Posted April 1st, 2009

Gift Planner Remains Optimistic About Giving

This month Give & Take talks with Chris Broughton-Spruill, president of Children’s Hospital Foundation in Richmond, Virginia. A development officer with over 30 years of experience, Mrs. Broughton-Spruill discusses the challenges and rewards of creating a development program from the ground up, as well as fund raising during tough economic times.

G&T: Tell me a bit about Children’s Hospital.

Broughton-Spruill: Children’s Hospital is a pediatric specialty facility serving children from birth to age 21. The Hospital was founded in 1920 and provides care to children in five specific core services: inpatient skilled nursing care, therapy services (physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech and psychology), dentistry, Children’s Feeding Program, and physician clinics including rehabilitation, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and spasticity. Children’s Hospital Foundation provides the philanthropic support needed by the Hospital.

G&T: How did you come to be at the Foundation?

Broughton-Spruill: I started my career as a planned giving officer and then worked as development director at Peace College in North Carolina. When I moved to Richmond, I came to Children’s Hospital as director of development. Children’s Hospital Foundation became actively engaged as a fund-raising entity in April 2006 and I was named president last year.

When I first came to Children’s Hospital, the Board of Trustees challenged me to establish a development office. That was appealing to me because that kind of opportunity rarely happens in a career. It was a chance to build something from the ground up.

G&T: Where did you begin?

Broughton-Spruill: In the first year, I focused on building an annual gifts program. We built the base for that program and have been adding components to improve it each year.

During the second year, I wanted to focus on building a planned giving program. I know that planned giving can enable people to make large gifts that can have a big impact on the organization, so I knew it would be critical to focus on that area of giving.

We began with a newsletter called The Legacy. It featured planned giving ideas and ways in which to make gifts through a variety of vehicles. We also created the Dooley Society (named in honor of our first benefactor) to recognize those who have included the Foundation in their will, trust, or life insurance policy. Currently we have 150-160 members in this legacy society.

During the third year, we began our capital program to enhance giving to projects like hospital equipment, construction, and program development. From then on we have continued to refine and grow these three primary areas of development.

G&T: What have been the most successful ways that you have educated donors about planned giving?

Broughton-Spruill: We had limited resources at first, so in order to accomplish the goals we had set for ourselves, I knew that we should seek professional advice, especially when it came to being able to publish a planned giving newsletter on a regular basis. Tax law changes can affect planned giving almost annually, so it is very important to stay current with information. We decided to work with Sharpe to provide the information for our newsletter and other related publications. We’ve now been working together for 18 years.

I believe that The Legacy newsletter has been critical to our success. We mail it two times per year to individuals who have already expressed some interest in the Foundation. Because of its consistent message and frequency, I find that we are able to engage several people in making a planned giving commitment with each mailing.

As an example, after our most recent newsletter, I received two commitments from individuals who will include us as a beneficiary in their wills. They indicated that the newsletter was the catalyst for them to make the commitment. Knowing that an average bequest could range from $100,000 to $500,000, I am convinced that’s a pretty good return on the financial investment in the newsletter.

In addition, we have also used the Planning Perspectives gift planning Web services provided by Sharpe to make information available on our Web site for those who would like to learn more.

The philosophy of our development office is to create relationships with donors that provide funding on an annual basis and to provide opportunities for the long term. That is what the planned giving program helps us achieve. We may not realize gifts from our Dooley Society members for several years, but we know that over the long term those gifts enable us to grow our Foundation so that we can provide needed resources to Children’s Hospital for patient care.

G&T: Why is it so important that you find out about planned gift expectancies?

Broughton-Spruill: It helps us plan for the future. We know that we have donors who have made a commitment and while we may not know when the gifts will be realized, we know that their support will be there at some point in the future.

Knowing about these gifts also helps us to recognize individuals for their generosity and keep them informed about Foundation and Hospital activities. If we know that they are planning to remember our Foundation in their wills, we also know that we need to keep in contact with them. We want them to receive all of our communications and to completely understand how their future gifts will be used.

G&T: Do you think bequests will continue to be a viable source of funding in this current economic climate?

Broughton-Spruill: Yes. Bequests remain one way for donors to make a significant commitment while still maintaining their current lifestyle. Bequests enable donors to make a gift in the future that might not be possible for them at this particular time.

G&T: What is the mood among your donors right now?

Broughton-Spruill: We have seen that people still want to give, but some are just not able to give at the same level as they have in the past. We have reached out and communicated with our donors that we are very optimistic about our future and our ability to continue to grow services and serve more children. At this point in time, our donors continue to be very generous and to show their support through gifts that are commensurate with their ability to give. We are very fortunate to have such loyal and supportive donors.

G&T: What kind of advice could you give to those who may be just starting out in fund raising who have never experienced an economic downturn before?

Broughton-Spruill: I would advise them to evaluate their program and focus on what has been successful for them in the past. Keep moving forward even if you have to take small steps. Continue to concentrate on growth and what you can accomplish in the future.

Instill in your donors a sense of the optimism you have for your organization. If you feel positive about your organization, then your donors will feel much of the same. Because of current economic conditions, they may not be able to give at the same level as in the past, but if you can keep people believing in what you do, giving will improve when the economy rebounds.

G&T: What attributes does a successful fundraiser need to have?

Broughton-Spruill: I believe a development officer needs to be a very focused and goal-oriented person. In the daily activities of a development office, there are many distractions that can divert you from accomplishing your goals, but the key is to keep focused on the mission of your organization and share that mission daily with your constituency.

In addition, I believe that a development officer should be optimistic. You should believe in what you’re doing and believe in your organization. If you are sincere, your optimism is going to be contagious.

Working with organizations like Sharpe helps me to stay current on the technicalities of planned giving. I have learned that in the final analysis development is all about relationships. If you can communicate your mission with potential and current donors and get them excited about your organization, all the technical requirements of a planned gift can fall into place later on.

G&T: What do you enjoy most about your job?

Broughton-Spruill: It is truly an honor for me to work at Children’s Hospital Foundation. This organization and the children we provide for has become much more than a job for me— it is my vocation. To see the difference we can make in the lives of children and their families is a personally rewarding experience.

We have a mantra that we live by everyday in our organization and that is to create transforming moments in the lives of the children we serve. Every day I see a transforming moment at the Hospital. It can be something of great magnitude or it can be something small, but each moment makes a difference in people’s lives and that’s what makes me really happy.

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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