National Park ServiceU.S. Department of the Interior
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Planned Gifts to Parks and Donor Motivations

People believe in national parks and recognize their importance in society. Through planned giving to national park units, individuals are able to leave a legacy and publicly demonstrate their values and principles.

Individuals also give because of the affinity they feel to a particular NPS park or park program. They are impressed by the work being accomplished by park staff and want to play a part in supporting it. Often it is the staff and volunteers' professionalism and dedication that inspire donors to give.

The impact of the gift is another motivating factor. Donors are motivated to give because of the difference their gift will make to the park and the number of people that will be served. Donors are interested in the social benefit of the gift. Some donors see it as their civic duty to participate. Others give to enhance their social status. They like to be acknowledged as influential players and contributors who are truly making a positive difference in their community and the world.

Understanding individual donor motivations and objectives through personal contacts and relationship building is key to understanding basic planned giving possibilities/options. You should rely on the donor connecting with their technical advisors for structuring their planned gift. Success in planned giving requires the ability to develop meaningful relationships with your donor base and your constituency.

With the enactment of legislation that increased capital gains taxes in 1986, planned giving options grew in popularity as a means to avoid, minimize or delay capital gains taxes. However, planned gifts are rarely made strictly for tax considerations. A strong belief in an organization's mission is generally the primary motivating factor behind most planned gifts.

Warren Buffet, Chairman and Chief Executive of Berkshire Hathaway, made news in 2006 when he announced plans to begin giving away 85 percent of his $44 billion fortune to five foundations. The major recipient of this generous gift was the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation which will receive $1.5 billion annually in Berkshire Hathaway Inc. stock. Buffet's decision to begin giving away his money now as opposed to after his death was influenced by his wife's death and the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Buffet said that he felt good about giving the money away and that although he knows how to make money, when it comes to giving it away he wanted to rely on people who know the business of spending money wisely. Buffet likened the experience to outsourcing - you hire people who are experts in their field rather than trying to do something you aren't trained to do.

"What can be more logical, in whatever you want done, than finding someone better equipped than you are to do it?" Buffett told Fortune magazine. "Who wouldn't select Tiger Woods to take his place in a high-stakes golf game? That's how I feel about this decision about my money."

Planned gifts to the National Park system or organizations working to benefit National Park system units are generally made because:

  • People associate national parks with permanence - parks are forever. A gift to a national park is a lasting legacy, which will benefit a donor's descendants and future generations.
  • For many people, some of the finest moments of their lives have occurred in national parks. These moments become cherished memories that people would like to sustain for others to enjoy. The first key of success with planned gifts is to always provide quality visitor services and experiences that people remember and want to support.
  • The National Park Service represents one of the best institutions in America. Most people feel that the Park Service will be accountable and deal honorably and responsibly with their donation.

A planned gift also has some practical advantages for the donor:

  • A planned gift does not weaken the financial security of the donor during their lifetime. Many kinds of planned gifts are not realized until after the donor has died and no longer needs cash, property, or other assets.
  • A planned gift provides the donor peace of mind that the right thing will be done with their estate. Most potential donors have strong feelings about how their estate is handled. A donor may want to see their property kept in its natural state, building preserved, their collections properly cared, etc. A planned gift can guarantee these desires will be served.
  • A planned gift to a public agency or a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization is deductible from the donor's estate and/or income taxes. Inheritance taxes can put heirs in stressful situations in which they are forced to sell off property and assets to pay taxes. A planned gift to the Park Service or nonprofit organization reduces or avoids taxes charged against the estate. Many kinds of planned gifts also provide immediate income tax deductions as well.
  • A planned gift may be a sound financial planning strategy. Even beyond the tax advantages, planned gifts can often help provide current and certain financial security as part of prudent overall financial planning.

The National Park Service has received a number of planned gifts over the years. These gifts have included tracts of land, historic buildings and furnishings, costumes, gun collections, life insurance policy benefits, securities and cash.

For illustrations of the various types of planned gifts that parks have benefitted from, click on Planned Giving Examples.

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