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Generosity & giving

Live your legacy

The Mesa family
Photo by David Bowman

Ways to live in the moment and share your time, talents and dollars today.

What does legacy mean to you? Traditionally, it refers to leaving behind something upon death, like money or property. But there’s another way to think about legacy that’s about the present.

For Pastor Esteban Mesa and his wife, Miriam, legacy is about sharing their time and talents today in service to others.

To the Wold family—Catherine and her children and grandchildren—it’s about living out and passing on the values demonstrated by her late husband, David.

Both the Mesas and the Wolds are practicing what can be called a “living legacy.” It’s based on the idea that you can pass along your legacy while you’re alive, whether it’s your values, passions, time or money.

Mandy Tuong, president and CEO of Thrivent Charitable Impact & Investing™, has noticed increased interest in this concept in recent years and encourages clients to embrace the idea. “It starts by asking yourself some questions,” she says. “Am I doing something good when I can? Am I giving of myself? Am I leaving the world a better place?”

The answers can inspire you to take action. You might volunteer your time at a shelter, make donations to a favorite cause, organize a way to feed people who are homeless or use a financial tool to structure your giving.

Whatever you choose to do, actions you take today are your living legacy.

Volunteer your time

Pastor Esteban and Miriam Mesa have led a life of service in Miami. “It’s what we’ve been called to do,” says Esteban. He served 30 years as a Lutheran pastor and nine years as a hospice chaplain. Esteban recently retired, but he and Miriam continue their commitment to volunteering, helping to provide food and clothing to people in need in their region.

“We care about people in need,” says Esteban, “and that’s why we show up in the community.”

You might not be inclined to volunteer with the same intensity as the Mesas, but any amount of volunteer work is a way to live your legacy because it reflects your desire to leave the world a better place.

If you want to volunteer but aren’t sure for what cause, start by identifying your interests and values. Then look for organizations that do work in those areas. Search online or ask friends and family for recommendations.

Keith Berman, the Mesas’ Miami-based Thrivent financial consultant, has clients who tell him they want to help but are unsure how to get started.

“I start asking them questions,” he says, “about what causes they care about. Often, I can connect them with others I know in the community who may have service opportunities for them.”

Thrivent is also a resource for volunteer opportunities. “Eligible Thrivent clients can apply to organize a Thrivent Action Team to help a favorite cause. Or anyone can volunteer on someone else’s team,” says Ryan Hahler, director of Member Engagement Strategies at Thrivent.

Start an organization or create an opportunity to fill a need

Supporting a cause isn’t always a once-and-done effort. For ongoing needs, like supplying food or providing transportation, consider creating an organization that supports the cause.

Fifteen years ago, the Mesas volunteered to teach English to immigrants. Not long after they started, it became clear that their students were struggling for adequate food and clothing. So the Mesas, along with Xiomara Rodriguez, a friend and member of their congregation, created a ministry to serve those needs.

It started with delivering Thanksgiving meals. “I asked the president of the local Kiwanis Club for help,” says Esteban, “His group was able to provide 45 meals and baskets, which we delivered.”

Esteban also enlisted the help of churches throughout the area, of all denominations. As a result of the combined effort, the ministry was able to deliver more than 200 Thanksgiving baskets last year.

At other times during the year, the Mesas and members of their family cook food at their home that they then deliver to people in need, along with clothing and blankets. They manage all of this even though the ministry isn’t a formalized organization.

Are you interested in creating a more formalized nonprofit organization or maybe an informal “movement” to help others? “It’s not uncommon among our donors,” says Tuong, “because they are so generous both financially and in volunteering. We’ve had donors who used their financial blessings to do simple but wonderful things—like run community gardens to teach kids about healthy eating and personal discipline, or starting an effort to bring more kindness to everyday interactions in honor of their late child who lived by that principle every day.”

Structure your donations

Making donations to favorite causes is another example of a living legacy. Some people donate as they become aware of a need while others donate on a set schedule. But as the idea of a living legacy has become more popular, many people have embraced another way of donating, through charitable funds.

“People are establishing charitable funds to make grants to their favorite causes,” says Tuong, “so they can see the impact of their contributions.”

These financial tools are investment funds. Here’s how they work: You open a charitable fund with a contribution, and you choose how that money is invested. Any earnings the fund may generate are reinvested. A percentage or designated amount of the fund is granted to charities of your choice.

There are several other benefits to structuring your donations this way, including:

  • You can give when it’s right for you.
  • There are potential tax advantages.
  • Grants are scheduled so you know where your money is going and when.
  • Statements detail your giving.
  • Grants can be made in honor or memory of someone.
  • Scholarships can be created with certain funds.
  • Cash or assets can be donated.
  • Grants can be made to support a nonprofit that you start.

The Wold family has been granting money from a charitable fund for several years. David set it up with his father about 10 years ago. They planned to grow the fund and hadn’t yet started making grants from it when David died three years ago. To honor him, the family decided to start making grants from the fund soon after his death.

You don’t need to be wealthy to open a charitable fund. Some have no minimum requirement though there can be minimum amounts for grants, but they can be as low as $100.

“Our grants aren’t huge,” says Nick Wold, Catherine and David’s son. “But we know that even a small amount can make a difference to an organization.”

You also can use your investment assets to make a difference directly or use them to establish a charitable fund. There may be some tax benefits.

Consider these options:

  • Gift a portion or all of your non-retirement account mutual fund shares to a charity of your choice through a transfer of ownership.
  • Anyone age 70½ or over can elect a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), which allows you to distribute up to $100,000 per year from an IRA directly to charity. The QCD also will count toward satisfying your required minimum distribution (RMD) from your IRA.

Pass along your values

Your values—the way you see the world and your role in it—are also part of your legacy. They’re important to you, which likely makes them important to your loved ones.

So how do you pass along something that’s not tangible? Much of that happens by example, being a role model for others as you live your life day to day.

But you can be more intentional about it, too. One way is to have conversations with your family and friends about why you care about certain causes and how you would like to impact the world.

The Wold family discovered that sharing values is an outcome of managing their charitable fund. They’ve established an annual ritual around the fund. Every December, the entire family of 17—Catherine and her children (Nick, Rebecca Wold Freeman and Rachel McArthur) and grandchildren (ages 5 to 16) gather for a dinner to discuss their ideas of where they see needs and vote on which organizations they’ll give grants to. Everyone’s votes have equal weight.

“My dad wanted this to be a family effort,” says Nick, “and we wanted to carry on his legacy of living and giving.”

The Wold family members are very close, and they spend a lot of time together throughout the year. But the annual fund gatherings have inspired everyone to be more aware of needs in the world. And they’re fun.

“We love to see the kids come together for these dinners,” says Rebecca. “It encourages them to look outside of their own lives.”

The kids are both students and teachers, as they hear about various causes and offer their own ideas. And sometimes, they share about how they support charities with others. “My kids will talk with their friends about the fact that they’ve given to different causes,” says Rachel. “Even my 5-year-old talks about how she’s helping animals with her friends.”

The experiences with the fund have led to other broader discussions about giving. “It makes us realize that the places we give financial help to are also places we can give our time and volunteer,” says Catherine. “It makes the kids think about that, too. Besides the financial part of it, what else can we do?”

That’s a living legacy at its best.

Deciding what to support

Are you interested in a living legacy but aren’t sure what causes you’d like to support? These questions from Thrivent Charitable Impact & Investing can help you identify your interests.

  • Do you actively volunteer with any organizations?
  • What organizations or institutions have provided the greatest influences in your life (for example, church, school or college, community, etc.)?
  • What appeals to you about your favorite charities?
  • Would your financial support to any organization or charity be missed if it ceased?
  • Are there societal issues you wish to address?

Once you narrow your interests, you can research organizations and look for ways to support them.

How Thrivent can help

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Thrivent also has several programs available to help you live your legacy:

  • Thrivent Action Teams: Support your community by applying to lead a team for a fundraiser, educational event or service activity. Thrivent provides the resources you need.
  • Thrivent Choice:  Direct Choice Dollars® to organizations and causes, and influence how Thrivent distributes some of the program’s funding.
  • Online giving platform: Make a donation to one of the more than 40,000 organizations enrolled in Thrivent Choice. Thrivent pays the processing fees so 100% of your donation goes to the organization.
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Kathleen Childers is a writer in Minnesota.

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