What to do with a “big, fat inheritance”

The New York Times’ “Ethicist” column recently answered the question, “What should I do with my big, fat inheritance?”

The Ethicist gives a lot of good advice around philanthropic giving, going so far as to say that, “[ours] is a richly variegated world, with many values and many things to value; it isn’t as if all charitable giving must go to malaria prevention.” We at the Community Foundation of New Jersey know that for those who wish to make their community “a better or perhaps a more vibrant place,” there are tools available to make this both an impact-focused process, attuned to a community’s unique needs, and a deeply meaningful experience.

A donor advised fund at a local community foundation allows the donor to give at his or her own pace, with support from existing research, knowledge, and giving advice from a local staff of changemakers. Donor grant recommendations are informed by the full picture of a community’s current and emerging needs. While community foundations exist to make communities stronger and more vibrant, they maintain a fiduciary duty to ensure the donor’s intent is implemented, even after the donor’s lifetime, if desired.

At the Community Foundation of New Jersey, donor advised funds have opened philanthropic-minded individuals to new ways of giving, far beyond their initial expectations of direct gifts to nonprofit organizations. This has included the development and implementation of gun buyback programs that have removed thousands of unwanted guns from New Jersey communities, robust scholarship programs that meticulously match students with opportunities to succeed, and even the creation of support services for children in countries halfway around the world. These projects are not exclusive to the Gates Foundation or other largescale philanthropies – they are available to everyone, “big fat inheritance” or otherwise, through a donor advised fund at a community foundation.