How to choose the method of making a charitable gift

Apr 6, 2020
hispanic couple with their financial advisor

When you’re confident you have provided financially for yourself and your loved ones, you may begin thinking about helping others through charitable giving. If you’re making a significant donation, you’ll find there’s a wide variety of ways to give. And it’s your personal wishes and financial situation that point to the donation methods that suit you best.

Wishing to experience the giving

Instead of giving through a will, many people feel a greater satisfaction from giving during their lifetime and staying informed of the charity’s work. For an even greater sense of involvement, some organizations enable a donation to be designated toward a specific purpose. Methods to give while living include cash, donor-advised funds, and securities or mutual funds.

Thinking about longevity

Some people want to make a significant gift but are concerned about supporting their retirement lifestyle if they live to a very old age. Solutions include leaving a bequest through a will or combining a gift with retirement income through a charitable remainder trust or charitable gift annuity.

Timing the tax relief

If you base your giving strategy entirely on gaining the most tax relief, you would usually choose a method that takes effect on your passing, benefitting your estate. Up to 100% of a taxpayer's net income can be claimed as donations in the year of passing and the preceding year, compared with up to 75% of net income during a taxpayer’s lifetime. However, occasions may arise when giving while living becomes the tax-smart choice – such as a year you sell property or your business and want to reduce your tax bill.

Immediate tax relief is provided by gifts of cash, donor-advised funds, charitable gift annuities and charitable remainder trusts. Tax relief to the estate is provided by bequests through a will and donations using registered accounts. Life insurance, securities and mutual funds can provide either immediate tax relief or tax relief to the estate.

Looking for greater value

Some donors may be considering a large cash donation but want to explore ways to make their money go further. One way is giving appreciated securities or mutual funds, as the tax you would normally pay on capital gains is eliminated. Giving a life insurance policy can also add value, as the total cost of premiums you pay can be less than the insurance proceeds the charity receives.

Holding a large RRSP or RRIF balance

If you’re left with significant assets in your Registered Retirement Savings Plan (RRSP) or Registered Retirement Income Fund (RRIF), those assets could represent your estate’s largest tax liability. However, by designating a charity as beneficiary of the RRSP or RRIF, the estate receives a donation tax credit that can potentially eliminate the tax payable on the RRSP or RRIF.

Ways to give

Larger charitable donations can be made in a variety of ways – here are common methods and vehicles.

Gifts of cash

It’s the simplest method, with a tax donation receipt enabling the donor to claim up to 75% of net income.

Bequests in a will

Donate a specific amount, a percentage of estate assets or the remainder of your estate after providing for heirs.

Securities and mutual funds

A donor receives a tax receipt for an investment’s fair market value, with neither the donor nor charity paying tax on capital gains. 

Life insurance

An existing or new life insurance policy can be donated to either benefit the donor during the donor’s lifetime with tax receipts for paid-up value and premiums, or benefit the donor’s estate with a tax receipt for policy proceeds.

Donor-advised funds

A donation is invested in funds that grow tax-deferred over the long term, with grants given periodically to charities of the donor’s choice.

Registered accounts

When naming a charity as beneficiary of an RRSP or RRIF, the donation tax credit can offset the tax payable by the estate on RRSP or RRIF assets. Naming a charity as beneficiary of a Tax-Free Savings Account (TFSA) can help offset other taxes payable by the estate.

Charitable gift annuities

A sum is donated, with a portion becoming the gift and the remainder purchasing an annuity that provides the donor with tax-advantaged income for life.

Talk to us when you’re thinking about charitable giving, so we can help you choose the planned giving method that best suits your personal situation.

Locate an advisor near you