Wealth shift on track

By Solja Nygard Frangos

Despite the economic slump, charity still should get at least $6 trillion over the next 50 years as wealth is transferred between generations, Boston College researchers say.

The researchers, who five years ago estimated $41 trillion or more would change hands by 2052, have confirmed their projections in the face of criticism and changing economic conditions.

In a new report, they say their projections are based on conservative estimates reflecting the peaks and valleys of economic cycles.

What’s more, they say, the share of transferred wealth going to charity actually could exceed $6 trillion if, based on emerging trends, more people give during their lifetimes.

The researchers, Paul Schervish and John Havens at Boston College’s Social Welfare Research Institute, reviewed their estimates to address criticism and concerns, including the impact of the economic downturn that began after release of their initial projections.

Many nonprofits “were, and some still are, afraid they made wrong decision when they hired more fundraisers to help them get the projected funds,” Schervish says.

The estimates are based on projections that personal wealth in the U.S., $32 trillion in 1998, will grow 2 percent a year through 2052.

Even if economic recessions are more common than expansions during the 55 years covered by their projections, the researchers say, modest annual growth of 2 percent is likely.

Their projections also reflect wealth likely to be transferred by anyone who was an adult in 1998, not only by those who came of age during World War II and have begun leaving their wealth to the Baby Boom generation.

More Americans also are waiting longer to retire or working part-time as they get older, putting less strain on the assets they have accumulated.

And a rise in giving while donors still are alive actually might increase charity overall rather than siphoning funds that otherwise would go to charities through wills and planned gifts.

“The amount donated to charities could actually rise if more donors felt more engaged in philanthropy and gave more money,” Schervish says.

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