Legacy giving - take the pledge, Sonoma Valley Fund launches campaign
There was a time when only the very wealthy went beyond their immediate family and perhaps an alma mater, to include gifts to local charities in their wills.
Well, times are changing. Legacy giving has been democratized and what was once the exclusive domain of the Rockefellers and DuPonts now includes the Smiths, the Joneses and millions of other proud American families.
A recent survey showed that 11 percent of Americans have earmarked money for charities in their wills, and one-in-five wills today contains a charitable bequest. Furthermore, the annual dollar volume of these bequests is growing eight to nine times faster (adjusted for inflation) than U.S. charitable giving overall.
This up-tick in legacy giving is a bright spot on what has otherwise been a bleak environment for nonprofit organizations. The U.S. economy is in or near recession, millions of Americans are out of work, and discretionary spending is at very low levels. Government grants to philanthropic organizations have all but dried up.
Here in Sonoma Valley, local charities have been hit hard and are struggling to bridge the gap between diminished annual giving and burgeoning demands for services. Whatever our community can do to sustain and increase legacy giving to these important frontline organizations must be given a very high priority.
At Sonoma Valley Fund, we're in the business of legacy giving. As an affiliate of Community Foundation Sonoma County, and with the support of its professional staff, we help donors customize their gifts to best reflect their charitable desires.
We also work with Sonoma Valley's outstanding nonprofit organizations to develop and manage their legacy gift programs. Our long-term goal is to increase the number of legacy gifts in order to "Endow the Valley."
We look forward to the day - not too far away - when our community organizations will operate with a strong, long-term financial footing, one that includes a sizeable endowment "cushion," ensuring that these agencies will be able to deliver fully in the best and worst of times.
Not long ago, Microsoft's founder and ex-CEO Bill Gates, his wife Melinda Gates, and financier Warren Buffet, along with 38 other U.S. billionaires, made a very public pledge to leave 50 percent of their wealth to charity. Inspired by the Gates' and Mr. Buffet's action, the State Assembly of California followed up with a formal declaration, encouraging regular Californians to follow suit by pledging 10 percent of their estates to charitable organizations. (see www.californiaplanyourgiving.org.)
Now it's my turn. As president of Sonoma Valley Fund, I will ask each of our board members and advisors who have not already done so, to take stock of their lives, acknowledge their blessings and accomplishments, and pledge 10 percent of their estates, large or small, to the local charity or charities of their passion.
Their legacy gift can be made in the areas of health and human services, education, arts and culture, the environment or animal welfare.
You name it. What better way to create a meaningful legacy and serve the future of this Valley that we call home?
I have taken the pledge. And I hope you will consider doing it, too. Sonoma Valley Fund has established a website to make taking the pledge easy.
It only takes a moment, and your commitment will create a brighter future for our Valley.
To take the pledge, go to: www.sonomavalleyfund.org/take_the_pledge/.
• • •
Harriet Derwingson is president of the Sonoma Valley Fund, which was established in 2006. Its mission is to strengthen our community through philanthropy and legacy giving. News of its plans, programs and activities are reported regularly in The Sonoma Index-Tribune.