Surprisingly Complex Gifts of Non-Cash Assets


In settings very different from their many countries of origin, donors in the thirteen British-run colonies in America found innovative ways to make gifts using financial contracts, real estate, crops, livestock, books, artworks, and other tangible property.

Samuel Fuller, 39 years old upon landing in Plymouth, a signer of the Mayflower Compact, and a self-taught surgeon who served as the only physician for the colony, made his will on July 30, 1633 and died a month or so later. Fuller bequeathed a future interest in livestock: “the first Cow calfe that my Browne Cow shall have to the Church of God at Plymouth.”

In 1650, Boston merchant John Newgate gave Harvard a permanent annuity of five pounds a year through a complicated financial contract. The annuity was payable by Newgate during his life, and by a farm lease after his passing. In 1670, London merchant William Pennoyer left a much larger gift through his will: annuity payments of 34 pounds from a farm lease.

Payments to the college began after the death of Pennoyer’s wife in 1678. Harvard capitalized the annuities given by Newgate, Pennoyer, Robert Keayne, and another donor, and recorded their income streams as an investment asset on its balance sheet in 1672.

Cryptocurrency BitcoinPeople give what they own. With help from charitable gift planners, today’s donors give publicly-traded and closely-held stocks, bonds, LLCs and other corporate interests, retirement accounts, and cryptocurrencies. Making gifts of complex noncash assets is part of a long tradition that can be facilitated in recent years through national donor-advised funds, community foundations, and specialized firms.  For example, in 2018, 47% of contributions through the donor-advised fund called Fidelity Charitable were made in the form of publicly traded securities (stocks, bonds and mutual funds), and 16% ($1.3 billion) were non-publicly traded assets (private stock, restricted stock, limited partnership interests and cryptocurrency).

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