Posted January 1st, 1999

Boston Gift Planner Finds Donors “Fascinating”

The “Gift Planner Profile” has been a popular segment in Give & Take over the years. In this our inaugural issue of 1999 we bring you an interview with Mary Tambiah, director of gift and estate planning at Boston University.

Give & Take: What led you to choose the field of philanthropy as a career?

Tambiah: When my children started school full time, I went back to school and received my M.B.A. in 1984. I then went to work in banking here in Boston. I was very interested in venture capital and investing in high-tech companies. This was in the late 1980s, and there were fewer career opportunities in this business because of mergers and consolidation. I decided to step back and try to find a more promising arena. I did a great deal of networking. Then at a dinner one night a college classmate of mine said, “Mary, development and planned giving is the place for you.” I contacted a friend who was director of major gifts for a small university and she suggested that I intern in her office. So I did.

Give & Take: What do you think are the ingredients to having a successful gift planning program?

Tambiah: It requires an enormous amount of persistence and detail work and the ability to see the big picture–both from the perspective of the institution for which you work and the perspective of the donors and their advisors. This is a very dynamic process. You have to be in full coordination with the major gift group if it is a separate group from planned giving, the school based development officers, the alumni officers, alumni volunteers, and everyone else who may be involved, depending on the circumstances. I just do not see how I am doing my job right if all I do is pay attention to people who call me. That is just not the way to do it. You have to be proactive in talking with your staff and others important in the development process.

Give & Take: What has been the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Tambiah: It is definitely working with donors. I have really enjoyed working with some wonderful, fascinating BU alumni and friends. They are fun, they’re interesting, and they have done interesting things. Most of these people have very modest backgrounds and have come to lead very financially successful lives. What I find so enjoyable is that the alumni are so deeply and immediately grateful to the University for the opportunities their education gave them. They tell me time and time again, “BU was good to me; now I want to give something back.”

Give & Take: Tell us about a recent gift that you were involved in planning of which you are particularly proud.

Tambiah: Last year we received nearly a quarter of a million dollar gift for construction on a new building. The gift came from an extremely sophisticated businessman– he trades on his own account and has his own seat on the New York Stock Exchange. We worked out an arrangement with him: he contributed stocks, which have been used to fund a single-life charitable gift annuity. Then at a point in the future, which is as yet undetermined, he has the right to renounce his income interest. When he does this, then construction can begin because the assets will be available. The gift will be used to build a sailing pavilion that will be named after the donor. It was a very complicated gift that took almost ten months to complete. It took a lot of coordination between our office and the Office of Financial Affairs.

Give & Take: What advice would you give to your fellow gift planners who may be just starting out in the field?

Tambiah: Certainly you need to join your nearest planned giving group. Second of all, you should make sure your organization has planned giving counsel. Third, talk to as many people who have been in planned giving as you can as soon as you can. Get their ideas about what is important. Also consider very carefully what your institution does–what are its strengths and its mission? Finally, find out about the people who are likely to give to your institution. Are they old, middle-aged, young? Learn their stories and what interests them. That is the interesting part for your donors and for you.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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