Posted February 1st, 1999

Gift Planner Promotes Establishing Trust With Donors

In this month’s “Gift Planner Profile” Give & Take talks with Lindsay Lapole, territorial planned giving director of the Southern Territory for the Salvation Army. After nearly 27 years working in the nonprofit world, Mr. Lapole shares some of his views about planned giving and the gift planning process.

Give & Take: How did you come to work in planned giving at the Salvation Army?

Lapole: I came here 12 years ago from being the planned giving director of the Florida Division of the Salvation Army. I actually started in planned giving with the Salvation Army in 1979 in Louisville, Kentucky, working in the Kentucky and Tennessee Division. I had spent about seven and a half years prior to that with the Boy Scouts of America. At the Boy Scouts I did a bit of everything: I was district scout executive managing volunteers and assisting with fund raising.

Give & Take: Over the years, how has fund development and planned giving changed in your opinion?

Lapole: I think that planned giving today has a whole lot more “experts,” and a whole lot less expertise. There are some very basic rules about raising money and those are often not adhered to. You first have to build a level of trust; you have to see people personally; you have to make proposals and suggestions that make sense to the donor and benefit them. I see very few people today willing to go out and visit with people face to face. There are a lot of people now who are working with various kinds of gimmicks and different media and somehow they think that money is going to come out of those pipelines. I don’t believe much money is going to be raised this way. There is no substitute for a donor working with someone that he or she trusts. The person doing the asking should have a relationship with the person who is being asked. If you are going to raise substantial amounts of money, there is no substitute for that kind of relationship-based trust.

Give & Take: What qualities do you feel a gift planner should possess for a successful career in fund raising?

Lapole: First of all the gift planner has to able to establish trust–real trust. They have to absolutely care about the needs, the goals, and objectives of the person they are working with. Second of all, the gift planner has to be able to listen, and listen effectively. Those two things together create the third criteria, and that is the ability to spend time with people and respond to them. We use a book entitled Conceptual Selling written by Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman as a basis for training our staff on how to do interviewing. Even though the book was written for salespeople who sell commercial products, I like the fact that it teaches you how to identify what a person needs–if you are careful, the principles outlined in this book can be effectively applied in the fund-raising context. And that is exactly what we are doing– we are trying to identify the donor’s “concept” of what will be accomplished by the transaction they are entering into with us. We identify and clarify the “result” they want to accomplish and help them fulfill it. And when you do that you aren’t “closing the deal”: it becomes a process that comes to the natural conclusion of them meeting their goals and objectives.

Give & Take: What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Lapole: The part of the job I enjoy most is actually meeting with donors, although in my current management position I don’t have as many opportunities to do so as I would like. It is difficult to advise or to guide a field staff person when you haven’t met with their particular donor because there are so many things you can pick up when you meet with someone personally. It also helps me keep my tools sharp personally and make sure I can still do the interviewing, ask the right questions, and put together the right kind of information for the donor. Meeting with donors really keeps me involved in the whole gift planning process.

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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