Posted November 1st, 2005

A Gem of an Idea

J. Tyler (“Ty”) Tippett is Senior Director for Planned Gifts at Shepherd Center in Atlanta. One of the world’s premier catastrophic care facilities, Shepherd Center has an active and loyal constituency. In this month’s gift planner profile, Mr. Tippett shares with Give & Take how one committed volunteer and donor turned a personal loss into hope for the future.

Give & Take: What would you like to share about Shepherd Center?

Ty Tippett: Shepherd Center is the largest stand-alone catastrophic care hospital in the United States. We specialize in the treatment of spinal cord injuries and acquired brain injuries. We are also de-voted to the treatment of multiple sclerosis patients and those suffering from other neuromuscular diseases.

In 1973, Alana and Harold Shepherd were inspired to found a catastrophic care hospital in Atlanta after their son James sustained a serious spinal cord injury while body surfing in Brazil. After bringing him home to Atlanta, the Shepherds realized that care in a traditional hospital would not be adequate to help their son recover. While looking for a catastrophic care facility nearby, they realized that there was no such hospital anywhere in the southeastern United States. They were lucky to find a hospital in Denver that could offer their son the care he needed, and several months later he was able to walk out of that facility with the help of leg braces and crutches.

This experience convinced the Shepherds there should be a catastrophic care facility closer to home. In 1975, the Shepherds opened a small, six-bed facility in Atlanta, and since then Shepherd Center has grown to become a 100-bed facility that treats more than 850 patients and conducts nearly 30,000 outpatient clinic visits each year. Despite the desperate situations of many of our patients, the Shepherd Center community is characterized by a positive, optimistic, and hopeful attitude. We believe that anything is possible.

Give & Take: What led you to Shepherd Center?

Tippett: After graduating from law school in 1975, I practiced law for 21 years here in Atlanta. I left private practice in 1996 to work in the wealth management division of a major bank where I was involved primarily in trusts and investment management ser-vices. The combination of these experiences—wealth management and my legal background—made it a natural transition to come to Shepherd Center in the spring of 2003 in the area of planned giving. I find planned giving to be a learning experience that I believe will never end.

Give & Take: That’s true, but your legal back-ground must give you a special insight in your dealings with donors.

Tippett: Yes. But of the two main components of planned giving work—the technical and the relation-ship sides—the people part is by far the more important of the two.

One of the first things that I did to learn about planned giving was to attend one of Robert Sharpe’s seminars. On the final day, as we were getting ready to leave, Robert said these words that I will always try to remember. He stressed that if you are willing to sell your donors anything that they will buy, you are probably in the wrong business. The people that tend to be successful in planned giving work are those who have the heart of a servant. I always try to take those words of advice with me.

Give & Take: I understand you recently held a jewelry sale to raise funds. How did that come about?

Tippett: Shepherd Center is fortunate to have a number of prominent and devoted donors and volunteers. One such couple was involved for years with the Center in every possible way—working as volunteers, serving on the board, and donating funds. Recently, the wife of this couple unexpectedly passed away, and her husband came up with the wonderful idea of put-ting her jewelry collection up for sale and donating the proceeds to Shepherd Center. While the family retained certain items of sentimental value, the majority of her collection was included in the sale. The donor was responsible for setting up and holding the jewelry sale, while Shepherd Center was responsible only for the marketing of the event. A number of items have already been sold, while others remain on display with two local jewelry merchants. All proceeds will be donated to Shepherd Center.

This donor came up with a creative and generous way to pay tribute to his wife’s love for the Center. In such cases, the donor can either sell the assets and then give the proceeds outright to the charity or sell the items of value and use the proceeds to fund a charitable trust or gift annuity.

Other donors may be interested in donating tangible property outright. For example, many older donors choose to move from their homes of many years to retirement communities. Often they have no family to inherit their valuable antiques or artwork, or their families have no need for these items. Such individuals may wish to donate antiques or artwork to their favorite charity. In such cases, the charity must be diligent about assessing the value of such properties beforehand to avoid expending more time and money than the assets are worth. Such properties can also be used to fund life income gifts in some circumstances.

Give & Take: What strategies have you found to be most successful in generating planned gifts?

Tippett: I have found that planned giving is always a process in transition. However, we have found through the years that the cornerstone of our planned giving program is wills and bequests. It’s helpful to be familiar with the intricacies of an interesting lead trust or remainder trust, but in the end the majority of planned giving funding will come from bequests.

At Shepherd Center, we acknowledge our planned giving donors with our recognition society, the Bridge Builders Society. Anyone who names Shepherd Center as the beneficiary of a will, trust, retirement account, gift annuity, or insurance policy automatically becomes a Bridge Builder.

Give & Take: What insights into planned giving have you gained through your former roles?

Tippett: One major difference between the nonprofit work of planned giving and the sales culture of wealth management is the change in perspective. What I love about this job is that I get to help people do what they already have an inclination and a desire to do—to help the Shepherd Center and its patients. My job is to help them do this in the way that is most effective and appropriate for them.

Give & Take: In your opinion, what attributes should a successful fundraiser have?

Tippett: Those in development work should enjoy getting to know people. It is critical to build a level of trust with your constituents over time. After making an initial donation, most donors will want feedback on how the organization used their gift. Through this process, they gain or lose confidence in you and your organization.

For this reason, fundraisers must have a genuine desire to do the right thing by people—and to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do.

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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