Seniors & Aging

Retirement a ‘magical time’ to give to charities, foundations

Sound financial planning is important for seniors who want to donate or bequeath money to community projects.
Sound financial planning is important for seniors who want to donate or bequeath money to community projects. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

It’s important for people who donate to charities to have a “joyful giving experience,” says Stephanie Bowers, CEO of Western Washington University Foundation.

“People want to see their gifts make a difference, want to see something change,” she says.

But questions arise. What makes charitable giving meaningful? How can people with limited resources make a significant impact? What will have the most effect when there are so many choices — not only of where to donate, but how and when?

The answers involve more questions.

“Exercise your curiosity about the organizations and about yourself,” says Mauri Ingram, president and CEO of Whatcom Community Foundation. “Figure out what matters to you.”

Pamela Jons, director for programs and advancement at Whatcom Community Foundation, says the transition to retirement provides an excellent opportunity for seniors to evaluate their priorities as they ponder ways to help others.

“It’s a magical time to think about the community,” Jons says.

Timing and taxes important

Barry Meyers, a Bellingham attorney who specializes in elder law, says he brings a set of questions when he talks to clients who are thinking about donating to the community. He asks about their budget, and whether donations could put them in a difficult situation should unforeseen challenges arise.

The most important thing is coming up with a plan, sitting down, and being realistic about the future.

Barry Meyers, elder-law attorney

The timing of gifts is also crucial, Meyers says. Some people find greater satisfaction donating while they’re still alive, while others don’t seek that gratification and prefer to include bequests in their will or trust.

Meyers says clients should ask themselves, “What do we need to be comfortable? If we can’t (contribute) now, what can we do after we’re gone?”

Tax considerations often come into play. One option is a charitable remainder trust that offers income while the donor is alive, and converts to a lump-sum gift after death.

Another opportunity involves individual retirement accounts. People can take the required withdrawal from their IRA and give it to a foundation or nonprofit organization. That way, the money, which goes directly from the IRA to the organization, doesn’t count as income. People considering that approach should first check with their tax adviser or attorney.

“The most important thing is coming up with a plan, sitting down, and being realistic about the future,” he says.

Take a team approach

Meyers also stresses the importance of having a team in place for strategizing where, when, and how to donate. Many foundations can serve as a part of that team.

For example, staff at Whatcom Community Foundation can act as a matchmaker between donors and nonprofits, and help set up particular projects. An example of a targeted gift was a $500 donation to Whatcom County Library System for a graphic novel class to attract kids who don’t normally use the library.

We count on all sizes of donations.

Stephanie Bowers, CEO, Western Washington University Foundation

Other smaller donations have provided money to buy a block of tickets for a show at Mount Baker Theatre for people who otherwise would be unable to attend.

Whatcom Community College provides 200 student scholarships. Contributions there also support veterans services and provide emergency funds for textbooks, tuition, and tutoring.

Bellingham Technical College and Northwest Indian College have foundations as well.

At Western, the foundation has more than 400 endowments, sustainable funds that use investment earnings to support scholarships, research, programs and equipment. Some endowed funds begin as annual gifts and offer scholarships for specific groups of students, such as homeless and foster youths; other funds support specific programs, such as a bachelor of science in nursing. People of modest means can donate to strengthen such funds.

“We count on all sizes of donations,” Bowers says.

Five foundations to consider

Bellingham Technical College Foundation: 360-752-8684,

Northwest Indian College Foundation: 360-392-4211,

Western Washington University Foundation: 360-650-3027,, or contact Angie Vandenhaak, 360-650-3274,

Whatcom Community College Foundation: 360-383-3320,

Whatcom Community Foundation: 360-671-6463,

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