Giving With a Kick
Donor-advised funds offer generous people flexibility and tax advantages. And the Initiative Foundation makes them easy to manage.
By Gene Rebeck | Photography by John Linn
One day a few years back, Little Falls resident Paul Cameron asked his wife, Colette, whether she’d bought him anything for their anniversary. “I said no,” Colette recalled. “So he said, ‘How about we buy a zebra?’”
He meant helping the Pine Grove Zoo in Little Falls to acquire a zebra. “That took me aback,” Colette Cameron said. “But then I thought, that would be awesome.” As part of their donation two years ago, the Camerons were able to name the zebra Lucy after Colette’s mother and one of their granddaughters.
It’s just one example of how the Camerons, who’ve resided in Little Falls for four decades, have supported the community they love. They decided to do even more in 2020 by establishing the Colette and Paul Cameron Donor Advised Fund. This year, the fund made its first grant, helping the zoo acquire two capuchin monkeys. In addition to Pine Grove Zoo, the Camerons intend to make future grants to organizations they have long supported and served, including the Little Falls Golf Course and Little Falls-based Great River Arts.
“Little Falls has been good to us,” Paul Cameron said. “Because we’ve been fortunate in life, we decided it would be a great idea to share back with the organizations we have close affiliation with some of the success that we’ve enjoyed.”
Donor-advised funds are the fastest-growing form of philanthropy today. In 2019, grantmaking nationwide from donor-advised funds totaled more than $25 billion, a 93 percent increase since 2015. That popularity extends to Central Minnesota. The Camerons’ fund is one of 25 donor-advised funds hosted by the Initiative Foundation. In 2020, Initiative Foundation-hosted donor-advised funds disbursed about $660,000 in grants throughout Central Minnesota and beyond.
“Donor-advised funds have become wildly popular,” said Kate Bjorge, community philanthropy manager at the Initiative Foundation.
Funds are easy to establish and can range in size from a minimum of $20,000 up to multiple millions of dollars. In addition to serving as a great vehicle for giving back to your community and supporting your passions, donor-advised funds provide meaningful tax advantages and allow donors to give charitably for years or even generations. And, as the name suggests, donors retain a strong voice in how grants from their fund are distributed. Once donors advise the Initiative Foundation on the grants they want to award, the Foundation manages the process, including validation steps to ensure the recommended recipient is legally eligible to receive the award.
“We think that’s another benefit to establishing a donor-advised fund with the Initiative Foundation,” Bjorge said. “Our goal is to make it easy for donors to express their charitable wishes and then have the Foundation and its staff handle all the details.”
In addition, donor-advised funds aren’t required to make a minimum distribution in the same way that community foundations are obligated to do, Bjorge said. “And they don’t have to make grants or recommendations at a particular time of year. They can make their recommendations on their time and terms,” she said. “It’s really that flexibility that donors appreciate.” The Initiative Foundation takes care of the rest, including the back-end paperwork and document filing that is necessary in the grantmaking world.
The Initiative Foundation also encourages donors to think about the communities that matter to them and “how they can join with us to make a meaningful difference locally,” Bjorge said. During 2020, with the arrival of the pandemic and the economic struggles it wrought, several donor-advised funds consulted with the Initiative Foundation on how to best direct their resources. “We were able to work together and focus on shared solutions,” she said, which included support for local food shelves and other nonprofits.
Since the onset of the pandemic, organizations have contacted Bjorge to ask whether there are any donor-advised funds that might assist them: “I can get on the phone to donors and say, ‘Hey, this may or may not fall within your funding priorities and the things that you care about. But because you are part of our region, will you consider a grant recommendation to meet this need?’ And many of them do.”
Community support is certainly the rationale behind the Camerons’ donor-advised fund. The couple plans to increase their contributions over time: “This is just the start for us, for what we hope will be a lifelong—and after—pattern of giving to organizations that we are committed to in Little Falls.”
MAKE YOUR COMMUNITY CONNECTION
A donor-advised fund is a flexible and easy-to-establish vehicle for giving charitably to the causes that matter most to you. Donor-advised funds can be created with gifts of cash, securities, real estate or other assets. The fund can be invested for growth, which permits you to make annual gifts to your preferred charities. To explore the benefits of a donor-advised fund, visit ifound.org/ways-to-give/start-a-fund/ or contact Zach Tabatt.