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Philanthropy – not just for millionaires

25 September 2017

Happy volunteer looking at donation box on a sunny day

Money & Life team

Money & Life contributors draw on their diverse range of experience to present you with insights and guidance that will help you manage your financial wellbeing, achieve your lifestyle goals and plan for your financial future.

You don’t have to be Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates to be a philanthropist or to enjoy the benefits of altruism. Even if you don’t have much money to spare, you might make a bequest in your will for your favourite charity or other causes you believe in. You could also lend your time, knowledge or expertise to a worthy charity, or donate items of value.

CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional Peter Campbell is lead adviser of private wealth at Nexus Wealth, a South Perth-based financial planning practice. Campbell says philanthropy can be “a strong consideration for anyone going into retirement, particularly as they are transitioning from work which has given them a ‘purpose’ for the past 30-40 years.

“Giving your assets meaning outside of sustaining your lifestyle in retirement can assist in this transition, as it gives you something else to ‘work’ on,” says Campbell.

Remember me

Campbell says that some people view bequests through Wills as a way of providing a legacy, something to be remembered for. “Particularly when donating to something that has affected the family, or is of importance to you”. He says assets can be held in testamentary (charitable) trust for a good cause, paying a certain amount per year in distribution or can be donated as a lump sum.

“Of course, a consideration to be made to philanthropy is tax treatment”, says Campbell. He says that if you are comfortable that you are living within your means and have security by way of assets/protection to support you should your income reduce, it may be appropriate to start looking at contributing an annual amount to a charity of choice.

“Giving back is extremely beneficial to you as it provides a sense of purpose, a closer connection to community. If it is within your means to do so, donations are generally tax deductible when given to an approved charity.”

A win for health

Driven by an obsession for better outcomes in workplace mental health, Pedro Diaz founded the Workplace Mental Health Institute as a boutique educational resource for managers serious about creating immediate and sustainable changes for their organisation’s mental health. Diaz is a world renowned mental health expert and former president of the Australian Association of Social Workers.

Diaz says altruistic giving of oneself or one’s resources has “long been acknowledged as having beneficial health effects. Philanthropy is, in a sense, an organised way of giving.”

He says that when people are distressed, mentally unwell or psychologically at risk, they tend to go inward and become ‘me’ obsessed. “It’s not that they don’t care about others, it’s just that the worries and sadness for themselves and their own lives grow so big in comparison,” Diaz adds. “A way to help people undo that pattern is to get them to focus on others. That helps them to ‘get out of themselves’ and connect with others. It is very therapeutic.

Diaz says multiple studies have identified ‘Connectedness’ as a key component needed for recovery of mental health problems. “But it works well for everyone,” he says.

“Connectedness means feeling part of a community. Belonging. I’m of the opinion that, when an individual contemplates giving, philanthropy can be an acknowledgement of the old adage ‘By the grace of God, there go I ’. In other words, it could easily be me,” he says.

Diaz says some of the many acknowledged health benefits of philanthropy include:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Less depression
  • Lower stress levels
  • Longer life
  • Greater happiness.

Taking a bite out of hunger

Gold Coast businessman Mike Dowling is the master franchise owner and CEO of James’ Home Services. Dowling says he became interested in helping the less fortunate about seven years ago. He looked at his own family, which includes his wife and five children, and thought there must be something he could do to help the less fortunate, especially children.

“Being philanthropic, being able to give, makes me so happy. The surprise has been just how much joy it gives me,” says Dowling. Originally he thought of how he could supply food to those who didn’t have enough to eat. Dowling was going to purchase some vans and ask the big supermarkets to donate food, which he would then deliver. “It was then that I found out about Second Bite* and I started donating to that organisation. From there it has just grown”.

Dowling says if he sees something he believes in, he will donate. “Sometimes I see stories in the paper and then I go ahead and do what I can. Or I am chatting with other business people and they tell me about organisations and that leads to me donating or sponsoring an event,” he says.

“I know what it is like to struggle as a child and what it was like to struggle as a businessman. I had a pretty tough upbringing and now that I am doing well, I want to do what I can to help those who are in need.”

Other ways to give

Although generally, philanthropy is categorised as donating money, the true meaning of the word is “the desire to promote the welfare of others”. Here are some other ways you can contribute without making financial donations.

  • Volunteer your time for something you believe in
  • Take unused toys to a children’s hospital
  • Help an elderly neighbour by running errands for them
  • Visit isolated members of your community
  • Lend an unbiased ear when someone just needs to be heard.

Top tips on taxation when donating to charity

To receive tax breaks from the ATO, look for charities with Deductable Gift Recipient (DGR) status.

Get a receipt, even for cash. Donations over $2 are tax-deductable.

If your employer has a Workplace Giving Program, donate via that.

If donating items of value rather than cash, provide documentation of the value of your gift.

When volunteering, although your time can’t be a tax deduction, the associated costs such as uniforms, and travel costs can be.

*Second Bite is an organisation the redistributes surplus fresh food to community food programs around Australia. Their mission statement is to “provide access to fresh, nutritious food for people in need.” They do this by rescuing edible, nutritious food that is heading for landfill and give it to people in need, free of charge.