A gift with Significance.

If you have ever been involved in founding a charity, or “worked on the inside”, you gain a new perspective on the vital importance of donating to help support operational funding.  My thoughts have again turned to this topic as last month I had the honour of attending the funeral of Julia Wagg, who, with her wife Holly, founded The Ten Oaks Project(http://www.tenoaksproject.org/) in Ottawa over a decade ago.  Julia died of leukemia just a few days before her 37th birthday.

Her memorial service was extremely moving, as she had touched so many people with her brief but significant time with us  (It was also perhaps the first memorial service in history to involve the camp song “Baby Shark”, for which Julia was famous for leading at Ten Oaks!)

For me, however, one of the most moving moments involved her “parting charitable gift” to The Ten Oaks Project, The Wagg Family Legacy fund.  Julia and Holly have created a fund to specifically provide long term stability and operational funding to the organization they founded, and asked friends, family and colleagues to commit to monthly donations in Julia’s memory to the fund to provide a lasting legacy that will ensure organization stability.

Their gift isn’t “sexy”, but it is ever so significant.  The “why” behind this gift is the topic of this month’s newsletter.

Where your money goes when you donate.

When I work with clients on charitable gifts from their estate, one of the most common questions I get is around how effectively charities spend their money, and how much of the gift ends up going to administration costs.  It’s a natural question for people to ask – after all, they worked hard for the money they are giving away, but there is a lot of background needed to properly answer the question.

Most people are surprised to learn that, in my experience, the vast majority of charitable organizations actually have too low administration and salary costs relative to the work they are doing.  In particular, small to medium sized organizations are often understaffed, and perform an incredible amount of work relative to dollars raised and spent.

The reasons for these are complex, but one of the root causes in my experience, is that funders and donors are often reluctant to fund the day-to-day operations of a charity.  Its more “sexy” to donate and fund projects or specific causes (ie, research, etc.) than it is to fund the more basic things like keeping the lights on, and paying staff.

As someone who has helped found a charity, I can’t begin to tell you the frustration of trying to find creative ways to run operations in an organization when finding operational funding to do so is very, very difficult.

The net result is that organizations do not have the long-term stability necessary to execute on their mission effectively.  Because funding is not stable into the future, many charity staff members work on short term contracts of less than two years, and have relatively low job security.  As a result, the industry as a whole, understandably sees a lot of turnover.

In my experience, charity employees work for about 70% of the salary of an equivalent for-profit position, and in most cases, have limited or poor benefits.  Yet these very same people, driven by their passion for the mission and mandate of their organization, often work longer hours and harder than their for-profit equivalents.    Job stress can be very, very high, as organizational resources are very limited.  In many cases, 1 full time charity worker does the job or 2 or 3 people in the private sector.

Don’t ever doubt that if any part of your donation goes to administration that the money isn’t being well spent – charities, of all organizations, know how to stretch a dollar to the limit.

Be a Julia.

To me, Julia’s final gift speaks to the heart of creating a Quiet Legacy.  There are lots of people who want their name in lights, but not nearly enough people who want their gift to keep the lights on.  The true heroes, in my opinion, are the people who help an organization thrive for the long term.  Julia was certainly that kind of hero.

PS – Julia’s final note on linked-in has some remarkable thoughts as she approached the last weeks of her life, and on living your life with significance, and is well worth reading.  You can find it at  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/i-am-going-die-julia-wagg-chrl


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