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John J. Brennan
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The Season of Giving

November 10, 2010

It's that time of year when our mailboxes fill with reminders from charitable organizations that we've supported in the past, and those that might be new to us. It's also, of course, the time when many of us begin thinking about tax planning (and saving!) ideas--and charitable giving can play an important role. These requests serve as a great reminder to revisit our philanthropic goals and our giving strategies.

As a side note, as Vanguard Charitable's Chairman, I'd like to invite you all to check this space in December for a summary of a Vanguard webcast about charitable giving. Alisa Shin and I will discuss the rewards of charitable giving, special tax considerations for 2010, and one way to give that's convenient (but often overlooked).

We truly are entering the Season of Giving, in many different ways. Some parts of the annual cycle for Americans are more enjoyable than others. As children, nothing was better than the last day of school. As adults, "April 15" carries a somewhat less enjoyable connotation. The Season of Giving should rate with that day in June, not that day in April, with respect to enjoyment and anticipation.

Teach your children well
This season should be one of great anticipation because those of us who are blessed with the means to be truly philanthropic can make a huge difference for the causes we support. We can also set an example for family and friends. The English author Thomas Fuller said, "Charity begins at home, but it should not end there." For my wife and me, that's one of the most powerful lifetime lessons we've learned and tried to impart to our own children. Our parents taught us early on that stewardship--the giving of time, talent, and treasure--was an important responsibility. We've tried to follow their example through our whole adult lives.

More important, perhaps, we've tried to instill the same values in our children. We've taken it as far as asking them, "Which charities would you like us to support?" at this time of year since they were old enough to know about the good works done by non-profit organizations. It's a strategy I'd highly recommend to anyone who hopes to see a family legacy of philanthropic behavior--without regard to "How Much"--continued from generation to generation. Such conversations are fun--they give you great insight into your children--and they can be helpful as you think about your own strategy for giving.

Vanguard Charitable's Gift of Giving
Some of our donors have taken this concept to a new level of commitment that's worth mentioning here. We call it the "Gift of Giving" and it's where parents (generally) establish donor-advised funds for each of their (generally young adult) children to allow them to begin handling some of the family's philanthropy directly. It's a wonderful gift and, not coincidentally, a great estate planning tool.

We've found that many of our donors have quite specific gifting strategies in place for family members, but by providing philanthropic resources to their children, they can augment those gifts, without the risk of providing too much money in the form of current gifts. In any case, this is a great concept and, like conversations with the family, it can be a great way to carry out your personal and philanthropic goals.

As you can tell, I hope, I love the Season of Giving. At Vanguard, it starts with our outstanding annual United Way campaign and culminates with our "Sponsor a Child" program in which our crew members "adopt" a few thousand young children and make their holidays bright with bags full of gifts (and a cafeteria full of bikes on distribution day.) At Vanguard Charitable, Community Outreach Days, the great work of the Community Investment Task Force, and other key "give back" initiatives set the tone for the season. Then, of course, each of us has our own personal goals, objectives, and strategies to make this season special. I hope my two tips in this blog piqued your interest. We hope, too, you'll share your strategies with us.


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