Tribal giving and today's tax advantages

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Giving, sharing, reciprocity, caring for family and community, preserving Native heritage and the land - these are among the deepest and most enduring values in our Native American culture and life.

Native American individuals and families have always expressed these values through traditions of giving.

Today, more and more Native people are joining the ranks of the newly wealthy and discovering the full benefits - the double good - of giving. The double good involves, for the donor, both receiving tax benefits and enjoying the fulfilling experience of helping the community.

This new wealth can be used in many ways for building community, improving education, promoting well-being, and preserving culture. Many Native donors are beginning to use formal or institutional giving vehicles for shaping their giving. The emerging Native American donors are giving in ways that express their personal values and meet personal needs, while gaining considerable tax advantages in the process.

It is important to distinguish between the informal giving in which most of us participate and formalized philanthropy. Informal giving involves writing occasional checks to our favorite charities, or perhaps giving cash at a religious service or spiritual event (giveaways or potlatches). Formal giving involves the use of legal vehicles, such as a private foundation or community foundation fund.

Either way, giving and sharing can be very private matters. As a donor, you may prefer to give anonymously, or on a need basis. You may prefer to respond to personal appeals through family, community ties or to individuals and groups you know well.

You may want to participate in decision-making by serving on a committee or in community events as a way to give to the community. Individual style, preferences, vision, culture, values, net worth and other factors play a key role in the type or form of gift. Whatever choice one makes, everyone should consider a giving program that suits his or her own unique needs.

Formalized giving extends the donor's vision and translates it into a gift. In thinking about using the vehicles of formal giving, it is important to link your giving with desired outcomes. Time is a prime consideration - both the amount of time the donor can commit to managing a giving program, and the length of time it takes to effect desired change.

How much time does it take to bring about change? If you are concerned about Native American rights, for example, you might concentrate on the short term and support legal representation for individuals or communities in need.

Or you may want to take the longer view and provide scholarships for Indian students to attend college or law school. Or you may wish to support community development and the growth of Native entrepreneurs. Maybe your vision is for a generation of better-educated Indian youth or that your tribe has a pollution-free environment.

Whatever your particular interests are, it is best in formalized giving to consider what aspects of your larger vision you would like to pursue over the next few years.