Now in her ninth year at Pacific University, Jan Stricklin, associate vice president for university relations, has worked in planned and major gift development for more than 20 years. In addition to the targeted marketing that forms the basis of her program at Pacific, she recently expanded her fundraising efforts through the introduction of interactive web-based gift planning technology. Here she shares with Give & Take how she uses her website to enhance tried-and-true fundraising techniques.
Give & Take: How did you get involved in fundraising?
Jan Stricklin: Before becoming a fundraiser, I taught elementary school and then worked in marketing in Silicon Valley. After a few years, I felt a real desire to get back into education, so I joined the staff at Washington State University in annual giving. When a position in gift planning came open, I applied for and got the job. Gift planning was a good fit for me, as it drew on my prior experience, including the marketing skills I had acquired in my Silicon Valley years.
My current position as associate vice president for university relations at Pacific University requires me to wear a lot of different hats, only one of which is gift planning.
G&T: What do you do to help your major giving and planned giving offices work well together?
Stricklin: With just four major gift officers in addition to me, it’s not difficult to coordinate our moves. We have regular meetings, and when we talk about strategies for particular major gift prospects, we try to work a balance between outright and future giving.
G&T: How do you communicate gift planning concepts to your donors?
Stricklin: We rely to a large extent on carefully targeted print communications coupled with our website, which we’ve recently enhanced to become more accessible and interactive. I spend much of my time working directly with individual prospects and determining the best approach to take with them.
In that respect, our new website has been particularly helpful. Sharpe’s new Planning Perspectives 2.0 service provides an amazing amount of information on planned giving—virtually everything a donor or an advisor would need to know. Everyone from our donors and their advisors to our staff and even our Board of Trustees appreciates the ease with which they can explore the benefits of various gift options, including the ability to perform their own gift calculations. They can learn about and compare various gift plans to see which may be most beneficial to them, and they can then save their work or e-mail their research to their advisors, family members, or others.
Planning Perspectives has even changed the way I conduct donor visits. When I’m discussing a certain gift plan with a prospect, I am able to pull up our website on my computer and show the donor how to learn more about the concept after I leave.
G&T: Are donors’ advisors also using your website?
Stricklin: We have seen that happening, especially among our higher-end prospects. For example, we recently made a proposal to a donor that included a charitable lead trust. He then visited our website, created a scenario using the interactive component, and sent it to his advisor. That gift is now currently under consideration.
G&T: Do you know of any other gifts that were facilitated by your new website?
Stricklin: The website played a role in at least three other very large gifts we are currently working on. It appears they will ultimately come to fruition after we work through issues raised by the economy and asset valuations.
G&T: It sounds as if the website is a really useful tool to have at your disposal.
Stricklin: Yes. The website allows donors to proceed at their own pace. Another thing I like about Planning Perspectives is that it provides a great deal of information in a straightforward, easy-to-digest format. If I recommend a gift plan to a donor, he or she can go to our website, learn about it, and perform a calculation. In addition, the donor can learn about other gift plans he or she may want to consider in the future. They can then involve us when they are ready for more input from us.
Our website also contains suggested bequest language and our tax ID number. When I am encouraging bequests, I appreciate knowing that donors and their advisors will be able to go to our website and find all of the pertinent information they may need to facilitate the process.
G&T: What kind of gifts have you been getting in the down economy of the last few years?
Stricklin: Many of our largest gifts over the last two to three years have been bequests or matured charitable trusts. We just received a $900,000 bequest from an alumnus who was not on our radar screen until he told an annual fund volunteer that we would be receiving a gift through his will. We have received a number of gifts like that over the last couple of years. Their impact has been especially significant as the number of outright major gifts has declined somewhat.
When I’m talking to potential donors, I try to mention recent bequests whenever possible to highlight the importance such gifts can play in the overall health of a fundraising program. When those individuals made the decision to leave a legacy to Pacific, they had no idea how timely their gift would ultimately be. Perhaps bequests arranged now may have a similar impact in the future.
G&T: Do you have a legacy society?
Stricklin: We just reinvigorated our Heart of Oak Society. Close to 200 people have told us of their bequest intentions, and we’re working on identifying others. But there are many out there who will never notify us, and these “surprise gifts” can sometimes be the largest. We just received a large bequest from the wife of an alumnus who had predeceased her. She had no intention of making a gift until a volunteer contacted her and encouraged her to honor her husband by making a gift to Pacific in her will. While her alma mater was left a larger portion of the estate, Pacific received close to $1 million. That’s something anyone can do—spread the word that bequest giving can be a wonderful way to make a gift.
G&T: What do you like best about your work at the university?
Stricklin: Definitely working with our alumni, donors, and prospective donors. They’re wonderful people and have such a love for Pacific. A campaign consultant recently told us that our alumni’s devotion to Pacific is pretty much off the charts. Our job is to translate those feelings into philanthropy to Pacific.
G&T: Do you have any advice for those new to the field?
Stricklin: Stick with it! Longevity is an important factor in developing relationships with donors who ultimately make planned gifts.
Donors need to believe you are steadfast and that you join them in their love for the institution. They don’t want to feel that you’re just a hired gun.
What the experts say is really true—success comes down to the relationships you build. For example, I have been working with one particular donor for quite a long time on one gift. The issues involved are fairly complex, and the donor told me last week that one reason he is still planning to make the gift is that I’ve stuck with him for so long! It will be a wonderful, significant gift, but not a quick one. We have to remember to work on the donor’s timing, not ours.