Today's Passion, Tomorrow's Legacy

Some of the many ways people work with the Boston Foundation to leave a meaningful investment in the future.

February 3, 2022

By Emma Penick, Senior Director Gift Planning and Advisor Relations, and Betsy Townsend, Senior Gift Planning Officer

Recently, a longtime donor and friend of the Foundation passed away. For more than 20 years Robert, (not his real name) used his Donor Advised Fund at the Boston Foundation (TBF) to make grants focused on art, history and education throughout Massachusetts. During this time, Robert had frequent conversations with TBF staff, and more than once mentioned his plans to include the Foundation in his will by supporting the Permanent Fund for Boston, our endowment. But when he died in 2020, he did so without having created a succession plan for his Fund or formalizing his plans for a bequest to the Foundation. As a result, the balance of his fund reverted to TBF’s unrestricted endowment in accordance with Foundation policies. While we think Robert would have been happy with the outcome and the positive impact it will have in perpetuity throughout Greater Boston, we would much rather have been certain.

Our aim is to be a partner with people as they pursue their philanthropic goals. To that end, the Foundation’s Development and Donor Services staff strive to be clear about donors’ wishes. We talk with them about their aspirations and the type of impact they want to have during their lives and through their legacy. When donors express an interest in making a philanthropic plan for the future, we work with them to customize plans that will carry out their charitable intent on their behalf. For some this may entail a series of conversations where we draft their ideas over the course of a few weeks or months before documenting their plan, and for others it may develop through an existing relationship and evolve over a longer period of time before it is formalized. We encourage people to update and revise these documents as their philanthropic goals evolve.

One example of this is a donor who has a Fund with us; he actively makes grants to a dozen organizations each year and is especially passionate about two of them. He wanted to continue supporting his two favorite organizations posthumously, but came to realize he also wanted to encourage his niece to be philanthropic. He chose to make a bequest to his Fund and left instructions that once the bequest gift was realized, his Fund be divided in thirds: One third will establish a new Donor Advised Fund for his niece to advise, and the remaining two thirds are designated to endow a fund in his name from which grants can be paid to his two chosen charities in perpetuity. By creating this plan and keeping a copy on file with the Foundation, his thoughtful bequest will achieve his two-part aim.

While we work very closely with donors who have established funds with the Boston Foundation, we are also eager to speak with philanthropic-minded people whether they have funds with us or not. It may come as a surprise to many that a person need not have enormous or obvious wealth to be a philanthropist.

For instance, we recently collaborated with a donor who works for a Boston-based nonprofit and has accumulated a significant retirement account through years of compounding growth. Having spent her career in development, she knew that a legacy gift would be meaningful to almost any nonprofit. She didn’t want to leave her gift to just one organization because she has so many interests, including addressing the challenge of homelessness and preserving open space in the city. She is also an active volunteer with several nonprofits. She wasn’t sure, however, whether all the organizations she supports now would still be operating decades in the future, when her gift was likely to be realized. So, she was pleased to learn that by naming the Boston Foundation as beneficiary of her IRA she could establish two funds: One would be focused broadly on addressing homelessness and the other on maintaining and creating open spaces in Greater Boston for everyone’s enjoyment. This strategy helped direct her generosity toward issues she cared about while ensuring that the organizations that benefit from her legacy gift will be active and doing important work in those fields many years in the future when her gift is ultimately received and stewarded by TBF.

These are just a few of the many ways the Boston Foundation works with people to plan their philanthropic legacy—and we haven’t even mentioned the potential tax benefits they might realize. We are gratified that so many people think of TBF for giving during their lifetime, and we are finding that more and more people are interested in learning about how they can make a difference after they're gone by planning ahead. We are always here and we are ready to help.

If you have questions about planned giving—or if you have a Donor Advised Fund through the Foundation and are wondering whether or not you have a succession plan on file—please feel free to contact us. We value your partnership and want to support you in your philanthropy in whatever way works for you.

Please note: While the above examples are based on real donor experiences, we have changed some specifics to preserve donor anonymity.