I'm a proud alumna of the University of Maryland College Park. With a combination of help from my parents, part-time work and scholarships, I graduated debt-free. While I didn’t have much money starting out, I always knew that I wanted to give back.
Many have the same feelings. They recognize what they owe to the institutions that helped them achieve success, and they want to give back. But you want to give back in the most effective way, and you might not have a lot of ready cash to do so.
Before you take out the checkbook, consider all the ways to donate to your alma mater.
While I didn't have the financial means early on to make significant lifetime gifts to my alma mater, I did have time, which in many ways is more valuable. I was invited to serve on the board of directors at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. In my role as mentor for the asset management program, I realized that modest gifts of time can go a long way.
Higher educational institutions also need their alumni to call potential students, conduct interviews, work registration at events and participate in graduations and other ceremonies. In fact, alumni engagement plays a prominent role in rankings of colleges and universities.
Volunteer to speak at open house events or graduation. Your voice may sway a prospective student as he or she decides between your college and another. (There’s a side benefit to this form of giving: it allows you to gain experience as a guest speaker, a skill that employers value!)
Give a tour of campus and reflect on how the college has shaped you into a professional. Prospective college students hear statistics and facts all year. It is the personal stories that have an impact.
Volunteer to be a student mentor or career advisor for students studying your major. Guidance from a person who has been there makes all the difference. If you can't be there in person, use social media to reach out to the college community. Facebook and Twitter are great ways to send a message about your experience and communicate with professors and students.
Another way of offering your talent is by offering students who are about to graduate a chance to shadow you on the job.
Now that I have two kids in college, I understand first-hand how much contributions mean. “Mom, it’s not about giving back so much as it is paying it forward,” my daughter told me. She’ll benefit from those who were motivated to give, as I have been.
Cash isn’t always king. Donating cash is the easiest way to make a gift, but it is not always the most tax efficient option.
Some people chose to make gifts of appreciated securities, such as stocks and mutual funds. If your investments have increased in value and you have owned them for more than one year, you can receive an income tax deduction for the full fair-market value and avoid the capital gains tax. For example, if you purchased a stock for $20 per share and its value increased to $50 per share, and you donate your shares of stock to charity, you don't have to pay capital gains taxes on the $30 gain. If the appreciated stock was held for over a year and then donated directly to a charity you can usually deduct the full fair-market-value of the stock – $50 – at the time of the donation.
Financial institutions and brokerage firms require a letter of instruction or letter of authorization to transfer the shares to your alma mater. A mutual fund company may have a special form.
If you are 70 1/2 years old, subject to required minimum distributions from your IRA and your alma mater qualifies as a charity, consider a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD). You won’t be taxed on transfers up to $100,000. Please note that IRA charitable rollover gifts do not qualify for a charitable deduction.
Get real. Your alma mater might accept real estate such a house, vacation property, undeveloped land and commercial property. Donors will get an income tax deduction equal to the appraised fair market value of the property. Donors will avoid capital gains tax due on the transfer.
Donation matching. Matching contributions don’t just apply to retirement plans. Many colleges offer matching programs for donations. For example, my $333 annual gift received double matching of $666 because of a program at my own employer. The benefactor of my gift thanked me with a hand-written note and mentioned how this gift helped cover the tuition shortfall for that semester.
A CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional can help you prepare a holistic, tax-advantaged financial plan that includes gifts to your alma mater or other institutions that you wish to support.