Stock market causes chaos with charities

  • October 17, 2008
{mosimage}TORONTO - Plunging prices on Bay Street and Wall Street aren’t just a problem for the stock market. Since changes in tax laws governing gifts of stock in 2006, stock market joy has been joy for charities — and stock market trouble will be trouble for charities, including churches.

Beginning in May 2006, donors have been able to deduct 100 per cent of the value of any donations of stock to a registered charity up to a value of 75 per cent of their net annual income. If their gift exceeds that 75-per-cent threshold the donor can carry forward the deduction for up to five years.
The tax holiday on stock gifts has made it very attractive during boom times for donors to give stocks instead of cash. But now that stocks are worth less and investors are looking at diminished income the well may dry up for charities.

“Gifts of stock? We’re definitely seeing a reluctance to go forward with those,” said fund-raising consultant Murray McCarthy.

McCarthy runs the development (fund-raising) department for Toronto’s Jesuit theological school, Regis College. He also teams up with his wife Martha in M&M — Ministry and Money Consulting — which advises churches on fund-raising. On both fronts McCarthy noticed an immediate chill as stock markets dove in September and October.

“Certainly larger donors are looking at the size of their gifts more closely,” McCarthy said. “People are feeling less secure.”

While only about 20 per cent of Canadian charities are faith-based, religious institutions collect about 50 per cent of the $8.5 billion a year Canadians give to charities.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has seen gifts of stock rise from zero to around $90,000 a year over the last three years, even without any sustained effort to promote the option among donors.

“I think we can anticipate that it will be less this year,” said Development and Peace executive director Michael Casey.

Development and Peace has sought to diversify its funding sources so that it is less reliant on a single Sunday’s collection during the annual Share Lent campaign, its annual fund-raising campaign. By promoting monthly giving, Development and Peace has increased its non-Share Lent income to about $3 million a year. Share Lent yielded $9.5 million last year.

Casey would like to see a ratio of two-thirds Share Lent funding to one-third other charitable giving, which would mean increasing non-Share Lent contributions to about $4.5 million.

The good news for Development and Peace is that small, regular gifts, especially giving to churches and related institutions, doesn’t usually drop during an economic downturn. The bad news is, they don’t increase either.

Encouraging a commitment to regular and more substantial giving remains a challenge among Catholics, said McCarthy. McCarthy has worked with Anglican parishes where they can count on an average of between $800 and $1,100 per family so that a parish of 250 families will have an annual budget of $300,000.

At Catholic parishes in Toronto the average is between $400 and $700 a year, said McCarthy.

“Are Catholics getting better? I haven’t seen a trend that would indicate that,” he said. “We need a little stewardship education.”

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