Total charitable impact


Donors and charities alike gain from the contribution of appreciated securities

October 2, 2017


With equity market returns at eye-popping levels over the last several years, many investors hold securities that have appreciated in value. That’s good news, but selling those securities can potentially mean higher taxes. Yet again, there’s a positive: If you have held your appreciated securities for more than one year, you can donate them to charity and not only claim a tax deduction for their full fair market value but also avoid capital gains tax.


US equity markets have returned 346% since the bottom of the bear market in March 2009. They were up 94% just over the last five years, August 31, 2012, to August 31, 2017.


“Vanguard Charitable is seeing increasing numbers of in-kind contributions of appreciated securities,” said Kevin Cavanaugh, chief financial officer of Vanguard Charitable. “Donors want to take advantage of a smart opportunity to share their good fortune with charity and receive tax benefits at the same time.”

“Unless there’s a reason to sell late in the year, you can enable your charities to put the money to work sooner by donating these securities at other times. ”


Indeed, over the last five calendar years, 58% of the total contributions to Vanguard Charitable were appreciated securities—stocks, bonds, mutual funds and ETFs. In the June 2016 to June 2017 period alone, 64% of contributions were appreciated securities, compared to 55% in the same period the previous year.


Tax treatment of appreciated securities

The tax treatment of a gift of appreciated securities will differ depending on the type of securities donated, along with other factors. Please consult with your tax advisor before making a decision.


Valuation of appreciated securities Tax benefits of appreciated securities

Mutual funds:


Value is based on the closing price (net asset value) on the date the donor relinquishes control of the donated shares, multiplied by the number of shares donated.


Stocks, bonds and ETFs:


Value is based on the average of high and low selling prices on the date the donor relinquishes control of the donated shares, multiplied by number of shares donated.    

If gifted during the donor’s lifetime:


  • No capital gains tax.
  • Up to 30% of AGI if valued at fair market value (FMV). Contributions above AGI limit can be carried forward for up to 5 years.
  • To claim deductions up to 50% of AGI, donors can choose to deduct cost basis for donated appreciated securities. However, if they make this election, they must also base deductions on cost basis for any other donations of appreciated securities or property during the same tax year or carryforward period. Special tax rules will apply.


If gifted as an estate bequest:


Estate tax deduction for full market value of donation at death.



The right time to donate appreciated securities

If you hold appreciated securities and are considering donating them to charity, you might be wondering when you should make the contribution. After all, the market may keep going up and you might capture even more value. On the other hand, the bull market can’t go on forever and a market reversal could pull down the value of those shares.


Either way, charities stand to gain. So the answer depends on a number of factors, including the need for portfolio rebalancing and personal charitable goals (i.e., to make a large gift at a designated time or to fund a specific purpose for a charity). It’s a good idea to discuss these considerations with your advisor before you give.


In particular, rebalancing your portfolio can be an ideal time to gift appreciated securities. Rebalancing is buying and selling securities in your portfolio to bring it in line with your preferred asset allocation (the way you divide your portfolio among asset classes to balance risk and return). Rebalancing is generally recommended when your asset allocation is 5% or more away from your target allocation. Rather than selling appreciated securities when you rebalance, consider donating them instead. It can be good for your portfolio, your tax bill, and your favorite charity.

“Many charities lack the ability to directly accept appreciated securities, but donor-advised funds like Vanguard Charitable have the expertise and resources to do so. ”


While many donors associate contributing and granting with the end of the year, charities need support year-round. Unless there’s a reason to sell late in the year, you can enable your charities to put the money to work sooner by donating these securities at other times. In fact, Vanguard Charitable research shows that 96% of charities prefer to receive donations throughout the year rather than at year-end. A steady flow of donations helps charities better manage cash flow, continue providing services outside of seasonal giving periods, and complete work driven by needs, not the calendar.


Make sure your charity has the sophistication to accept appreciated securities

Gifting appreciated securities is more complex than contributing cash. Larger nonprofits might have the capability to easily handle appreciated securities, but many smaller organizations may not.


So as not to create a burden on a charity by giving it appreciated securities it isn’t equipped to handle, many donors instead contribute the securities through giving tools such as a donor-advised fund. Vanguard Charitable has the expertise and infrastructure to easily facilitate these transactions.


Want to contribute appreciated securities to Vanguard Charitable?

Once Vanguard Charitable receives both your donated securities and documentation in good order, we sell the securities as quickly as possible, generally on the business day following their receipt. We then invest the proceeds of the sale into the investment options you’ve recommended in your Vanguard Charitable account. From there, you recommend your grants, whether you want to grant regularly in the short-term, save to make larger grants down the line, or do both.


While charities need your support year-round, we understand the end of the year is prime time for fundraising appeals. If you want to contribute appreciated securities at that time, please be aware of our year-end contribution deadlines so that we can help achieve your year-end goals.


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1Source: Vanguard. Cumulative returns from February 28, 2009, through August 31, 2017, reflecting the MSCI US Broad Market Index through June 2, 2013, and the CRSP US Total Market Index thereafter.