In this issue of Give & Take, we talk with Fred Osborn, director of gift planning for The Episcopal Church Foundation in New York. As a former investment manager and business owner, Mr. Osborn brings a unique perspective to this month’s “Gift Planner Profile.”
Give & Take: Why did you become involved in the field of fund development?
Osborn: I started with my work as a fund manager and investment advisor. I became very interested in what seems to make some people generous and others not so generous. I wondered what the emotional characteristics of a generous person were. In the late ’70s I became a financial manager for an Episcopal diocese. That¹s how I got my start in what turned out to be a career in the Church. Today I am responsible for planned gift support at the national level.
Give & Take: What is the most rewarding part of your work?
Osborn: Meeting and working with genuinely nice people. People who have learned how to be generous and are acting on their generosity are wonderful people to spend time with. They are friendly, helpful, committed to the cause. That has been the greatest payoff for me. Even though I am at the national level, I make it a point at least once a month to get out and go on a donor visit or do a parish consultation. I want to be sure that I am out in the “trenches” as much as possible.
Give & Take: What characteristics are you looking for when you hire a gift planner?
Osborn: I look for a good listener and someone who has a demonstrated commit-ment to the faith so that he or she can believe in the causes for which we are raising money. I also think a successful person in this field should have a compassionate spirit. A gift planner should be someone who can care about the donors and appreciates who they are. Finally gift planners need a degree of technical expertise. This skill is not the most important attribute because persons who possess other skills necessary for success can over time learn the technical aspects of gift planning. Gift planners must also be sensitive to different people’s styles. For example, if you are talking with a retired accountant who considering making a gift, he wants to know exactly what all the numbers are, what the payout will be, what the projections are that underlie the payouts, etc. On the other hand, if you are talking with an elderly widow who is an artist, she can be expected to care little about the technical aspects of a gift. She wants to know how funds she is considering donating will be used. The details of the plan are probably much less important to her than knowing how her gift will help people now and in the future.
Give & Take: What is the best advice you have ever been given regarding planned gift development work?
Osborn: One of my favorite quotes relates to this – “The best tool of evangelism is not the mouth, it is the ear.” If you want to convince people of something, listen to them.
Give & Take: Do you think that philanthropy is something you learn as you get older, is innate, or is something one can be taught from childhood?
Osborn: Yes, yes, yes! For many people, giving is instilled in them from childhood by example by parents who regularly give. The children notice it and participate in it. People also learn generosity later in life when they discover that the pursuit of material wealth can leave them with a tremendous sense of emptiness. I think it is important for gift planners to believe in the basic goodness of people and that generosity is one of the innate traits of all human beings. Of course, in religious work it is easy to say that human beings are made in the image of God, and God is the ultimate giver. God gives everything. I have heard some say we reach our most fully human state by learning to give