Effort seeks legacy gifts

Charity groups ask donors to remember them in wills

Planned donations on rise

Retired coach, teacher bequeathes savings toward scholarships

June 21, 1999|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,SUN STAFF

Breezy Bishop started giving the day her grandmother showed her how to push aside some of the quarters she earned from scrubbing steps at age 7 and save them for church.

Now the 63-year-old Owings Mills resident, a former basketball coach and teacher at Baltimore's Western High School for 28 years, plans to give forever.

She sat down with family members and told them nearly all of her estate -- a teacher's savings invested wisely -- will go to establish scholarship programs at Western, Dunbar High School and possibly Morgan State University.

"They think I'm from another planet," said Bishop, who is divorced and has no children. "I have two brothers remaining, and a few cousins, and all of them are financially sufficient. I just believe in giving."

Bishop is one of the ordinary citizens -- not rich but blessed, by her own description -- whose philanthropic tendencies nonprofit organizations hope to capitalize on with a new campaign designed to encourage donors to remember charities in their wills.

The campaign, called "Leave a Legacy," is the latest version of an effort that began several years ago in Columbus, Ohio, where particularly generous bequesters are recognized with awards called "Legacy Landmarks."

"Leave a Legacy," primarily a public education campaign, is one of many programs trying to seize on an unprecedented transfer of wealth forecast over the next 40 years.

A study by two Cornell University economists estimated several years ago that $10 trillion will pass from elderly citizens whose assets have swollen during a generation of prosperity.

The question is how much of that money will go to charity.

Web sites are bursting with ideas for enticing donors, from articles on subjects such as "Courting the Surviving Spouse" to remembering the generous with gourmet chocolates, benches and trees. A blizzard of information is available on how donors can benefit from their gifts, by saving on taxes or arranging for interest payments on gifts to a college or university.

A gift that outlives its giver has allure. "Planned giving can acquire eternal dimensions for those who perceive divine purpose and pleasure," G. Roger Schoenhals wrote in Planned Giving Today, a newsletter he publishes for giving consultants.

Whether the efforts are succeeding has been difficult to measure.

Gifts by bequest rose by about 7.8 percent in 1998 to reach $13.62 billion, according to Giving USA 1999, a national survey that measures giving patterns across the country. That increase trails the increase in overall giving, which rose 10.7 percent, fueled by a strong economy and heightened grant-making by foundations.

But fund-raisers say that because bequests are by nature deferred gifts, their impact is only beginning to be felt.

"Planned giving is the largest growth area in the entire nonprofit sector," said Jackie Jacobs, co-chairman of the Central Ohio Leave a Legacy campaign and executive director of the Columbus Jewish Foundation.

"What's overwhelming are the needs of the agencies and the desire of nonprofit organizations to have long-term stability and not be so dependent on these flat annual campaigns. To have the security of a savings account for the long-term future is where the need is," she said.

Barbara Yeager, director of operations for the National Committee on Planning Giving, said the campaign has united charitable organizations that in the past have viewed each other as competitors.

"I think people have really bought into the idea that the rising tide lifts all boats," she said.

The Maryland campaign is supported by more than 75 agencies that depend on donations, from arts institutions to hospitals to ministries for the poor.

In Maryland, charities face the challenge of a giving gap -- the state ranks near the top of the nation in per capita income, but far from the top in donations.

"We find one of the best predictors of who will give is not how much they give, but [whether] one has been giving for a long time," said Michael I. Friedman, director of endowment development and planned giving services at The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore and chairman of the state campaign.

"Everybody knows about writing a check at the end of the year and supporting favorite causes. Not enough of us think about what our legacy to our children and the community is going to be."

Bishop, who retired from Western in 1997 and briefly coached at North Carolina State University before returning to Maryland, said she needed no coaxing. As she began to contemplate the end of her life several years ago, she decided her legacy should be linked to the girls school where she patched scraped knees, kept teen-age secrets and cheered jump shots for so long.

"That was one of the reasons I wanted to leave a scholarship there," Bishop said. "It was a quarter-century of my life."

Information: 1-800-842-1012 or www.leavealegacymd.org.

Pub Date: 6/21/99

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