With support waning from United Way and frequent shifts in corporate and government giving, Howard County's nonprofits are working on a new fundraising strategy - bequests from increasingly wealthy baby boomers.
It is a largely untapped source of money for charitable endowments that is easy to set up and often attractive to people with adult children who want to create a legacy, said consultant Jean Moon.
Moon conducted a study of philanthropy last fall for the Columbia and the Horizon foundations.
Leaders of county charities met Wednesday to learn how to start using this form of fundraising, which is just a sliver of the money charities raise. However, Moon and Columbia Foundation Director Barbara Lawson said they feel it has great potential.
"I think this could be an exciting new thing for our county," Moon told a group of nearly 100 nonprofit officials who gathered at the Meeting House in Oakland Mills last week to learn more about Moon's study.
Moon and Lawson said the idea of a bequest is often one that people with money who are contemplating retirement haven't thought of, but that they would likely welcome.
"Someone getting ready to retire told me, 'I've been thinking I want to do something. This will crystallize my thinking,' " Lawson said, describing one person's reaction.
"I've said for years that our attitude on fundraising is that it's a burden, but sharing the rewards of philanthropy is a joy," Moon said. "A lot of people give money to their churches and colleges, but it doesn't mean they won't give locally."
Her study showed that bequest giving is the fastest-growing source of unrestricted income to charities, and that two recent developments should improve prospects considerably.
One is a change in federal law via the Pension Protection Act of 2006. That allows people at least age 70 1/2 to transfer money from Individual Retirements Accounts directly to a charity without paying income tax on the withdrawal.
The second, and perhaps more important change, is the huge transfer of wealth - estimated to be worth $2.4 trillion in the Washington area over the next 50 years - expected to move from retirees and baby boomers to their children and their charities.
The figures, which include Howard County, come from a study released in October by the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy at Boston College.
Moon had no specific figures for Howard County, but the Boston College study concluded that area charities might receive about $460 billion during the half-century.
"Some of that money will be coming from people in Howard County," Moon told the group at the Meeting House. With Howard's high household incomes, highly educated work force and aging population, the county should be ripe for an increase in charitable giving, Moon suggested.
Nationally, 83.6 percent of charitable giving comes from individuals, Moon's study said, but bequests represent a small portion of what Howard County foundations and charities receive. Still, donors who set up bequests tend to increase their current giving, too, so it is a source of money worth pursuing, she said.
Families with more than $10 million to give away often create family foundations rather than give to established charities, but taxes and paperwork discourage that for those who are wealthy but have smaller estates - in the $1 million to $2.5 million range. At the same time, only 42 percent of people have wills.
The number of estates in the country worth more than $1 million has grown from 28,000 in 1992 to 66,000 in 2003.
"This is a huge market," Moon said. "This is huge for us."
What she has found is that people will give to charities that they know something about, or because of an experience in their lives or their families, and conditions seem good for encouraging more bequest giving in Maryland.
That is because 21 percent of Maryland estates include a charitable bequest, compared with 18 percent nationally, and a slightly larger percentage of Maryland estate assets are going to charitable bequests than the national average, Moon said.
But Howard's major institutions - Howard County General Hospital, Howard Community College and the Columbia Foundation - reported 25 promised bequests, with five of those received. Moon said she found that bequests are not the focus of local fundraising for these institutions, nor of smaller groups - yet.
"That's a great place for us to focus," Moon said.
The best way to do that, she said, is to educate people about what individual groups do, because people tend to give money to groups they know something about, not based on a financial adviser's suggestions.
"Have you written them a letter - sent them any of your materials?" she asked leaders of the nonprofits.
"It's clear bequests begin with awareness of what that charity does," Moon said. "Educate donors about the simplicity of planned giving."
Donors can simply fill out a one-page form and staple it to their will, she said, without having to go to a lawyer.
Many people with money want to instill the values of giving back in their adult children.
"Giving back is learned behavior," she said.