How to integrate complex assets into your giving strategy
When your wealth is derived from a family business, real estate or another illiquid asset, supporting the causes you’re passionate about requires planning.
It’s not unusual for successful individuals and families to have a significant portion of their wealth in appreciated assets that can be complicated to liquidate or donate outright, such as a family business, shares of a private company, restricted stock, residential and commercial real estate or private equity. What’s more, the sale could trigger a substantial tax bill, especially for assets that have been held for many years, if not decades.
Donating illiquid assets to a nonprofit can be a powerful solution, providing substantial tax benefits to the donor and creating potentially large charitable contribution value to enable donors to fulfill ambitious philanthropic goals. Yet many nonprofits are not equipped to accept such donations. “A lot of complex assets have been hard, if not impossible, for charities to take in on their own, which can leave families unable to give as much as they hope to and have the type of impact they want to,” says Donald Greene, managing director and National Donor-Advised Fund executive at Bank of America Private Bank.
Another wrinkle is that the tax treatment of the gift can vary based on the type of asset being donated — all the more reason to consult with a tax advisor as well as charitable and financial advisors when you’re considering giving illiquid assets to support the charitable causes that matter to you. Here are some things to consider.
How a partner can help
Donating illiquid assets to a donor-advised fund (DAF) offers substantial benefits. Since DAFs are structured as nonprofits, donors can generally claim a tax deduction for the full market value of the gift up to annual limits based on adjusted gross income (AGI), and future DAF grants go to their preferred charities. “You maximize both your tax benefit and the amount going to charity,” says Greene. While donors realize the tax savings at the time of the contribution to the DAF, they can recommend grants from their DAFs over time. “I can make a charitable gift today and defer decisions around charitable organizations I’m going to support later,” says Tom Lawson, Managing Director, Endowment and Foundation Specialist.
With an illiquid asset, a DAF can add even more value by facilitating the sale. “Donor-advised funds help with the path to liquidity,” says Lawson. The process starts with due diligence to ensure the integrity of the assets and absence of any liabilities. “For example, if someone wants to contribute real estate, you want to find out if there’s an environmental issue whose remediation might cost more than the gift’s value,” says Lawson. In addition, the fund confirms there’s a market for what you’re donating. Gifts are typically monetized in no longer than a year and often a few months.
The tax advantages, flexibility and capacity to take in many types of assets have helped make DAFs the fastest growing charitable vehicle, with the number of accounts increasing by an average of 36% per year since 2016, according to the National Philanthropic Trust.1 “More and more people are discovering the real benefits DAFs provide,” says Greene. “Once they understand that they are simpler and less costly than other options and can liquidate contributed assets more quickly, they are opting to rely upon them.” Unfortunately, many donors don’t become aware of the benefits of DAFs until after they liquidate an asset and contribute a diminished amount of proceeds. “The benefits of using them for illiquid donations are so compelling that people often say they wish they had known about this option before they sold the asset,” confirms Greene.
Building a legacy from your business
There are particularly profound advantages to business owners who combine charitable giving with the sale of their business. When an owner contributes an interest in their business to a donor-advised fund in advance of signing a binding letter of intent, the tax deduction can help offset the capital gains taxes triggered by the sale of the business. “A client donated a share of the family business that had grown ten times. This donation provided a significant offset to the client’s capital gains exposure once the business was sold, and the full value of the contributed share of the business went into their donor-advised fund with no taxes incurred on that amount,” Greene says. “The donor is now able to grant the assets to the local soup kitchen, the school or the museum down the street.”
The timing is critical, however. Once the owner has signed a binding letter of intent with the buyer, it is too late to pursue a gift of even a portion of the business. “It’s better to start talking early in the process,” Greene says. “Many business owners are so focused on the sale of their business that they miss the window to make the most of the tax deductibility available through a presale contribution. We don’t want you to miss out on what could be a capstone event.”
Emerging illiquid assets
Private companies and real estate are the most common illiquid assets to donate to a DAF, but they’re certainly not the only ones. “As you think about the wide range of assets that can be donated, they all have certain characteristics in common,” says Greene. “They have been held for more than a year, have appreciated in value, and if you sold them in the open market, you’d have to pay capital gains taxes on them.”
As more investors take an interest in cryptocurrencies and nonfungible tokens (NFTs), those digital assets may fit the bill as well. Bank of America, however, does not accept direct donations of cryptocurrencies. Instead, the bank works with DAF industry specialists to process the donation. “The bank can facilitate an introduction for clients and provide a pathway for making these contributions,” adds Greene.
The tax treatment of the donation may be complex: cryptocurrency is considered property for the purposes of a sale or donation, but NFTs might be subject to the kinds of use rules that govern donations of art.2 Therefore, any discussion of whether to donate digital assets should be undertaken in consultation with a tax adviser.
Whatever strategy you settle on for gifting illiquid assets, doing so can have a lasting impact on your legacy. “You can take money that would have gone to taxes,” says Greene, “and create a personal charitable fund to support your giving for the next few years or the rest of your life — and the lives of your children and grandchildren.”
1 National Philanthropic Trust, “The 2021 DAF Report.”
2 Deloitte LLP, “Charitable Gifts of Crypto: Old Rules to New Assets,” 2022.