Planned Giving

Planned Giving: How to Donate Life Insurance to the SFPE Educational & Scientific Foundation


When Jeff L. Harrington, P.E., FSPE, first took out a life insurance policy decades ago, he had not considered donating the policy to charity. He was at the beginning of his career and was focused on providing a financial safety net for his family and his business if something were to happen to him.

Mr. Harrington obtained numerous life insurance policies during his career, some for increased personal security and some for purposes related to his company’s financial security. Recently, after a career of over 43 years in fire protection engineering, he worked on finalizing his plans for retirement and considered the utility of his numerous life insurance policies. He was fortunate to be in a financially stable position for both his family and his company, such that one life insurance policy in particular was a less critical asset than it once was. In consultation with his insurance advisor, Joe Dennis of Northwestern Mutual, he learned about the opportunity to donate this policy to charity.

Northwestern Mutual explains, “Once the charity receives that policy, they can decide to cash it in for the current cash value, hold it while the cash value continues to grow, or wait and eventually use the full death benefit.”[1] A policy donation is an appealing method to make a large donation because a policy is a standalone asset that does not require the donor to liquidate other assets. Furthermore, all donations to charities, designated with a 501(c)(3) status, are tax deductible for the donor, including a life insurance policy asset.

As Mr. Harrington considered the different organizations he could donate the policy to, he reflected on the impact and mission of the SFPE Educational & Scientific Foundation. He sought to provide a gift to the Foundation that would guarantee a significant cash influx at a future time. In consultation with Mr. Dennis and SFPE, he transferred ownership of the policy, which insures his life, to the Foundation in October 2020 as a charitable donation. The policy is self-funding from ongoing dividends. Both the death benefit and cash surrender value will continue to gradually increase while the policy remains in force. Eventually, the Foundation will receive the death benefit amount in cash and is free to use it in any way it wishes to help further its mission.

When asked why he chose to donate to the Foundation, Mr. Harrington emphasized, “In my time with the Foundation as a governor, I have seen impressive results. The Foundation Board of Governors and SFPE leadership have earned my trust.” He added, “[The Foundation] has proven to be a very good steward of the donations it receives, using them effectively and creatively in support of its mission.” He hopes that this donation can inspire others to consider giving to the Foundation in a similar fashion so it can continue to expand its mission globally through a diversity of efforts including research projects to support the practice of fire protection engineering and FPE student research support through scholarships and grants.

For more information on planned giving, please contact foundation@sfpe.org.

[1] https://www.northwesternmutual.com/life-and-money/donating-your-life-insurance-to-charity-how-it-works/