On the Rise

Across the university, tax-savvy donors are using their IRAs to make impactful gifts
Sambul for IRA Story

For Nancy Gurwitz Sambul, J68, a gift through an IRA Charitable Distribution is “making a gift from an incredibly smart place.”

Nancy Gurwitz Sambul, J68, knows how to squeeze the most impact out of everything she does. For her 50th reunion, she helped motivate her class to new heights of engagement. “We told everybody: Do something—whatever you can!” she recalled. “Let’s win!” The class responded enthusiastically, winning Tufts awards for highest participation, highest attendance, and for a record-setting 50th reunion gift to the Tufts Fund.

It’s not surprising that Sambul, a retired trusts and estates lawyer, approached her own class reunion gift with similar passion and strategic thinking. She maximized her gift—a five-year pledge—with a tax-efficient IRA Charitable Distribution, also known as a qualified charitable distribution.

“I would tell anyone who’s older and who wants to make a gift, especially a multiyear gift, definitely use your IRA money,” Sambul said. “For me, it’s making a gift from an incredibly smart place.”

Sambul is one of many Tufts alumni and friends who are tapping their IRA assets to meet their philanthropic goals. Beginning at age 70½, American taxpayers must take an annual required minimum distribution (RMD) from their retirement savings, distributions that count as taxable income. But if a taxpayer doesn’t need or want the income, she can instead donate it to a public charity like Tufts. Introduced in 2006 and made permanent in 2015, the gift option allows individuals 70½ or older to transfer up to $100,000 annually from their IRAs to charity, tax-free.*

It’s an attractive option that’s having a big impact at Tufts. The university has received more than $12 million in gifts since this option first became available. And between 2017 and 2018 alone, such gifts to Tufts doubled. With fewer people itemizing their deductions as a result of tax reform that increased standard deductions, this gift strategy is proving popular; donors can receive a tax break from giving even if they are not itemizing.

IRA Charitable Distributions are funding university-wide priorities, including the annual fund, financial aid, faculty support, and research. As another benefit, each gift is also counted toward each school’s goals for Brighter World: The Campaign for Tufts.

“Ever since the provision was introduced, medical school alumni and friends have let us know they find IRA Charitable Distributions to be a fantastic and easy way to make a tax efficient gift,” said Rebecca Scott, senior director of development and alumni relations at the School of Medicine. “We have received many gifts to the annual fund from IRA accounts, and a number of donors have given the maximum of $100,000 per year from their IRA as a way to pay off a pledge or establish or add to an endowed scholarship fund.”

Eli Goodman, M73, is among those who have made an IRA Charitable Distribution to support the annual fund at the School of Medicine. He found it an easy way to make his money go as far as possible. “It made sense to make this gift,” Goodman said, “because let’s face it: If I had kept [that RMD] I would have had to pay one third of that amount in taxes. So why not give it to Tufts?”

Goodman, who has also provided for the School of Medicine in his estate plans, has found that giving experience fulfilling in multiple ways. “One, I get to see how it will serve a worthwhile purpose,” he said. “Two, I get nice thank-you notes from the nice people at the medical school—I’m more engaged.  And three, I relieve my executors of the burden of figuring out how to distribute what I leave behind.” Add up all those reasons, he continued, and he has one main message: “It feels good to give money away while you’re alive.”

Of course, gifts of any size speak volumes about gratitude. Goodman has unabashed devotion to the medical school—“one of the premier medical schools on the planet,” he said. “We had world-renowned people teaching us—it was an honor to be in their presence and to feel their magic. I’m happy to give back.”

Sambul has experienced similar gratification, especially after she calculated her expected withdrawals from her IRA over the next five years and realized she could commit to a significant, five-year pledge in honor of her 50th reunion. “That was a great feeling!” she recalled. “I always wanted to do more, because that means you have more impact.”

Like Goodman’s gift, Sambul’s speaks to her affection for Tufts and a commitment to consistent giving. “My parents were extremely charitable; every year my dad made calls on behalf of Tufts as a class officer—not just for Tufts School of Medicine but also for Tufts undergrad,” she added. “And he said to me, ‘When you graduate, you have to give a gift every year. If every alumnus gave something, we’d have more money than the few alumni who give a fair amount.’ I’ve always taken that to heart, and now it’s fun to know that I’m doing all I can.”

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What you need to know

Some basics about ira charitable distributions are below, but you can find out more at go.tufts.edu/iracharitable. You can also contact the gift planning office at 617-627-3727 or at giftplanning@tufts.edu.

1. You must be age 70½ or older on the date the ira charitable distribution is made.*

2. Only gifts from a traditional or roth ira qualify, but not gifts from a 401(k), 403(b), sep, or other retirement plans.

3. The amount distributed will count toward all or a portion of your required minimum distribution for the year. The gift won’t be counted as taxable income, nor will it provide a charitable income tax deduction. 


*Please check go.tufts.edu/IRAcharitable for possible legislative changes regarding the minimum age requirement.