Posted December 1st, 2005

Gaining Perspective on Gifts

When a donor first approaches a charity about a potential gift, those in the development office may be tempted to view the gift solely from their own perspective. But a failure to consider the impact a large gift may have on other interested parties—such as the donor’s family, other potential heirs, or others within the charity—may lead to less than favorable results. Understanding and accommodating various points of view from the outset may save everyone involved from unwelcome surprises later on.

Consider the donor’s perspective

Remember that a donor may have family, friends, or professional advisors who have a potential interest in a gift under consideration. If a gift is relatively large or is structured in a certain way, it may have a detrimental impact on one or more parties and could keep the gift from being completed. For example, family members may feel they are adversely affected by the size or timing of a gift, while the donor’s professional advisors, such as a lawyer, bank trust officer, or financial consultant, may also have a particular interest in the way a gift is structured.

The charity’s perspective

While such considerations may be relatively commonplace, it is crucial to also consider the impact of a particular gift on the institution as a whole. Not every gift is a good gift. Fundraisers should always ask themselves these questions: Will the gift be restricted or unrestricted? Is credit expected in a campaign? Is there a need to involve legal counsel? Will the gift require more effort than it is worth? What impact will this gift have on the finance office? On the legal department?

Cooperation is vital

Suppose a donor has included a provision for your organization or institution in a will or trust. Depending on the circumstances, such a gift may qualify for inclusion in your planned gift recognition society and be counted as a planned gift expectancy. While the bequest notification originated in the development office, recognition and other issues may dictate that others within the institution be consulted before and after the gift is completed.

For example, the finance office may be required under financial accounting standards to recognize irrevocable deferred gifts as income and reflect them on the institution’s balance sheet, yet it may be difficult in practice to obtain the required information from the donor.

The legal office may want to keep copies of wills and trusts in official document files and review them periodically to make sure that restrictions or other requirements are being met. Legal and financial officers may also be of help in the estate settlement process and/or may help facilitate the transfer of donated assets to the charity. In some cases, colleagues may exert influence over the development office to give priority in their work to gifts of an irrevocable nature. Each department within an organization has its own agenda, but they should also have the same ultimate goal—to see their institution be the best it can be.

United we stand

The best results may well be achieved by acknowledging and utilizing the perspectives, and vested interests, of all of the parties—both on the donor’s side and the charity’s. Doing so may involve putting your legal counsel in touch with the donor’s attorney to assist with a legal question. Or your finance office may need to assist the donor’s financial advisor with the transfer and subsequent sale of a gift of stock.

Wise fundraisers do not operate in a vacuum. They understand that charities that pool their resources from development, business, legal, and administrative offices—rather than allowing themselves to be pulled apart—will be the ones that enjoy the greatest success in the long term.

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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