Making a big difference with a little planning
Naming the MCV Foundation as the beneficiary of an individual retirement account is one of the simplest ways to make a legacy gift to the School of Medicine. Company stock, qualified charitable distribution and charitable gift annuities are other ways alumni and friends can use retirement assets to support the causes they hold dear.
June 6, 2023
Of all the memories from medical school, there’s one in particular that Catherine S. Casey, M’74, still can’t shake.
She was nearing the end of her first year when reality set in: She was running out of money.
“I’ll never forget what it felt like to have $20 and that was it,” Casey says. “The feeling of not having enough money and that fear. I was just so worried and really thinking ‘This is it. I’m going to have to drop out.’”
The federal loan that had covered her first year of tuition was almost gone. She’d already survived the year on hot dogs, tuna and the occasional free meal from classmates whose parents lived in Richmond. “I wasn’t living high on the hog.”
The first in her family to go to college, Casey counts herself lucky that a scholarship and her parents paid for her undergrad — but she couldn’t burden them by asking for additional financial help.
A conversation with the dean of students led to a $200 short-term grant. She then landed a $1,000 scholarship from a national women’s organization that covered her tuition. It was renewed for her remaining years of medical school.
“Fortunately, the scholarship came through when it did — it was the difference,” Casey says. “Then my loans were enough to cover living expenses for the next three years.”
She went on to enjoy a successful career as a pediatrician in Arlington, Virginia, making annual gifts to the School of Medicine even while paying down her loans. When it came time to plan for her retirement, she named the MCV Foundation as one of the charitable beneficiaries of her IRA.
“It was just the idea that I didn’t want any medical student to feel like I did,” says Casey, who worked with a School of Medicine development officer to obtain the beneficiary designation form and earmark her gift for the 1838 Fund in support of medical student scholarships.
During their conversations, she also learned of the additional tax benefit the gift would provide for her family.
“Inheriting an IRA can come with financial responsibilities for loved ones,” says Jodi T. Smith, director of development in the Office of Medical Philanthropy and Alumni Relations. “Family members may need to pay income tax on the distribution, which depending on their tax bracket could mean they only receive about 60% of the IRA’s current value.”
Naming the MCV Foundation as the beneficiary instead means that the full value of the IRA can be passed without taxes, and less heavily taxed assets can be left to family members.
“In some cases, it’s better for donors to name a charitable beneficiary for their retirement accounts and leave the remaining cash and personal property — which would pass untaxed — to heirs,” says Ashley Sheets, director of planned giving for the MCV Campus.
Another option is to make a qualified charitable distribution from an IRA, adds Sheets, who partners with donors and their financial advisers to help them plan a gift that best supports their goals. “QCDs reduce taxable income, satisfy required minimum distribution if the donor is of age and achieve philanthropic goals, all with one gift.”
‘We have an obligation to help the institutions that helped us’
For surgical oncologist and cancer researcher Harry D. Bear, M’75, PHD’78 (MICR), F’84, a gift to his alma mater — and the institution where he has spent his nearly 40-year career — long remained top of mind as he considered how to designate his retirement assets.
“This place has been very important to me since I was a kid,” says Bear, whose father S. Elmer Bear, D.D.S., served as chair of the Department of Oral Surgery at VCU School of Dentistry from 1962 to 1981. “It’s been part of my life as long as I can remember.”
With guidance from the MCV Foundation, he has made plans to use his retirement assets to support the causes most important to him: medical student scholarships, research at VCU Massey Cancer Center and an endowed chair in dentistry to honor his father.
“Designating beneficiaries for retirement funds was relatively easy once the MCV Foundation walked me through the process,” says Bear, interim associate director for clinical research at Massey. “I wanted to know what I could afford to set aside without short-changing my family. Retirement funds are there to support us and our families once we’re gone, but that’s not our only obligation. We have an obligation to help the institutions that helped us to ensure their future.”
Bear also gives annually to make an immediate impact, while the larger planned gift “will have an even greater impact that I wouldn’t be able to make today. It’s a good feeling.”
Endowed funds such as named professorships and scholarships differ from current funds. Where a current fund like the School of Medicine Annual Fund is put to immediate use, endowed funds are invested and grow over time while a percentage of the income growth is distributed annually according to the donor’s instructions.
“In this way, an endowed fund can grow and provide support for its designated purpose in perpetuity,” says Margaret Ann Bollmeier, president and CEO of the MCV Foundation. “Our team works with external investment managers to ensure our investment programs consistently outpace benchmarks, strengthening the power and impact of donor contributions.”
As was the case for Casey, a scholarship paid for part of Bear’s medical school education and helped make possible his pursuit of a Ph.D. He’s committed to making medical school accessible for students of all backgrounds.
Through his retirement assets, he also will support cancer research with a gift to Massey and another to the professorship named for his mentor and personal hero: Walter Lawrence Jr., M.D., the cancer center’s founding director. “Dr. Lawrence was a role model for equity. Donating to the professorship in his honor has a similar motivation as the donation for medical student scholarships. He opened the first cancer clinic that was accessible to everyone regardless of ability to pay. That was not during a time when everyone was thinking about equity and inclusion.”
Bear held the Walter Lawrence Jr. Distinguished Professorship in Oncology for more than two decades and understands the value of philanthropic support in helping to fund research projects, recruit faculty and defray the costs of clinical research. “I’ve benefited from philanthropy since the day
I came back to the MCV Campus to join the faculty. There aren’t enough federal and industry funds to support all that we need to make progress.”
Giving with heart
William A. Orr, M.D., remembers when his son Ben was deciding between becoming a dentist or a physician, even applying to both schools on the MCV Campus. The senior Orr, a urologist, encouraged Ben to shadow a general practitioner.
That experience sealed the deal, and the younger Orr was set to begin medical school in 2005 until a diagnosis of colon cancer kept him from joining his classmates. Sadly, he passed away in 2006.
His parents took the money they had saved for his medical education to establish the Ben Orr, Class of 2009, Memorial Scholarship in the VCU School of Medicine. “Ben was a giving soul with a big heart,” says his mother Betsy Orr. “In our own way, we feel that through this scholarship, every time someone graduates from the medical school — no matter where they go in the country or the world — Ben is practicing with them. Our only way to honor him is to make sure others have the opportunity that he did not.”
The Orrs make annual gifts to the scholarship, housed at the MCV Foundation, through their IRA to meet their required minimum distribution. In 2022, the couple wanted to make an additional gift of stock to the scholarship. They discussed available options with the MCV Foundation, ultimately creating a donor-advised fund where the stock could be transferred without paying capital gains taxes.
“Donor-advised funds are easier and less expensive than establishing a private foundation,” Bollmeier says. “They also allow you to get started with a relatively small amount of money and still receive the tax benefits. It’s a particularly smart approach for those donors who are bunching their charitable deductions together under new tax laws.”
The Orrs are now using the DAF to make outright gifts to the scholarship, citing the DAF’s simplicity and tax benefits, in addition to the gifts from their IRA. William Orr likens the DAF as the “big brother” of the IRA — a more advanced tool that he can use to grow Ben’s scholarship.
“Even as a physician, I can’t say that I’ve given back my part through my work alone,” he says. “That’s not going to accomplish the same as directly helping a medical school or medical students. There’s a lot of need out there for doctors who have a big heart.”
Massey’s Bear offers a similar perspective.
“Regardless of what we’re able to do for patients or through research, our legacy is really supporting the students and trainees who come behind us and strengthening the institutions that helped us. The medical school and cancer center have done more for me than I could ever do for them. This is a small way to thank them for that.”
If you would like to talk with someone about making a gift in support of the medical school, contact Jodi T. Smith, director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (804) 628-2248.