No Bah! Hambug: Looking Back At Year End Reasons to Gift To Charity

Give money imageAs we ring out 2012 with an uncertain fiscal and tax climate ahead, we are mindful that many clients are frozen about their future plans and concerned for their own financial future. They are uncertain whether or not to make a significant gift to family members and concerned about the impact of the pending tax increases on their earnings and small businesses. This is the time many of us decide whether or not to donate additional funds to our favorite charities.

Now is the time to make our final gifting decisions. In doing so it is inspirational to remember that many significant philanthropic gifts that have made this country what it is happened before the concept of taxation became a driving force.

In 1913 the 16th Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. This established the federal income tax. Following this Amendment the Revenue Act of 1913 was adopted and exempts organizations “organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, or educational purposes”; subsequent acts added “prevention of cruelty to children or animals” (1918), “literary” (1921), “community chest, fund or foundation” (1921), and testing for public safety” (1954) to the list of exempt organizations. The 1916 Revenue Act established the estate tax.

Prior to these Acts significant philanthropy occurred.

The website of the National Philanthropic Trust contains many inspirational reminders as to why giving to philanthropy is an important part of our history, and the site reminds us that no matter what the tax consequences may be, charitable giving is an essential part of what makes America strong. The following is a highlight of some of the philanthropic milestones this website highlights. It is clear that the time, treasure, and talent of American gifting pre-dates taxation and is a fundamental root of American greatness. (The following edited timeline presented here represents a portion of an ongoing research project at The National Philanthropic Trust. For more information on this project, please call 215-277-3041 and for more information visit their website at

1644 – Four of the New England colonies recommended that each family contribute a peck of wheat or a shilling in cash to Harvard for the support of students. For a decade or so, the revenues of the “College Corne” were sufficient to support the entire teaching staff of the college, as well as a dozen scholars.

1702 – Cotton Mather published Magnalia Christi Americana, one of the earliest celebrations of American philanthropy. He later published Essays to do Good, stating that charity should be voluntary actions of the community and not government.

1731 – Benjamin Franklin and 50 friends started The Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s first successful circulation library, so that people of moderate means could better themselves through reading.

1790 – Five free African-Americans founded the Brown Fellowship Society, the oldest funeral society in Charleston. The Brown Fellowship Society provided services for its members, including education, medical care, and support for widows and orphans of the deceased.

1826 – James Smithson, a British scientist, drew up his last will and testament, naming his nephew as beneficiary. Smithson stipulated that, should the nephew die without heirs (as he would in 1835), the estate should go “to the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men.” The motives behind Smithson’s bequest remain mysterious – he never traveled to the United States and seemed to have had no correspondence with anyone here. Smithson died in 1829. On July 1, 1836, Congress accepted the legacy and, in September 1838, Smithson’s gift of more than 100,000 gold sovereigns (or $500,000 U.S.), was delivered to the mint at Philadelphia. An Act of Congress, signed by President James K. Polk on Aug. 10, 1846, established the Smithsonian Institution as a trust to be administered by a Board of Regents and a Secretary of the Smithsonian.

1842 – The New York Philharmonic, the oldest symphony orchestra in the United States, and one of the oldest in the world, was founded by a group of local musicians led by Ureli Corelli Hill. On December 18, 2004, the Philharmonic gave its 14,000th concert — a milestone unmatched by any other orchestra in the world. The Orchestra currently plays some 180 concerts a year.

1860 – Boys & Girls Clubs of America was organized by several women in Hartford, CT who believed that boys should have a positive alternative to roaming the streets.

1874 – Philadelphia Zoo, the nation’s first zoo, opened.

1891 – A Salvation Army captain in San Francisco, determined to provide the poor with a free Christmas dinner, began what has become the oldest continuously-run fundraising campaigns in America. To pay for the food, he put a large pot at a ferry landing where those using the ferry boats could easily see it. This launched the tradition of the Christmas kettle which has spread throughout the United States.

1902 – Goodwill was founded in Boston by Rev. Edgar J. Helms, a Methodist minister and early social innovator. Helms collected used household goods and clothing in wealthier areas of the city, then trained and hired those who were poor to mend and repair the used goods. The goods were then resold or were given to the people who repaired them. The system worked and the Goodwill philosophy of “a hand up, not a hand out” was born.

1904 – In writing his will, which made provision for the establishment of the Pulitzer Prizes as an incentive to excellence, Joseph Pulitzer specified solely four awards in journalism, four in letters and drama, one for education, and four traveling scholarships. In letters, prizes were to go to an American novel, an original American play performed in New York, a book on the history of the United States, an American biography, and a history of public service by the press. But, sensitive to the dynamic progression of his society, Pulitzer made provision for broad changes in the system of awards.

1909 – In a small apartment in New York City, Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard, and William English Walling formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). As the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, it has changed America’s history in countless ways, including school desegregation, extending voting rights and preventing employment discrimination.

Of course, many significant philanthopic acts of time, treasure, and talent followed the establishment of the tax code and its deductions. However in this turbulent economic and financial time, it is important to remember that in years past when Americans faced adversity and stress, philanthropy was, as it is now, important regardless of any tax consequence.


Patricia Annino is a sought after speaker and nationally recognized authority on women and estate planning.  She educates and empowers women to value themselves and their contributions in order to ACCOMPLISH GREAT THINGS in the world – and in so doing PROTECT THEMSELVES, those they love, and the organizations they care about.  Annino recently released an updated version of her successful book, Women and Money: A Practical Guide to Estate Planning to include recent changes in the laws that govern how we protect our assets during and beyond our lifetime.  To download Annino’s FREE eBook, Estate Planning 101 visit,

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