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Philanthropy can blend tax deductions, engagement and impact

Towards the end of the financial year, many people start focussing on potential tax deductions to reduce their taxable income. The most common techniques include bringing forward expenses or realising capital losses, but don’t overlook the role philanthropy can play in end-of-year tax planning.

Tax deductible donations to charities always increase at this time of year. However, there are other ways to support the community in a tax-effective way over the long term, such as by establishing a private ancillary fund or a sub-fund in a public ancillary fund.

What is a private ancillary fund?

A private ancillary fund (PAF) is a type of charitable trust, your own foundation that you control with the purpose of providing funding to charities. Put simply, when you establish a PAF, you donate capital into it (usually an initial donation of $500,000-$1 million) and receive an immediate tax deduction for the donation. The capital is then invested long term, and a minimum of 5% of the value of the PAF assets must be distributed as grants to charities each year.

What is a sub-fund in a public ancillary fund?

A public ancillary fund (PuAF) has the same tax advantages as a PAF but is a communal structure. Unlike a PAF, there is no requirement to establish a new trust or trustee company, so a sub-fund can be established immediately (you could even do so just a few days before 30 June), and there’s no set-up cost to do this. Amounts donated are usually smaller with a minimum of $50,000.

Why set up a philanthropic structure?

Tax deductions are a great incentive to set up a philanthropic structure of your own, but that’s by no means the full story. People choose to establish a foundation for a range of reasons, including a wish to involve the family in giving, concerns around succession planning, and a desire to be actively involved in the charities they support over the long-term.

Family is perhaps one of the most powerful incentives as giving through a PAF is a good way to engage other family members. It can increase children’s social awareness and help to inspire future generations. People use PAFs and sub-funds to bring the family together in innovative and different ways.

One PAF founder set up his foundation as a way to actively inspire all family members to get involved in the community. Extending his generosity to nephew and nieces, as well as his siblings and his own children, he uses the PAF to recognise any contribution a family member makes to charity. If someone sits on the board of a not-for-profit or has a role as a volunteer, the PAF makes a $5,000 donation to that charity. Similarly, if someone is involved in fundraising activities, such as through the CEO Sleep Out, the Cancer Council’s Morning Tea or a fun run, the PAF matches any money they fund raise themselves. This has proven to be a great incentive for family members, and their involvement has deepened and grown. His children are now making donations to the PAF themselves, and the family makes strategic grants in areas they are collectively passionate about, as well as supporting the varied interests of individual family members.

Another popular use is to allocate an amount to each family member. The children research charities, find a cause or project that resonates with them personally, and present back at the PAF meeting where other family members sign off on a grant.

Of course, families are complex, and working out how to give money away can be even harder than the decision to set up a structure in the first place. At Australian Philanthropic Services, we work with over 200 families, and there is no doubting that every family has a unique way of making decisions. We help clients to articulate what they are passionate about, the ways in which they would like to make a difference, and how they should focus their giving.

We also find clients who receive a taxable gain (such as a share sale or large redundancy payout) often want to share their good fortune with others, but do not want to make a quick decision and donate the entire amount in one go. A PAF or PuAF allows an immediate tax deduction while the choice of charity can be made at a later stage when there’s more time for research.

Philanthropy isn’t just for the super wealthy

There is a perception that philanthropy is only for the super-wealthy. Certainly, you do need a reasonable level of wealth to set up your own structure, but it is by no means the realm of high profile business people and the ultra-rich alone. A sub-fund in the Australian Philanthropic Services Foundation can be kicked off with a donation of $50,000, and our clients include doctors, dentists, vets, small business owners, lawyers, farmers and corporate executives.

When people first start and are still growing the assets of their foundation, the grants being distributed are likely to be relatively modest in size. This does not mean that they are ineffective. Part of the beauty of having your own structure is that you are not bound by the bureaucracy of some of the larger, more established foundations. Donors can be nimble and responsive, using their intuition and stepping in quickly where other funders may not be able to respond promptly. Small grants given in a considered way can be very impactful. Many people like to fund those areas that are overlooked by government, or to support slightly riskier, pilot projects that seek to find new ways to respond to some of society’s most entrenched and difficult issues. Many people will also make a contribution that is much more powerful than dollars alone, using their expertise, skills and networks to support the charities in which they are involved.

Getting started

Setting up a PAF is straightforward but, as a new entity has to be established, you’ll need to move quickly if you want to get something up and running before 30 June. A sub-fund, on the other hand, can be established right up until the end of the financial year, creating an immediate tax deduction for the entire amount, while leaving the decisions on which charities to support spread out over time.

 

Antonia Ruffell is CEO of Australian Philanthropic Services (APS), a not-for-profit organisation that sets up and administers private ancillary funds, offers a public ancillary fund, and provides grant-making advice. Chris Cuffe is the pro bono Founder and Chairman of APS.

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