As the recovery takes hold, the non-profit world may be seeing glimmers of hope if the contributions into the Fidelity Charitable Gift Fund are any indication, said Sarah C. Libbey, the fund’s president.

For the third year in a row, the Fidelity Gift Fund, the nation’s largest donor-advised fund, has granted out more than $1 billion. In fact, Libbey said in an interview, “2010 had incoming contributions that are up 9% over 2008. That was a very positive sign.” Even compared with last year, contributions and new accounts are both up significantly. And the last quarter of 2009 was one of the strongest quarters in two years, she said.

The donor-advised fund model allows a wealthy investor to spread out his or her philanthropic giving more easily, Libbey said. “Helping you get organized about your giving is the main benefit,” she said. “Over 67% of our donors say they give more” because they are using the fund model. “You have a giving account with a financial statement.”

Investors can log onto their account and monitor where their dollars go and adjust those amounts accordingly. As a result, their philanthropic desires get “integrated into their financial pictures,” Libbey said.

“Philanthropy is really important to people,” she said. “They want to stay true to their commitments to giving.”

The beginning of this year has been marked by something of a comeback after non-profit organizations had seen their donations falter as the recession crippled the recession. Charitable giving was down last year. The median gift was $41.4 million compared with $69.3 million in 2008 and $74.7 million in 2007, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, which monitors charitable giving. But, with Wall Street indices improving, including the Dow clearing 11,000, and economic indicators pointing toward a recovery, the outlook for giving is looking up as well.

In the first quarter of this year, the Fidelity Gift Fund made grants of $270 million. Money raised to help Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that devastated the poor, island nation has kept Libbey’s staff busy.

However, wealthy investors not only want to give money to their favorite causes, they also want to make the most of certain tax advantages. And, that’s the second reason.

Donating cash, certainly, is great but donating appreciated securities is really good,” Libbey said. “You’re donating in kind and avoiding the capital gains tax.”

In fact, 47% of the contributions to the Fidelity Gift Fund in the first quarter are appreciated securities as opposed to 27% during the same period last year. Fidelity has made the tax advisors, estate planners and money managers to high-net-worth investors more aware of the advantage of donating appreciated securities.

This year, the Fidelity Gift Fund is also talking to financial advisors who are considering shifting clients over to the Roth IRA. “There is a tax cost to doing this,” Libbey said.

An investor would pay taxes this year on the amount that he or she converts. One way to reduce the tax cost is to have a larger charitable contribution, thereby giving the client a tax deduction. A larger donation helps offset the tax expense of the Roth conversion.

“For advisors to differentiate themselves,” Libbey said, “they should do that analysis.” Fidelity has a group of staffers working with financial advisors on this charitable offset.

Since the Fidelity Gift Fund’s inception 19 years ago, it has given more than $9.5 billion to more than 130,000 non-profit organizations nationwide. Fidelity recently reduced minimum investments to $5,000 and lowered grant minimums to $50.

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