Friday Forum: An easier way

Matt Vroom

Matt Vroom

By The Daily Illini

Each fall the Campus Charitable Fund Drive (CCFD) offers University employees the opportunity to support United Way and a wide assortment of other local, regional and national agencies. I have gladly participated for many years, once even serving as my department’s campaign chair. Signing up for payroll deductions for charities I would otherwise support directly saves me time and money, and I assume the charities benefit from a steady stream of income.

My contribution this year will be only about 20 percent of what it was last year, because I retired in August. Not that I am suddenly pleading poverty. My disposable income has not changed much, and I will continue to tithe, but few of my contributions will be made through the CCFD.

You see, in spite of the fact that University retirees make up one of the largest groups supporting United Way of Champaign County – and departments recruit their retirees as well as active employees for the drive – retirees can only contribute in a lump sum (cash, check or securities). There is no provision for automatic deductions from the pension check, although some other voluntary deductions, such as dues for the retirees’ association, seem to be possible.

For a few local charities to which I have been contributing $5 or $10 each month, it would be relatively easy to write checks for $60 or $120. But my annual contributions to United Way, Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International and the NAACP, made in 2004 through payroll deductions, amount to several thousand dollars. It is not feasible to make a single payment in that amount, especially in a calendar year during which I have already contributed generously. Moreover, for any single gift over $250, the IRS requires an explicit statement from the charity that no goods or services were received in exchange for the gift; this statement must be in hand before the gift is allowed as an itemized deduction. Checks submitted through the CCFD have sometimes taken months to clear my account, leaving me uncertain where to address a request for the required documentation.

I will write a few checks for CCFD. Then I will sit down and work out a schedule of contributions, to different agencies in different months, so that my payments are more or less evenly distributed throughout the year, as is my income. But it will cost me some extra time and postage, and it will probably be less efficient for the beneficiaries as well. It is not unlikely that I will occasionally lose track of my schedule and delay or even omit payments to some agencies. Everybody loses under this scenario.

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I am sure there are reasons that automatic deduction from pension checks has not been offered. I am not particularly interested in hearing them. When something is important, we find a way to make it happen.

Esther Portnoy

Emerita Associate Professor, Mathematics