Mikestrathdee’s Blog


Look to the U.S. for the next big catalyst for charitable giving

A couple of decades ago, some of the largest Canadian charities were suffering. Federal cuts to transfer payments, seen as necessary to balance the national government books, were a body blow to universities, hospitals and others.

Help for the charitable sector came in the form of a policy change in line with what donors enjoy in the U.S.  After considerable lobbying, Ottawa agreed to “temporarily” reduce in 1997, then permanently eliminate in 2006, the capital gains tax on appreciated securities when donors gifted them in kind to charity.

By some estimates, that single change resulted in charities receiving an extra $1 billion in donations almost every year since 2006.

With the Canadian donor pool aging and reportedly shrinking, maybe it is time for the sector to look to the U.S. once again for a big idea to kick start the next wave of giving.

In December 2015, Congress passed a bill making permanent a charitable gifting option that allows donors aged 70.5 and older to withdraw IRA funds – a tax-deferred retirement account analogous to our Canadian RRSPs –  to donate to their favorite charities. Withdrawals of up to $100,000 each year can be made without these distributions registering as taxable income.

Given the billions of dollars of RRIF (Registered Retirement Income Fund) income that Canadian baby boomers have to begin drawing down as they turn 72, there are massive possibilities here. Not only do some people not need all of the income they are forced to begin drawing, many are not looking forward to the accompanying tax hit.

A significant number of Canadians will move into the top tax bracket when they draw their last breaths, if that occurs before they have depleted their RRIFs.  In Ontario, that top bracket current stands at 53.5%. Charitable tax credits have been adjusted to match.

Getting a cash-strapped federal government to consider a break for retirement funds donated to charity will not come easily. Many leaders in the charitable sector will say their top lobbying priority will be convincing Ottawa to reinstate the proposed capital gains exemption for gifts of real estate and private shares that was accepted, but not enacted, by the former Harper government.

(Donald K. Johnson, who led the successful lobby for favorable treatment of donated securities some years back, is also pushing Ottawa to give exemptions for real estate and private share gifts. A Toronto Star story says such a change would result in additional donations to charities of about $200 million a year. The cost to the federal treasury would be between $50 million and $65 million.)

But it’s also time to start asking whether the lowest-hanging fruit for growing charitable donations could lie with the ever-increasing wave of RRSP savings that need to be converted to RRIFS and withdrawn.

Lots of good causes sure could use the help.

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On autonomy and community
March 1, 2016, 9:29 pm
Filed under: Communication, Financial Management, Generosity, stewardship, Theology

Published Feb. 24, 2016 in Canadian Mennonite magazine

Feb 24, 2016 | Volume 20 Issue 5

“So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. . . . The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip” (Genesis 32:24-25, 31).

Dutch pastor Wieteke van der Molen used this text for a Friday evening message at the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., last July. Out of many good sermons that week, her message, “On autonomy and community,” struck the deepest chord for me. (The entire message is available online at pa2015.mwc-cmm.org.

We are all part of a community, van der Molen noted, be it a family, tribe, school, workplace or church. Some of us are members of multiple communities. Community feeds us, nurtures us and teaches us right from wrong, she said. To be human is to be part of community; we cannot survive alone.

We also crave autonomy, to have control over what concerns us. We want to make our own decisions, to be and do our best. There is a major tension between these important truths.

The struggle was ever thus, even in Old Testament times. As we read in Genesis, Jacob believed that he came first, always. He swindled his brother, deceived his father and so on. But living by your own set of rules and living in community do not go well together. After wrestling with the angel, Jacob struggled with the people around him, with God and with himself.

Autonomy, van der Molen argues, means that you are your own judge, but you have to figure it all out by yourself. Jacob’s story teaches us that it is not wrong to seek our own way, but we need to recognize the community around us, acknowledging the pain, hurt and frustration on both sides.

Modern, grown-up autonomy doesn’t come easy. When we act like Jacob did, wrestling with God, community and self, van der Molen has this warning: “Even if you win, it leaves you slightly limping.” How much of that limping results from failing to seek counsel?

One of the core principles that Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC) teaches is that God asks for our whole selves; that stewardship is best forged in Christian community marked by integrity, accountability and joy. Do we seek out Christian community and accountability in our walk as stewards of all that God has entrusted to us? Where do we find counsel in making choices around financial matters and in determining whether those choices are God-honouring?

In the 16 years that I have shared the MFC message of generous living and faithful, joyful giving, I have noticed the desire for autonomy, at whatever cost, intensify. Interest in, or even understanding of, community and the responsibilities that come with community, has crashed to a similar extent. It affects many of the institutions that we serve. Denominations, churches and some charities are limping, staggering in some cases. Others are thriving and growing, but there will be more limping and brokenness in coming years, I suspect.

We can do a lot more together than we can apart. How do we foster discussions around the value of community in our financial decisions? MFC can help. Perhaps a money autobiography class would be helpful. Maybe a discussion of best practices, both on a personal and congregational level, could be of assistance. Ask the MFC office closest to you for resources to help get the discussion started.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant at Mennonite Foundation of Canada serving generous people in Ontario and the eastern provinces. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.



Where did all the money go? – old stories from the late 90s
September 4, 2014, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Business, Financial Management, Fraud, Investing, Uncategorized

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999 – front page, A1.

Shareholders left to wonder where money went

Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF
Monday 29 March 1999

Former executives of Struthers Inc. admit that they broke Ontario securities laws when they sold shares in a controversial swine-breeding company that is millions of dollars in debt and has left hundreds of area investors with virtually worthless shares.

“There’s clearly infractions,” Jason Struthers, son of company founder Ron Struthers, admitted in an interview with The Record.

Struthers Inc. is one of a handful of companies started by Ron Struthers to commercialize swine breeding and embryo transplant technology. Building on his father Stan’s breeding business, Struthers had offices in Guelph until last fall, until he was evicted for non-payment of rent.

Struthers Inc. is now largely based in South Carolina. Its Canadian presence consists of space in a lawyer’s office in Mississauga.

Jason Struthers, formerly the company’s secretary/director of international business development, and colleague Paul Allcock, who served as director of corporate affairs, say they ran afoul of securities law after receiving bad advice.

Under provincial securities law, a company must clear a prospectus, a detailed offering document, with regulators in order to sell shares to more than 50 shareholders. The Record has obtained a shareholders list which indicates that shares in several Struthers companies were sold or issued to more than 1,200 people, including 300 in Ontario and close to 200 within the Waterloo Region-Wellington and Perth County area.

Investors paid tens and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars for Struthers shares, which were sold at various times for $1, $3 and$4.50. Struthers Inc. stock began trading on the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board at $6.50 a share last June, but quickly fell to only a few cents and never recovered. The shares last traded for 1.5 cents each, earlier this week.

At least two regulatory bodies — the Ontario Securities Commission in this province, and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S. — are investigating the Struthers companies, The Record has learned.

The OSC has sent a five-page questionnaire to investors asking them about their investment knowledge, how they became aware of the Struthers companies, what information “were you provided with that induced you to make your investment,” in which Struthers business the investment was made, and who sold them the investment.

And the RCMP has interviewed a number of people in an effort to determine whether it has grounds to launch a criminal investigation. “I’ve been co-operating with the RCMP on this,” a haggard-looking Ron Struthers told The Record.

Struthers says he has met with RCMP officers a handful of times since an initial, four-hour interview two months ago. He wouldn’t comment on what the RCMP or securities regulators are looking into.

He did confirm when asked, however, that Revenue Canada has been looking at the books of the Struthers companies for the past three months in connection with money owed for employee payroll deductions.

“I don’t have the books, I don’t have access to the books, but I do know Revenue Canada has been in and done the audits.”

The OSC can ask a court to force a company to file financial statements and a prospectus. The agency can also seek an order directing a person to repay any part of the money paid by a security holder for securities.

Struthers raised at least $6.5 million US through the sale of shares over a period of several years. Shareholders have never received financial statements for the company, and only received share certificates early this year.

“You’ve got to understand something,” Jason Struthers said when asked about why the company didn’t comply with regulatory requirements. “When Ron started this company, he had zero knowledge of how a public company functions. We relied on counsel to do this; now it turns out that the information which counsel gave us was dead wrong.”

Allcock also pointed fingers elsewhere when asked about why proper procedures weren’t followed when shares were sold. “We were always advised that we didn’t need it (a prospectus),” he said. Our advice has been the pits. We could’ve gone to the variety store and got better advice.”

Jason and Ron Struthers were removed from the board and management of Struthers Inc. in a December restructuring.

Allcock, who said he and Jason raised the first $500,000 for the company, claims to have left the firm earlier in a dispute over the best way to raise money.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999, business section, page C1.

Guelph contractor sues U of G

Unpaid renovations at SRI office prompt Van-Con’s $130,000-plus claim
By Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF

A Guelph contractor is suing the University of Guelph to recover payment for renovations he did at a university research park for swine breeding companies formerly operated by area businessman Ron Struthers.

Van-Con General Contractors is seeking more than $130,000 plus costs for renovations done to an office building at 150 Research Lane between October 1997 and January 1998.

The company, operated by Ike Van Soelen, received a judgment last July against Struthers Research Inc. (SRI), one of several companies started by Ron Struthers, a Cambridge businessman and former Pentecostal minister.

But after being told that SRI has no assets, Van Soelen decided to pursue a claim against the university, which has since rented the research park space he renovated to a Guelph marketing company.

Ironically, that firm has also received a court judgment against a Struthers company for work it never received payment for.

The university, in its statement of defence, denies any liability or responsibility for work done by Van-Con. In a cross-claim, however, it seeks to hold SRI and Struthers International Research Corp., another associated firm, responsible for any amount it is found to be liable to Van-Con.

It also seeks a judgment for $100,000 against Struthers “as damages for breach of contract regarding the agreement to lease between the university and Struthers IRC.”

Van Soelen says the university is benefiting from work he did in the building. He has also placed a lien against the property.

In its statement of claim, Van-Con alleges that a university official approved drawings and specifications for work done at the building, but at one point, expressed concerns about the financial viability of Struthers and instructed Van-Con to cease work.

The statement of claim goes on to allege that, subsequently, the official said the university “no longer had any financial concerns about Struthers,” and that Van-Con could proceed with its renovations “since everything was now in order.”

Van-Con also alleges that university officials “inspected the quality of work from time to time during the course of its progress,” and that Struthers was indebted to the university “for the rent of facilities elsewhere, in the amount of $148,946.00.”

A letter sent by a university lawyer to a former Van-Con lawyer indicates that Struthers’ tenancy in the research park “was terminated on March 4, 1998, as a result of arrears in the payment of rent.”

Earlier this month, a few days after the university filed its statement of defence in connection with the Van-Con lawsuit, the office of research issued a brief press release distancing itself from Struthers.

“In 1994, Struthers Research began investing in swine embryo research at the University of Guelph,” the announcement stated. “The University of Guelph no longer has a research contract nor any research involvement with Struthers Research and parties related in any way to Struthers Research. The University of Guelph does not have a licensing agreement with Struthers Research or any other Struthers entity.”

Larry Milligan, U of G’s vice-president of research, said in an interview that the university is “quite deliberately declaring that there is no linkage, that there is no licence for the technology in place.”

But more than a week after the announcement was made, a share-offering document available by fax from the South Carolina office of Struthers Inc., the U.S. parent firm of the companies named in the lawsuits, still indicated that the company “intends to take full advantage of it’s (sic) strong working relationship with the University of Guelph, a
world-renowned leading animal science institution.”

Doug Beatty, vice-president of operations for Struthers Inc., brushed off the U of G announcement. “They can say whatever they like,” he said.

“There’s things happening behind the scenes here. It’s unfortunate. They pushed Struthers out of Canada.”

Company founder Ron Struthers broke his silence on the events Thursday, and provided the Record with a copy of a 1994 contract between U of G and Struthers Research.

Money owing to U of G is for subsequent, related work, and doesn’t affect Struthers Inc.’s ability to commercialize the embryo-transplant technology, he said in an interview.

“Basically, the technology is basically there for the use of this corporation (Struthers Inc.),” he said.

U of G moved to dissociate itself from the Struthers companies following months of talks because “we’re not getting anywhere in clearing up the back debt” of more than $200,000 owed to it by Struthers, Milligan said.

Milligan said he has received a legal opinion which suggests that the swine- embryo transplant technology “is owned by the university.”

U of G hopes to recoup its losses by commercializing that technology, possibly through a licensing agreement with another firm.

Struthers Inc. has not publicly commented on its view of the millions of dollars in debts run up by Ron Struthers and other firms which bear his name. The company said in December that Ron Struthers no longer holds a management role with the firm.

A November share-offering document for Struthers Inc., which has shares quoted through the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board, claimed that the firm is “not presently a party to any material litigation,” and that its liabilities totalled $1,510.

The document doesn’t refer to litigation or liabilities involving its subsidiaries. Struthers officials have not responded to written questions submitted earlier this year to Richard Lane, their New York-based lawyer.

Beatty said this week that “Struthers Inc. is a debt-free organization.”

He wouldn’t say whether Struthers Inc. has any responsibility for debts run up by its subsidiaries or Ron Struthers. “You’ve sort of blindsided me. I don’t know.”

Ron Struthers says company officials verbally promised him, when he relinquished control of the firm in the fall, that all of the millions of dollars in debts run up by Struthers corporations and promissory notes to shareholders signed by him would be taken care of. “I’ve been told that they (Struthers Inc. officials) have a block of shares set aside for repayment of debts,” he said.

But he can provide no proof that any such agreement exists, as he didn’t get anything in writing. “No. I didn’t. Just trusted them.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999, business section, page C2.

Newsletter to Struthers investors long on predictions, short on details

By Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF

Struthers Inc. has a bright new future ahead, the company’s latest newsletter to investors says.

The pork biotechnology company plans to train a team of surgeons in embryo-transplant techniques at a major United States university and announce contracts with major swine breeders, the newsletter states.

But the four-page document, which can also be seen on the Struthers Web site, is long on predictions and short on specifics.

Titled “the Rooter’s News,” the newsletter refers to several upcoming developments without providing any specific details.

“The commercialization of the embryo-transfer technology, through relationships already formed with leaders in swine genetics in North America, will represent a positive cash flow situation for the company and will allow for future growth and expansion,” the newsletter states.

Doug Beatty, vice-president of operations at Struthers’ Charleston, S.C., office, said the company won’t be able to identify any of its partners nor the university where the surgical training will take place, until after April 2.

Struthers has had to sign non-disclosure agreements with the universities involved, as “they don’t want a slew of people calling,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t (identify partners) in that newsletter,” he said.

”We wanted to, but we couldn’t.”

Contracts will be solidified and signed when company officials visit Iowa, Missouri and Illinois in coming days, he predicted.

Company president Don Bowden, a veterinarian from Iowa, is handling the negotiations, the newsletter stated.

The company also plans to purchase a mobile operating theatre, a surgical trailer, from Alpha Omega, an Indiana company which builds mobile CT and MRI scanners, Beatty said.

Struthers plans to have a six-metre (20-foot) surgical trailer based in Canada as embryo-transplant work progresses, he said.

Company founder Ron Struthers, who has not had a management role with the company since a restructuring last fall, told the Record last week that he is “pretty happy with the guys in the States” and the way efforts to commercialize embryo-transplant technology are proceeding.

He remains interested in working with the company which bears his name.

“My offer to the company is that anything I can do to take the company forward, any knowledge I have, I will give it to them.

“I’d like to help grow the company if it’s possible, if there’s a place for me to be there.”

Struthers said that when he handed over control of the firm late last year, he planned to go to South Carolina and work out of the Struthers office there with current management.

But poor health, including several operations related to kidney problems, have kept Struthers in Cambridge. “At this point, it’s not certain whether they want me there (U.S), ” he added.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

HEADLINE Company ex-president has ‘no idea’ where close to $4 million has gone
BYLINE Mike Strathdee
SOURCE RECORD STAFF
DNOTE Ran with related story “Shareholders left to wonder where money went: Former executives of Struthers Inc. admit they broke securities law” Page A1 “Guelph contractor sues U of G: Unpaid renovations at SRI office prompt Van-Con’s $130,000-plus claim” Page C1 and “Newsletter to Struthers investors long on predictions, short on details” Page C2

There are a number of mysteries surrounding events involving Struthers Inc. over the last year.

Shareholders who have contacted the Record wonder how shares in Struthers Inc., which began trading at $6.50 each last June on the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board, quickly fell off to only a few cents in value, and never recovered. The shares last traded at 1.5 cents on Friday.

They also wonder why, if the company’s new management wanted to assure investors that Ron and Jason Struthers no longer held any management positions in the company as of early December, the share certificates which were issued to shareholders Dec. 29 were signed by Jason Struthers, secretary, and Ron Struthers, president.

The certificates were printed before the management restructuring occurred, Ron Struthers told the Record this week. “Maybe it’s even prudent,” he said. “Why waste another $15,000 to $20,000 (to print new shares)? Use up the (old certificate) stock.”

It is unclear why Ron Struthers agreed to relinquish control of the company without having a detailed, written agreement as to the royalty stream he is to receive for his past work. Ron Struthers says he trusted his longtime advisers to take care of his interests.

Struthers Inc. documents suggest Ron Struthers will receive royalties, but don’t specify the amount. “It’s never been flushed out,” Ron Struthers asked when questioned on the subject.

“I’m not (financially) in a point where I could go to a lawyer, or even hire one.”

Another unanswered question is the issue of what happened to the millions of dollars raised by the company, given that scores of creditors, large and small, weren’t paid for services rendered.

A Struthers Inc. offering document available to prospective investors through a fax-on-demand service states that the company had total assets of $2,824 as of Nov. 15.

Ron Struthers insists that all of the money raised from investors — at least $6.5 million US, by some accounts more — was used to pay expenses related to research and market development efforts.

But The Record has obtained a copy of a draft, unaudited consolidated balance sheet that states it was prepared for the management of Struthers Inc., dated July 31, 1998, months before Ron Struthers stepped aside from the management of the company.

That document, which investors have never seen, stated that the company had cash of $3,933,191 at the July 31, 1998, end of year.

“I have no idea,” Ron Struthers said Thursday when shown the statement and asked about the discrepancy. “I’ve never seen these documents (before).”

If the company had that much money last summer, “we would not have been in problems,” he insisted.

Companies which have stock quoted through the over-the-counter bulletin board in the U.S. are not required to make the detailed filings of their financial statements with regulators which other publicly traded firms must do.

Struthers Inc. is in the process of having its financial statements examined by auditors, company spokesman Doug Beatty said. “When they’re ready, we’ll post them” on the company’s web site, he said.

One of the reasons that the financial statements are being changed is because the company’s asset base is changing, he said. “There was a lot of stuff that went missing.”

Beatty did not elaborate.

Ron Struthers denied that any assets of real value remain unaccounted for when the company was evicted from a leased research farm south of Guelph in October. “Nothing’s gone missing that would influence those books by more than $5,000 or $10,000,” he said.

“There was no assets you could pick up and walk away with.”



If I had a million dollars

Published in the June 24, 2013 issue of Canadian Mennonite magazine

Many of us dream about how we might spend a large, unexpected windfall. Some imagine travelling to exotic locales, or owning a new vehicle or dream home. Some dream about making a difference.

I would use my imaginary windfall to invest in our pastoral leaders and the future health of the church by funding financial literacy programs at Bible colleges and seminaries.

Debt is a huge issue confronting our society. The average Canadian owes $1.65 for every dollar of after-tax income earned. It would take over half a year’s salary for the average Canadian to repay his/her consumer non-mortgage debt.

How much training do church leaders get at seminaries and Bible colleges so they can help people learn how to live within their means? Basically nothing. When I asked about this at a Mennonite ministerial gathering this winter, some nodded and murmured assent. No one disagreed.

Not only do seminarians graduate ill-equipped to help members of their congregation in this area, increasing numbers are graduating with crippling debt loads that impair their own ability to be effective, and may even force them out of ministry. This situation also reduces the pool of candidates who are able to serve at smaller congregations. (A shortage of pastors willing or able to serve small and rural churches is an increasingly major concern across Canada, according to a recent study by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.)

Some seminary graduates have student debt loads approaching or even exceeding $100,000. Graduates head into ministry and are offered part-time positions, sometimes with few benefits. Many times their first churches are in small or rural communities where there are limited opportunities to earn additional income unless they are handy with a hammer or a computer.

It’s hard enough for pastors to talk about money, let alone lead by example, without the pressure of unresolved personal challenges in that area. Fortunately, some organizations are recognizing the problem and taking steps to address it.

Luther Seminary in Minnesota has a financial coaching program through its Center for Stewardship Leaders. Any student who applies for financial assistance at Luther is paired with a trained volunteer coach. Coaches are transparent about their own choices and situation, and provide a safe environment to guide students through their challenges over at least one academic year. “The job of financial coaching is to help you get your financial life in order, clear the way to a sense of well-being about money and free you to be a stewardship leader,” the coaching manual states.

After developing the coaching manual and recruiting mentors, the seminary spends only a few thousand dollars a year on the program, director Charles Lane tells me.

The United Methodist Church in Indiana takes a more holistic approach. Matching grants from the Lilly Endowment provide educational programs for clergy and lay leaders, plus grants to clergy or clergy spouses.

If I had a million dollars, I’d fund Bible colleges and seminaries to offer financial literacy programs. Tuition and materials would be free for anyone who commits to full attendance and participation. On successful completion, a graduate would get the added bonus of a grant that could be applied against student debt.

We ask a lot of our pastors. Giving them the training they need in financial matters would be a great gift for them, their congregations and the wider church.



How to plan your digital estate
July 3, 2014, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Estate Planning, Financial Management, retirement, Uncategorized

First published in Canadian Mennonite, July 2014

The most surprising “friend” request I ever received on Facebook came from someone I knew only slightly.

That may not seem unusual, except the person was dead. When I clicked the Facebook page, which has since been taken down, I found an unusual memorial. It spoke of being glad to be free of pain and cancer, missing family and so on.

This memorial, a digital legacy, is becoming common.

That incident may seem silly to those of us who didn’t come of age in the computer era. But the question of what happens to digital assets—anything stored in electronic form—is becoming a hot topic for lawyers, trust officers and anyone who helps people do end-of-life planning. Some people’s digital assets may be worth more than their cars.

The list of things that qualify as digital assets and often don’t get mentioned in a will is huge: text documents, photos, multimedia files, user licences, profiles for online accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn) and subscriptions.

In some cases—accounts at financial institutions and rewards programs—substantial amounts of money are at stake. Or someone just may want an account or pictures taken offline.

Changes in technology are way ahead of how we think about changes we need to make in estate planning. Soon we will need to add “tech savvy” to the list of qualities we want our estate trustee to have.

Issues we need to consider include making a list of our online accounts, passwords and security questions, and where the information that will allow someone to access these is stored: computers, mobile devices, flash drives or websites.

“Normal” rules of how trustees get access to information when someone dies don’t apply to the digital world, complicating this new list of things to think about. Each company has different regulations on how it handles the situation, and standards are mostly lacking.

Google may require a U.S. court order before it will disclose any information. Yahoo allows no right of survivorship or transferability on accounts. There have been lawsuits in the U.S. over these policies.

Shoppers Drug Mart won’t allow the transfer of rewards points from a deceased person, but will allow the estate to donate them to certain charities.

One Kitchener, Ont., lawyer is now asking clients to do beneficiary designations for Air Miles points.

A handful of U.S. states have passed laws to impose some order. Nothing of the sort is in place anywhere in Canada.

An easy and important step for estate trustees to take concerning electronic assets is to notify credit agencies about the deceased’s passing. Identity fraud is on the rise, and the risks increase with the amount of online activity.

If the potential complications of all this makes your head spin, you are not alone. Please pass the Aspirin. All the more reason to think twice when you are asked to serve as an estate trustee. Turning the job over to professionals and letting them worry about navigating these complications could be money well spent.

To help you keep track of a wide range of accounts and assets, MFC offers a free, downloadable Personal Information Directory at MennoFoundation.ca/PID.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant in the Kitchener, Ont., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.



On the topic of impact – are you a fire hose or drip irrigation donor?
June 26, 2014, 2:25 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Estate Planning, Financial Management, Generosity

Published in the June, 2014 issue of Gift Planning in Canada
On the topic of impact
Mike Strathdee
Helping donors understand the impact of how they support their favorite causes can take some explaining.
The people I have the privilege of working with generally
make giving decisions informed
by their faith. Unlike churchgoers
of earlier generations, the place where
they worship is often not the primary
or sole beneficiary of their giving.
In fact, it is common for me to meet
with folks who receive charitable
receipts from 20, 30 or more different
charities every year.
Without a doubt, deciding whether
to make large gifts to a few causes
or smaller donations to a greater array
of charities is a highly personal
decision. Getting people to recognize
that one-time gifts under $100
are costly for charities is sometimes
the first discussion point.
Once donors have narrowed down
who will be on their list, asking whether
they want their end-of-life gift to have
short, or longer-term impact can result
in blank stares. I am often asked,
“Isn’t it all the same?”
Water metaphors can be a useful
way of helping donors see the value
of different approaches. The metaphor
I have found most helpful is fire hose
versus drip irrigation.
A fire hose provides quick, intense
bursts of water – great for extinguishing
a blaze, with as much pressure as
possible, or responding to a large,
immediate need. If a person wants
to grow flowers or vegetables, however,
the amount of water that comes out
of a fire hose quickly may be
overwhelming. When growing fragile
crops, drip irrigation, with smaller
amounts of water released over a longer
period of time, is more helpful.
The fire hose approach to end-of-life
giving may be unhelpful, particularly if
the gift is to a smaller charity (or
a larger one that doesn’t have good
policies on how bequests will be used).
I once met with a couple who wanted
to leave a $180,000 gift to their church
– a small rural congregation – that had
no bequest policy. When they told me
that the church’s annual budget was
only $150,000, we were able to have a
good conversation about whether this
gift would be helpful or harmful.
They eventually decided to have the
gift to their church flow through the
Mennonite Foundation of Canada over
a 10-year period.
Sometimes, for donors with
significant charitable intent, there
is often an opportunity to combine fire
hose and drip irrigation gifts. There
are a number of reasons that people
will choose to support an endowed,
or drip irrigation approach to giving,
including ensuring that their support
will continue after they are gone
– incorporating both legacy and
sustainability elements. For example,
In a recent meeting with a couple that
had spent a fair bit of their career
working in the charitable sector,
I was happy to hear that they wanted
to give gifts to organizations that had
endowments. They knew that many
donors dislike supporting the
important work that goes on behind
the scenes, unnoticed or appreciated
and so decided to give support to the
administration of charitable work.
Other donors want to create (or
support) new possibilities for mission,
if a charity’s use of its long-term fund
is broad enough. Contributing to a
medium or longer-term fund to support
the cause(s) they care about fits well
with the giving wishes of more donors
than you might think. But they may
need to ponder different sorts of water
pressure to understand why.
Mike Strathdee, MA, CFP is a Stewardship
Consultant with Mennonite Foundation
of Canada, a national, faith-based public
charitable foundation. Based in Kitchener,
Mike works with individuals, families and
congregations throughout Eastern Canada
in the areas of charitable gift and estate
planning and financial literacy. Prior to
joining MFC in 1999, Mike had a 15 year
journalism career, including 13 years as a
business writer at the Kitchener-Waterloo
Record newspaper.



Tending the Body – Generosity Across the Generations

Published in the Summer 2014 edition of Leader Magazine
When I was a boy, finding ways to earn money was easy. By age 10 I was selling greeting cards and TV Guides, then delivering the morning paper. In my teen years, even for a smaller-than-average kid, there were no end of opportunities – mowing lawns, scooping ice cream and stacking shelves at our small town store.
I had to work my way through university, helped by several part-time jobs and small student loans that were repaid within a couple of years. Debt wasn’t a huge issue, as I mostly just spent what I could afford.
Decades later, the world that my daughters face is considerably different. Jobs are scarcer. Education costs have soared at a rate many times the increases in what can be earned from part-time and summer jobs.
Credit is easy to get, but the debts that accompany its use are harder to repay. Being in debt is the norm. Our children and young people are overwhelmed with choices and opportunities to spend far beyond what we or our parents ever had. Unless a person chooses early on to make giving a part of their life pattern, there will always be excuses why not.
We dare not allow our churches to be silent on the connection between our use of material things and our spiritual walk. A giving God created us to reflect and pass on God’s generosity. That’s a tough sell in our culture.
Author Nathan Dungan says many youth will encounter as many as 5,000 advertising images in a day encouraging them to spend (ignoring two other important purposes God intends for material possessions– sharing and saving).
Irregular and incomplete messages about money are too often the norm in church settings. In many congregations, there are year-end bulletin appeals. There are pleas from the front of the sanctuary to give more to close the gap between church income and what is needed to meet the budget.
Where are the other messages we all need to hear about money, regardless of our age? We all need examples of how to live contentedly, within our means. We need to hear warnings about the cost of debt, spiritual and otherwise, and the trade-offs we need to make.
The question of how to provide counter-cultural opportunities, to help to form and grow the generosity impulse in children and young people, is a major issue for the long-term health of the church and the spiritual growth of future generations.
We need to wrestle with what the gaps are in helping young people to gain a holistic appreciation of dealing with money. Then we need to reflect on how we fill those gaps.
Some congregations do a good job of involving young children in the offering. Having a separate box or other container into which children can bring coins is a helpful practice, as is designating a special project for that offering.
What happens when children graduate to junior youth and beyond? Where are the forums for conversation, for modeling giving as spiritual protection against consumerism? When are our young people invited to regularly give, to view the offering as a spiritual act?
Mennonite Foundation of Canada has had considerable success in starting conversations about holistic use of money with a Timbit Economics/ Lifestyle Choices game. This game allows people to have fun contemplating choices around food, clothing, lodging, transportation, leisure, charitable giving and taxes, using donut holes as a form of proxy currency that can be eaten at the end of the exercise. You can get details about how to play the game at this web link:
http://www.mennofoundation.ca/downloads/timbit-economics.pdf
The game is most often done with high school or young adult groups, but works well as an intergenerational activity. It is best suited for groups of between 20 and 50 people, to allow for mixing people up into imaginary households of 5 to 7 people.
If you are seeking multi-week curriculum, Mennonite Foundation has adapted Everence’s Money Matters for Youth publication for the Canadian context. This seven lesson resource, intended for 45-minute Sunday school classes, includes sessions on biblical perspectives on money, budgeting, debt, saving and giving. It includes suggestions for accompanying print, video and music resources.
You can download the PDF file at this address: http://www.mennofoundation.ca/downloads/money-matters-for-youth.pdf
The original Everence version of this study, plus two other studies: Stewardship for Kids and Three Key Questions and Money: What’s God Got To Do With It? (for youth groups) can be found at this link: http://www.everence.com/showitem.aspx?id=12617