantastic. So today we're going to have a lot of fun with this podcast. We are going to be talking about different charitable efforts, and just so the folks who are listening in have a little bit of backstory, Nancy and I were having conversations about this offline, just talking about different types of charitable giving. Nancy, if you wouldn't mind telling the audience a little bit about your background in this area, how you got interested in it, and so forth.
NV: I have to thank my family. I think they gave me some of the original nuggets that led me to give back at this phase of life. Three or four years ago, I started fishing amongst New York charities that I was familiar with, and many of them were finance oriented charities, a group of women or men who had put together a charity or were on the board of a charity that I was familiar with as a result of my working background. Three or four years ago, I felt compelled to give back and I started to volunteer to get a feel for how I might give back most effectively.

When I started out, frankly, I've always been a busy professional in the New York area and so I was looking for charities that could work within my crazy schedule and help me give back. But I definitely wasn't going to be able to show up every Friday morning for three hours and do the exact same thing for years on end, which I think is sort of the classic volunteering or giving back approach. I was really excited to discover High Water Women, which is a charity that focuses on a number of initiatives. One of them is financial literacy, and you can actually log into their website and select a financial literacy instance that fits into your schedule. You can donate your time and speak to the underserved in New York City and teach them what you know about getting on that first rung of the economic ladder.

I could schedule it, given this online portal, and I could make it work with my hectic schedule. That was one really great initiative that I tripped into as I started fishing around for where I wanted to give my time. Another one is New York Cares. New York Cares has a similar online portal, but in the instance of New York Cares, they have so many charities on their site, for instance if you want to give back by gardening in the park near your home on Saturday.
TS: That's a fun one!
NV: You get outside; it's exercise. Hopefully, it's sunny. If it rains they tend to cancel. Or if you want to teach English to immigrants, you could go and do that the next day. Maybe you have five slots in August because it tends to slow down in business on the finance side during August and then, gosh, you don't have a window to help out for another year. I really felt most compelled, at least initially, in terms of giving time, toward these online portals where you can log in and sign up. Often there's a vetting process at the beginning to make sure that you're someone worthy of their charitable platform and then proceed from there. I love these online platforms that enable people to give back in a way that makes sense for them. We're all such hectic professionals. Giving back in terms of volunteering your time has evolved, and these are two instances of how it has.
MK: Nancy, when I work with families and we do a family retreat or they're starting a family council, there's a formula that we talk about and it's what do they need to live? What do they need to give to the next generation or generations? Then the third part is what do they want to give? I love what you just said because some of it’s volunteering time versus giving monetary value. I would love to hear a little bit about when I'm working with families or when families are listening to this, how do they go about starting? How did you start?
NV: Well, I love volunteering as a starting place, but depending on how you want to scale your giving of time or money, it can vary. I started by giving time, and then once I got to know a charity, and sometimes I did look at the financials to make sure that money was being used wisely, then I would often give money thereafter and perhaps get involved in more initiatives through these charities. Sometimes attending a gala and giving money for a table or attending a fundraising event is a good way to get to know a charity as well. Once again, I'm speaking for New York area charities, which is what I'm most familiar with. I always like to start up by volunteering and then get to know a charity slowly, rather than just sending a $5,000 check.

I think it's good to feel out a charity first. It's often good to pick one thing that you're looking to impact and not have it be all across the board. If it's a family that's looking to establish a foundation and they want to put, hypothetically speaking, $100 million to work or more. Certainly not everyone is Michael Bloomberg and can and really build out a full blown effort to assess and donate monies across the board. It's often good to start with a pet initiative. What’s the most important topic for you? Where do you want to make an impact? And also with respect to the charities that you give to, if in fact there isn't a volunteer component, how are you going to have them measure the success, which is costly for charities that are often short-handed?

You don't want that to be too much of a heavy lift, but equally don't want to throw a bunch of money at something and the charity folds. You have to do due diligence if you're going to give a substantial amount of money. Charitable efforts are hand in hand often with the business initiatives that I put forward. It happens to be the case that High Water Women has a board and a number of volunteers that are all in the finance sphere in New York and so am I, so that's where I started to look first.

Coming back to the foundational giving question, vetting charities is an interesting art, perhaps not a science because there are very well-meaning charities that have an exceptional mission that may be in line with your goals that may be very good at executing on that mission or not. Is the heart in the right place? That's great. Are the practical skills there to implement the mission and indeed, what would success look like? I think that last question is key because just giving without any kind of vetting does often lead to disappointment or perhaps, maybe not the outcome you were looking for. But on the flip side, you don't want to press charities for so many metrics as though they were an investment fund, and they'll take your money but they actually don't have the hands internally to deliver some kind of proof.
MK: The measurable results.
NV: The measurable results, there we are. I think that a tactical approach is wise when it comes to either putting together a giving plan or an initiative internally at a family, whether it's a foundational effort or it's a community effort. Certainly volunteering, getting to know charities is not in the cards for everybody or maybe not even of interest. Some people simply do want to give and not get their hands dirty the way that I like to do. It also depends on your interest or how you're hoping to approach it.
TS: It's interesting and tax reform obviously is a big subject here. Have you seen this area have massive amounts of change? I know one thing just to tee up the listeners here is there's now limitations to some deductions that you can potentially have in your return. Have you been seeing a shift in people giving back?
NV: I think I've seen amongst the community that I'm a part of, more giving back in terms of time versus money, especially if you're not going to meet some of the larger thresholds that would enable you to have it be a tax benefit. You're more the master of what kind of tax benefit you could get based on the amount that you give. I think my giving patterns have either enabled me to get some sort of benefit or not, depending on the year. Whereas I think extremely wealthy families can generally have some sort of tax benefit if they’re giving it higher levels. Equally, I do think that at least the headlines were suggesting that charitable giving in the form of the $50 to the Sierra Club, and I've been mailing the Sierra Club $50 every single year and I'm going to continue to do that. I think that level of giving has dropped off and indeed there are many charities that do rely on 20,000 donors who give $50 to keep the lights on. I think it's unfortunate that that level of giving is perhaps less palatable for people now given the new tax reform. But you're the tax expert so what do you think, Tim?
TS: It's interesting actually because I do see that a lot. I'm glad you just brought that up because I see a lot of people who were the $10 person, $20 person and not giving as much anymore because they're not seeing the benefit. But then it goes to more of an interesting question as to passion. It's almost finding what is passionate to them. If someone who is actually passionate about the organization, I think will still give to it regardless of the benefit or not benefit that they're receiving from it because they love the organization.

I think from at least that side, you're not seeing it as much. But if you have just that will and the drive to at least give that $20, $50 whatever it might be, you're still going to do it.
NV: It's probably more in the mid-range where you were giving $5,000 a year to five pet charities where people are seeing less benefit and so they might be inclined to give back instead of giving that amount because you fall into a gray area. I guess it's also worth noting that another place that I initially look when I look to give back to mentor the next generation is to teach people about financial literacy, which is something I know about.
TS: That's amazing, by the way. We love that. That's so cool.
MK: It's actually very critical.
NV: Well, it’s amazing how little people know about their finances and how to take care of the basics—I need to make more money than I'm spending.
TS: You're a personal business actually, if you think of it that way.
NV: Yeah, you’re running your own personal business and your credit score reflects that. I think, unfortunately, with respect to the lower levels of giving, and I'll say $5,000 and below, there does seem to be a drop-off and just giving your time does not a charity make. People have to keep the lights on, hire people to run the programs. So people feeling dissuaded from giving to causes that they feel passionate about is an unfortunate outcome of the recent tax reform, but at the higher levels people are perhaps even more encouraged to give.
TS: They get a better benefit, whatever it might be.
NV: Right. And so I think there'll be charities that benefit from that depending on what their existing donor base currently is and also how compelled those donors feel about giving more. We'll see in the long term how the tax reform has impacted charities.
TS: We shall see. I love it. Thanks Nancy. How do people reach out to you if they have any further questions and they want to talk to you about this?
NV: My email address is Nancy.Vailakis@iqeq.com. Thanks Matt and Tim.
TS: Our pleasure. And thank you for listening to “Generations in Family Business: Past, Present, and Future” as part of the EisnerAmper podcast series. If you have any questions or there's a topic you'd like us to cover, email us at contact@eisneramper.com Visit eisneramper.com for more information on this and a host of other topics. We look forward to having you listen in on our next EisnerAmper podcast.

About Matthew Kerzner

Mr. Kerzner is a Director in the Center for Family Business Excellence. Matt has more than 25 years of experience in organizational development with a specialization in assisting family businesses and closely held businesses.

About Tim Schuster

Mr. Schuster is a Manager providing tax compliance services to individual filers, as well as assistance on tax returns for companies in the manufacturing and real estate industries.

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