Thank Goodness for Bargain Sales

Recently the Volunteer Center of Door County hosted its annual Golden Heart Awards to recognize outstanding volunteers in our community. Holly Feldman, one of the handful of folks who have attended all 12 of these annual galas, calls it the “feel good event of Door County.”

Indeed, it’s easy to see why people are so energized by the Golden Heart Awards. More than 300 guests gather to hear inspirational stories of volunteers who so generously give of their labor and leadership to our beloved Door County. The collective magnitude of the volunteerism represented by the honorees is simply overwhelming.

It certainly is right and appropriate that we honor these good folks for all they have given. Yet as so often happens, my mind starts to wander off in a different direction. I couldn’t help but think about bargain sales.

Now I’m not talking about the bargain sales you find on the racks in the back of a department store. I’m referring to the charitable giving tool called a bargain sale. In essence, a bargain sale is when a donor sells an appreciated piece of property to a nonprofit organization at a price far below the appraised value.

Imagine that you own some real estate that is worth $80,000 and you want to make a charitable gift, but you can’t afford to give away the entire $80,000. Instead, you arrange a bargain sale in which you sell the property to a charity for let’s say $45,000 – keeping that money as income for yourself. But because you sold it to a charity for $35,000 less than the actual value of the real estate, you’ve essentially made a charitable gift of $35,000.

The charity, of course, then sells the property for the fair market value for $80,000, pocketing a net profit of $35,000 to support its work.

While there are some caveats to consider when calculating the actual charitable gift for tax purposes, this is a bargain sale. It’s a charitable gift that occurs when you sell something to charity for far less than it’s actually worth.

Of course, if you’ve managed to stay with me this long, you’re now wondering what a bargain sale has to do with the Golden Heart Awards. While I am very pleased that our community continues to celebrate the incredible volunteerism that was on display at the event, I don’t want us to ever forget the remarkable contributions made by people like Pam Seiler, executive director of the Volunteer Center. She may be a paid employee, but I know for a fact that the amount of time Pam gives to her organization far exceeds that for which she is paid.

That’s why I think many of the professionals who work so tirelessly for our community, like Pam Seiler, are essentially making a bargain sale donation to the charities for which they work. The Volunteer Center pays Pam for her labor, but it’s far less in salary than her time and talents are actually worth.

The same holds true for Amy Kohnle at the United Way of Door County as she works to raise money for the less fortunate in our community. Imagine how well she could do financially if she were a salesperson working on a commission.

I think of Coggin Heeringa of Crossroads at Big Creek and her incredible passion for environmental and science education. Science, technology, engineering and math skills are pretty valuable right now in the for-profit world.

Trudy Herbst at the Door County Maritime Museum is highly skilled at building business relationships. Mike Schneider at the Clearing Folk School is a quality administrator who oversees an entire community of buildings. Rick Nelson of Habitat for Humanity is comfortable working in different cultures at a time when international experience is coveted in the business world.

Sharon Grutzmacher of the Peninsula Music Festival, Gay Pustaver of Money Management Counselors, Steve Leonard of the Ridges Sanctuary, Beth Meissner of the Hardy Gallery, and the list could go on and on.

Yes, these folks are paid employees, but they work far more hours than is warranted by their pay alone. In addition, their experience and skill sets would often command a higher salary in the for-profit world. These wonderful charitable employees are making a bargain sale donation to our community. We pay them for their work, but they give to us so much more.

Let’s continue to celebrate volunteerism in Door County and be energized by the inspiring stories of the Golden Heart Awards. We should treasure our volunteers. But let’s also take a moment to thank the professionals who have spent their careers making our community a better place. Door County would be diminished without them.

This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on May 1, 2014.

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