Legacy Giving

California Academy of Sciences

Charities and the new tax law.

To say that the Congressional tax bill details have been a moving target would be an understatement. If you’re like me, you’ve given up trying to understand the specific effect on your taxes until the dust settles. But, also like me, maybe you’re curious about proactive things you can do to lessen your tax burden this year and next.

I thought I’d try to summarize the effect of the bill on charitable giving, and by virtue of that, your charitable deduction.

The foremost issue for charities is deductions, and more specifically, who itemizes. With the standard deduction essentially doubling (to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for couples), more taxpayers will take the standard deduction as opposed to itemizing. 

And it’s not just because the standard deduction will increase. There are also impending limits as to how much people will be able to deduct so that those who were deducting will deduct less; meaning many more people who will be able to benefit from the charitable deduction this year won’t next year. This situation is aggravated in states with high taxes and real estate prices (like California).  As a result of all this, it is estimated that the number of people who itemize might drop by more than half next year.

That drop is relevant because if you don’t itemize, you cannot deduct a gift. As a result, the cost of a gift goes up.  You can use this gift cost calculator to see what your gift costs you at your marginal tax rate and then compare that to the cost without deduction (or at full gift value). Which begs the question: Will charitable giving decrease?

There have been some interesting studies through American tax history about how changes to the tax code impact charitable giving overall. One study by Giving USA looked at the Tax Reform Act of 1986, in which the goal was to simplify the tax code by adjusting tax brackets down and reducing the number of brackets. The charitable and home mortgage deductions were unaffected, but the top marginal tax rate was reduced from 50% to 28%. As expected, there was a huge rush to accelerate tax gifts in the final months of 1986, where a deduction was much more valuable. In fact, charitable giving increased by almost 17% in 1986 over the year prior. And in 1987, when the top marginal tax rate dropped to just 28%, total giving decreased from the year previous for the first time since Giving USA began reporting this information in 1955.

The decrease was only a few percentage points, but surely some charities were more affected than others. There are studies that show as the incentives for giving are increasingly favoring the wealthy, certain charitable sectors will gain over others. Unfortunately for the Academy (and humanity), environmental causes are not one of the sectors expected to grow with these changes. (Feel free to read more in this comprehensive study here).

As a donor, there are things you can do to plan ahead. Increasing your gift this year might be to your benefit; if your tax rate might fall, or you are someone who thinks that you’ll likely switch from itemizing to the standard deduction, gifts this year will cost much less than next. For this reason, some are making their 2018 gifts in 2017.   

There might also be some benefit to accelerating property tax payments and thinking about capital gains and losses, but that is a deeper conversation dependent on your particular circumstances. We’re happy to answer additional questions or refer you to a CPA or the like if you are in need of financial or tax advice.  

Happy Holidays,


Pterosaurs and Giving Ptactics

Hello again.

I can’t believe it has been a year since I last wrote here. It feels as if the Gems and Minerals opening that I discussed in the last entry just happened. But it’s true; almost a year has passed since. Time marches on and another new exhibit has opened.

Speaking of time, in our newest exhibit, we are thrilled to take you on a quick trip to our planet as it existed between sixty-five million and (roughly) a couple hundred million years ago.

I saw many of you Eastwoods at the premiere of Pterosaurs – Flight in the Age of Dinosaurs. But, I know some of you were unable to attend that event. If you still haven’t had the opportunity to see this newest addition, I hope that you’ll reach out in advance of a future visit so that I might say hello when you’re here. And, as always, the coffee’s on me.

Also on me is this joke that you’re free to use at the exhibit – that is where I picked it up from one of our smaller visitors…

Why can’t you hear a Pterosaur going to the bathroom? 

Because the “P” is silent. (ツ)

Other than telling bad jokes, I wanted to talk a bit of shop today about a giving strategy that I don’t see very often at the Academy. I write about it in hopes that you might help me to get the word out. So, let’s talk about real estate. Did you know that the Academy is well equipped to manage gifts of real estate?

Over the last couple of decades, the Academy has been incredibly fortunate to have been the beneficiary of some rare “real property” gifts. When these gifts do occur, they do an incredible amount of good for the Academy, as you might expect in the Bay Area. My concern is that I haven’t done a good enough job of describing both my planned giving department’s facility with these gifts or the many ways in which we can be creative with these assets. For example, did you know it was possible to donate your home with the condition that you may continue to live in it? And though the donor(s) retain the right to remain in the house for life, they get a sizeable tax deduction (which they can carry over for 5 more years) in the year in which they decide to make the gift.

Others choose to give a piece of property for a lifetime income in return. This can be a bit more complex, but I’ve worked on these gifts before and they can be incredibly tax savvy, allowing the donor to avoid a great deal of capital gain in addition to receiving a stable income for life.

I will also note that there are occasional instances wherein the Academy may be open to buying a property from a donor at a reduced price. This is called a bargain sale and entitles the donor to some immediate income as well as a tax deduction for the value below market that the sale property was purchased for.

In addition to communicating about this giving strategy here, in the next month or so I will also be mailing a piece that describes some of these arrangements to a larger Academy audience. I hope you don’t mind me putting out early feelers (and bad jokes) to you first.

So, that’s my post for today. I’ll sign off by noting that as I come up on my 5 year anniversary at the Academy, I am reminded of what a pleasure it has been to work with each and every one of you. I hope this post finds you each happy, healthy and glad that you stopped by.

My best,


Gems of the Academy’s past and future…

Hi all,

I thought I’d post about a couple of things today.  Firstly, it strikes me that it has been some time since my last post.  It’s hard to find the time.  But I want to refer back to a post I wrote in February of 2015 about Alice Eastwood.  Ever since I started at the Academy – four years ago next month – I had been under the impression that the gift of Alice Eastwood’s collection had been the earliest (if not one of the earliest) planned gift(s) the Academy had ever received.  Alice passed away in 1953, implying that there has been a “planned giving program” at the Academy for over 70 years.  However, upon perusing the large tome “The California Academy of Sciences, A Narrative History: 1853-1906”, by Theodore Henry Hittell and edited and revised by our own Alan Leviton and Michele Aldrich, I have learned of a remarkable estate gift much earlier than that of Ms. Eastwood’s.

In 1874, the New York Times published an article detailing many of the specifics of the estate of James Lick.  The article can be seen here:  http://goo.gl/t22Ony.  Despite the reporting of his estate language in 1874, James Lick lived until 1876.  But, it took about 12 more years beyond his passing before the estate distributed any sums to the Academy.  Notwithstanding a bit of a an estate kerfuffle from James Lick’s son, John Lick, the estate distributed about $350,000 to the Academy – a remarkable gift considering the total cash on hand at the Academy the year prior was less than $3,000.

Mr. Lick’s total estate was worth about $3.5 million and the Lick estate made many gifts to benefit Californians and the public good.  In today’s dollars, the estate would have been worth more than $50 million.  Though even if you inflation adjust the Academy gift, it is hard to imagine the gift today would have been as transformational.  In 1890, the Academy went on to use the gift to purchase a piece of property on Market Street between 4th and 5th Streets that opened to the public as its new home in 1891.  Of course, it would only remain that until 1906.

But, I think you will agree, this gift of 142 years ago was a pretty amazing start to our planned giving history here.

To switch gears, I want to start “softly” promoting an upcoming show that while small, should satisfy many long-time Academy fans…

Gems & Minerals Unearthed.

Final design is now complete on this exhibit and we are launching into production, creating mounts for nearly 400 dazzling gem and mineral specimens. This exhibit will open on September 30th in the Balcony Gallery (on the third floor), and it features a diverse range of specimens, as well as interactive elements and touchable objects. We look forward to its opening so that we might show it off.  Though, due to the small exhibition space, we will be working to find opportunities to host a separate and maybe earlier in the day Eastwood preview.  Stay tuned..

gems layout

Digital mock-up of exhibition design.

From one blog to another…

There have been a number of ideas that I have been thinking on as posts to this forum.  However, at this moment, I am looking to direct you from my blog to another…  that of our executive director, Dr. Jon Foley.

At the one year anniversary of Jon’s on-boarding, it has become obvious just what an engaging and driven leader Jon is.  But don’t take my word for it.  Please visit his own online sounding board called, From Our Director.  There you can read of our future priorities, diversity in the workplace and our stance on fossil fuel divestment.  And, there’s sure to be more to come.

Thanks for reading,






Do you know Alice Eastwood?

Did you know that one of the Academy’s most notable botanists was also one of its earliest?


Alice Eastwood, a self-taught botanist from Denver, began her curatorship in the Academy’s Department of Botany in 1892.  In her 57 year career at the Academy, she oversaw significant expansion of the Academy’s collection of flora, penned over 300 publications and is maybe most notable for her heroism during the earthquake and fire of 1906, saving specimens of the botany collection.  She is remembered warmly and is the namesake of our legacy society which honors and celebrates the legacy of Alice Eastwood and the donors whose planned estate gifts will endow the Academy and support discovery for generations to come.

She has been more recently remembered again in light of the recent rediscovery of the Franciscan manzanita as originally described by Alice Eastwood over 100 years ago.

I would like to invite you to learn more about this rediscovery at the below YouTube link.  This linked video – click here – is an approximately 25 minute documentary about the remarkable rediscovery of this plant and how the Academy and many other members of our bay area botany community have worked to bring this plant back from the brink.

As a way to learn more, it is also my pleasure to invite you on a guided hike.  We are pleased to be invited as guests of the Presidio on the Batteries to Bluffs Trail where Forester for the Presidio Trust, Peter Ehrlich, will discuss the conservation plan for the Franciscan manzanita.

This hike will take place on Saturday, March 14th, at 10 am.  It is a hike that is rated moderate to difficult, with many stairs.  As we will only be able to take 20 guests, this invitation will be first come, first served.  We will however be trying to do more local expeditions in the near future.  Thank you for your interest.  To RSVP for this Presidio hike, or if you have questions, please email me or Roxanne at rlee@calacademy.org.

Thanks for reading!




Greetings from the Academy of Sciences Planned Giving Office and welcome to our new website. I hope you find it informative and interesting. I also hope that where you cannot find an answer to your question, you will feel free to reach out to me as a resource.

Whether you are an existing planned giving donor or you are simply considering the Academy of Sciences in your plans, it is my sincere hope that I can be of help to you in your process. In the meantime, I hope to make planned giving a little more fun and a little less daunting.

In furtherance of that goal, I pledge to use this page to note new and interesting gifts to the Academy that have come from donors like you. I pledge to update you as to developments in the field – whether that be the return of the IRA rollover, a change to gift annuity rates, or just a review of trends in the field. And I pledge to a commitment to provide the very best service to you, our trusted partner.

Thanks for reading!


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