Posted December 1st, 2000

Gift Planner Treats Donors Like Family

With his strong work ethic and a passion for serving others, Malcolm Wernik has found over the years that gift planning may be his ideal profession. Currently president of the Presbyterian Homes of New Jersey Foundation, Mr. Wernik has over two decades of fund-raising experience. In this “Gift Planner Profile,” he shares his views on the importance of caring about your donors and being available to serve them when they need you.

Give & Take: How did you get started in fund raising? Was it something you always planned on doing?

Wernik: No, I was in my family’s surgical and pharmacy supply business. I was mainly out on the road building the business. My interest in fund raising started when I was the Grand Master of the Masons in New Jersey. We had a Masonic Home and I got a taste of development work by helping to raise funds for the home. I have been in gift planning full time for 22 years now and with the Presbyterian Homes for the past 18.

Give & Take: Why have you stayed so long at Presbyterian Homes and what have been the advantages of staying there for almost two decades?

Wernik: The advantages for me have been that the President and board have always been supportive of planned giving — they understand its importance. The strength of our program is that Presbyterian Homes & Services has a wonderful mission of assisting adults of all faiths to live as independently as possible in a living environment of their choice. Being in a family business helped me learn the value of a good product and that if you don’t have a good product, people won’t buy it. I feel we have a wonderful “product ” here. We ’re a very caring and compassionate Foundation.

Give & Take: What is the most unusual gift you have received?

Wernik: We received a gift from a lady who spent a little time in one of our homes. Everyone helped her and even I had gone to her house beforehand, on a Saturday, to see what her finances were. She probably heard about our Foundation through estate planning mailings we send to donors and prospective residents. Upon the lady’s death, we received notification that she had left the Foundation $6 million in her will. This is the largest cash gift we have ever received.

I remember Bob Sharpe, Sr., used to tell me, “Mal, for every bequest you know about there could be many more that you don’t know about.” We have found that to be true. I think all the gifts we have received over the years, not just this gift, have stemmed from the fact that we have an excellent service and that Presbyterian Homes really cares about the people.

Give & Take: How important has your gift planning staff been to you as you work together with friends and donors?

Wernik: Very important.When I first came here, I mentioned to the President that one person couldn’t do this work alone. He agreed and so we hired Ethel Dean, whom I had worked with at the Masonic Home. She was knowledgeable about planned giving and had been in fund raising longer than I had. Ethel and I have worked together here at Presbyterian Homes for 18 years.

Now we have expanded our office to include two other very capable people in addition to Ethel and myself. This is basically our program — the four of us. And our donors come first with all of us. They know they can rely on us. Donors have our toll-free number and our home phone numbers and they know they can call us any time of the day or night. Sometimes our donors have no other family to call on, so it is reassuring to them to know they can call on us. We are out on the road all of the time. I put about 30,000 miles a year on my car just driving around the state of New Jersey visiting donors. Ethel spends almost as much time on the road as I do. We just believe in being there for our donors.

For example, on Sunday nights, I call a different group of donors who I know are alone just to make sure they are all right.

Give & Take: Is there a recipe for success in gift planning? If so, what are the ingredients?

Wernik: The main ingredients are loving what you do, loving your donors, making sure you always do what is best for them, and really spending time with your donors and getting to know them. If you sit in the office all the time, you can forget being successful.You have to talk with your donors and treat each one with respect because you never know where your next gift may come from.

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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