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  • Writer's pictureRyan M. Vogel, CFP®

Should I Keep Giving When My Portfolio Is Down?

Updated: Dec 19, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • There is no magic formula for how much to give. It’s a very personal decision based on your values, priorities and other financial obligations. It shouldn’t be influenced by a volatile market.

  • Focus on what you can control in a down market. Reducing taxes while supporting worthy causes is one thing we can influence.

  • Establishing a donor advised fund (DAF) is a great way to facilitate charitable giving. DAFs are easy to set up and offer many administrative and tax advantages for donors.

One of the many things I love about living in this area is that generally speaking, people are very generous when it comes to giving to charity. But since the stock and bond market have been so volatile lately, many people are asking themselves if they can still afford to give at their usual level. The answer always comes back to one’s personal circumstances, but with a properly constructed financial plan, the answer most often is “yes.” And that’s important since charitable organizations need your help more than ever during these challenging times. For the majority of our clients, charitable giving is a cash flow expense that has already been incorporated into their plan. They can keep giving at their usual level and their financial plan will remain successful.

How much can I afford to give?

There is no easy answer to that question since giving is a very personal decision. When a new client starts working with us, one of the first things we ask about are their personal values and what they’d like their money to accomplish. Some clients tithe 10% of their income as part of their religious faith and those gifts are a part of their normal living expenses. We tell them: “Based on your finances and your living expenses, this is how much you can afford to give. If you’d like to give more, then you may have to make some sacrifices in other areas.” Other clients give on an “as needed” (or as requested basis). They’re generous, but according to their personal values there may be other areas in which they want to spend their money. Again, each giving strategy is customized to our clients’ personal situation, priorities and values.

Different Ways To Contribute

When you get to a certain point in life, writing dozens and dozens of checks to charitable causes can get tiresome. It also becomes harder to remember to whom you’ve given, when you last gave, and how much you gave over the years. Recordkeeping for tax purposes can become a nightmare.

That’s where a donor advised fund comes in. A DAF is like a personal charitable investment account for the sole purpose of supporting charitable organizations you care about. When you contribute cash, securities or other assets to a DAF (i.e., Fidelity Charitable or Schwab Charitable), you are generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds can be invested for tax-free growth for charitable purposes. Donors can contribute to the fund as frequently as they like, and then recommend grants to their favorite charitable organizations whenever it makes sense for them.

At Novi, we advocate DAFs because we always want clients to gift appreciated investments when giving to charity. Despite the downturn in 2022, stocks have had quite a run over the past 13 years. Most clients still have plenty of highly appreciated stock. If you’re still working, you’re in especially good position to gift highly appreciated stock to charity via a DAF. This enables you to avoid the realized capital gain. Meanwhile, your extra cash can be used to repurchase the stock you’ve just donated. This allows you to step up your cost basis for extra tax savings. You also get the charitable deduction, and you stay fully invested. It’s a win-win all around.

Many clients support one or two main charities, but they will gift in smaller denomination to 15 (or more) different causes, each with their own delivery instructions. It can be an administrative headache trying to gift appreciated stock to so many different places and to remember what you gave in previous years. With a DAF, by contrast, you make a single donation of stock, and you can instruct the DAF to allocate the funds to as many charities as you want. A DAF also makes it easier to do a single lump sum gift that gets distributed over multiple years. If you’re selling a business or have a big gain coming up this year, you can gift the stock now and grant it over a number of years. With a DAF, you have a tidy written record of each transaction. Tax reporting is much simpler. You get just one letter at the end of the year giving you your deduction amount.

Should I still contribute stock in a down market? Yes. You still want to gift stock that has the highest unrealized gain that you own.  Even if you don’t grant the money right away after the gift is made, when stocks bounce back, your favorite charities will benefit from the tax-free growth.

Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCDs) For people over 70-1/2, you can take money out of your IRA directly and give up to $100,000 a year directly to a charity tax-free ($200,000 for married couples). This is an especially good strategy for people taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) because the exclusion from gross income is even better than a charitable deduction. Just remember to keep good records of your charitable gifts by keeping copies of donation confirmations. Also remember to report the gift properly on your 1040 next spring so you don’t accidentally pay tax on a charitable gift.

Charitable Trust Planning

For families with more complex giving and legacy planning needs, charitable trust planning can be a powerful tool for supporting favorite charities while meeting other needs such as income and tax reduction. A charitable remainder trust (CRT) is one of the more common trust planning vehicles. A CRT allows you to give larger sums to charity – say a concentrated stock position -- and receive a tax deduction for your gift. Meanwhile, you continue to live off the income while you and your spouse remain alive. Once you pass, however, the money goes to the designated charity, not to your heirs, so a CRT is a good way to reduce the value of your estate.

Conclusion Giving is a personal choice, but in a properly structured financial plan, it won’t be heavily influenced by the year-to-year fluctuations of the financial markets. If you or someone close to you has questions or concerns about your giving plans, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We are happy to review them for you.




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