Charitable Legacies

In the movie Schindler’s List, Oscar Schindler laments the fact that he was unable to save more Jews from the Holocaust, but one of the persons he does rescue responds, “He who saves one person saves the world entire.” Fundamentally, a charitable legacy is improvement of the conditions of others. It could be through a donation to a charitable organization which serves them, through direct help such as Schindler rendered, or through a business whose objective is social benefit as well as earning a profit. Seeing the immensity of social problems like education, poverty, disease, and environmental degradation, it is easy, like Schindler, to feel that we have made so little difference. However, each charitable act is like casting a small stone into a pool of water. Like the ripples that spread in all directions, the deed affects individuals, who affect others, who affect still others.

Some charitable legacies are the creation of organizations dedicated to service of human kind. Examples are the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Oxfam, and the national health organizations. Other are private foundations established by individuals to perpetuate their giving. The largest in Canada is the Lucie and Andre Chagnon Foundation, and the largest in the United States is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other charitable legacies are created within existing organizations such as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. A common way these legacies are memorialized is through a named endowment. This is a permanent fund, usually named for the donor and or another person, or perhaps for the donor’s family. A certain percentage of the endowment’s value is expended each year for the purpose designated by the donor. In many instances, the donor has direct contact with persons who directly or indirectly benefit from the endowment. For instance, at the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, the beneficiaries of an endowed fund may correspond with the donor or the donor’s heirs. At a health institution, there would be reports on the research or care made possible by the endowment income. The terms of an endowment and some biographical information about the donor are included in an endowment agreement. Whereas an ethical will describes the general life legacy a person seeks to transmit, the endowment agreement memorializes a particular legacy for the public good.

The endowment could be simply to continue the gifts you have been making year after year to the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. For example, if you have been giving $2,000 per year, you could arrange for an endowment of $50,000, and the annual income paid from the endowment would approximate what you have been giving, and the income would continue to be associated with your name.