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Dolly Parton – Lessons Learned From Her Long-Time Philanthropy

February 15, 2024

Dolly Parton is not just an international superstar; she is one of the most philanthropic celebrities in the world. While very few of us will ever have her wealth or fame, we can emulate some of her passion to do good. She has lessons to teach all of us about embracing philanthropy and being strategic in charitable giving. If you are inspired to give, this is a good time to think about making large gifts as there are various tax benefits, even if your donations are far below Dolly Parton’s.

Parton’s Charitable Giving

In the 1980s, Dolly Parton began focusing her philanthropic endeavors on initiatives in her home state of Tennessee. Her father was illiterate, and for many years, she concentrated her efforts on improving literacy and graduation rates in Tennessee. Her initiatives included yearly scholarships and a program where middle school students were paired with a buddy. If both students graduated high school, they were each entitled to $500. This drastically increased the graduate rate. 

The overarching structure of Parton’s giving is the “Dollywood Foundation.” Over the years, the foundation has taken on several different initiatives including hospitals, animal sanctuaries, and scholarships. She even donated $1 million towards COVID-19 vaccine research. 

Her philanthropy has attracted big donors. In November 2022, Jeff Bezos donated $100 million to the Dollywood Foundation. The funds can be used to donate to charities of the foundation’s choice or to continue Parton’s own charitable work. 

Benefits of Charitable Giving

Most people donate to charity to help others or further a cause that is important to them. However, there are also important estate planning benefits to charitable giving.

For example, assets placed into a charitable trust can help avoid estate taxes. A charitable trust also allows you to provide continuous gifts to the charity and can be structured to give you some power to control distributions and how the funds are used. You may also want to consider other strategies, such as Donor Advised Funds and private foundations for other benefits.

You can also make a charitable bequest in a will. This would be a one-time bequest, but any gift to a charity will be estate tax-exempt.

Your Charitable Giving Plan

The primary lesson of Dolly Parton is that if you want to donate to charities, consider what causes are really important to you. She is very thoughtful about where she gives her money. There are charities that focus on just about any type of problem, from poverty to diseases, education to the environment. No matter how much you have to donate, you can find somewhere to donate that will do good and be meaningful to you.

If you are looking for help establishing your own giving strategy, we can advise you regarding the best way to structure your charitable giving to achieve your goals and benefit your overall estate plan. Contact us for a consultation.


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