Posted March 1st, 2008

Helping Donors Make a Difference Energizes Fundraiser

This month, nonprofit executive Mark Billingsley, director of major gifts and planned giving at Methodist Healthcare Foundation in Memphis, explains how he is putting his recent gift planning training to good use with his donors.

Give & Take: What led you to a career in development?

Billingsley: When I was in high school, we were required to complete a certain number of philanthropic hours per year. I loved volunteering for local nonprofit organizations. I started out working with organizations like Special Olympics; then I was a leader in the Boys Scouts. Working with nonprofits just clicked with me. Years later, going into a career in the nonprofit world seemed a natural fit for me.

I started out in fundraising as the development director for our United Cerebral Palsy affiliate. For the last six years, I was the executive director of a trade association. While I enjoyed the challenge of leading that group, I still had a passion for working in the nonprofit world. I certainly missed raising dollars that would make a difference here in the community. Returning to fundraising at Methodist Healthcare has been a blessing. To represent a great organization that is literally making a lifesaving difference every day is wonderful.

G&T: What about working in healthcare appeals to you?

Billingsley: Here at Methodist, we all work toward one purpose…to allow people to have one more birthday. That summarizes why I love to work in healthcare. With that goal, we are really giving people a tremendous gift.

I just met with a grateful patient who was faced with a liver transplant. Before he received the transplant, the patient kept saying how he just couldn’t imagine not seeing his grandchildren grow up. Today he is very grateful that his transplant was a success and he is now going to serve on a development board so that he can help us raise money for the transplant institute. When we can all work together to help someone experience another birthday, that is a huge gift that people can be passionate about.

It’s nice when you can see the fruits of your labor—when you see the programs and services that you are raising dollars for in action. On the fundraising end, you are often out prospecting and cultivating donors, so it is nice for me to be able to see where the dollars go. It makes it that much easier for me to communicate with donors and be passionate about my work. We are now raising dollars to build one of the very first residential hospice facilities in the region. I am primarily charged with raising funds for neuroscience. I also raise money for our transplant institute, and this year we had over 200 individuals receive organ transplants.

G&T: I understand that you recently attended a Sharpe training seminar. Tell me a little about that.

Billingsley: When I assumed my current role, I decided I needed a refresher course in gift planning. I attended The Sharpe Group’s Introduction to Planned Giving seminar in New York. Some might assume that a planned giving seminar is going to be very dry. But Sharpe does a really great job of providing relevant examples that you can implement in real life.

It was amazing the caliber of the presenters that were provided to us who walked us through a myriad of major gift and planned gift scenarios. It was helpful to visit with colleagues from Cornell University, Covenant House of New York, Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, Harvard, and the many others among the diverse group who attended. You not only learned from the articulate presenters, but you also learned a lot by discussing what’s working for your colleagues around the country.

G&T: We understand you were able to put some of what you learned in the seminar into action almost immediately. Can you explain what happened?

Billingsley: There are two examples of how I put to use what I had just learned in the seminar. One donor I visited with had given a gift annuity to our Foundation several years ago. During one of the seminar sessions, Barlow Mann had mentioned how many people who create gift annuities often end up funding several gift annuities over their lifetime. I saw this happening with this particular donor, who was a grateful patient and had been very pleased with her first gift annuity with us, and therefore was considering another annuity. She ended up completing a second gift annuity with us, and it just underscored what we had discussed in the seminar.

I also met with another potential donor who was very passionate about our hospice care and was considering a planned gift. She had taken care of her mother and aunt until they passed away, and both had received hospice care through Methodist. She wanted to ensure that hospice would be strong if she ever needed it someday in the future. We began talking about a six-figure gift annuity to benefit our hospice efforts, and we expect to realize that gift in the next month or so. This donor also decided to leave a bequest to us in her will.

Again, working on this gift annuity has been just like the case studies we worked on with the presenters at the Sharpe seminar. So what I learned in New York has really helped me tremendously in a short time frame.

G&T: What is your favorite part of your job?

Billingsley: I truly love helping people. That one gift that you receive really spurs you on the next gift. When it comes to working with donors, I don’t pay attention to the nine doors that close. I get excited about the one door that opens.

G&T: What advice do you have for people just starting out in development?

Billingsley: In planned giving, you don’t have to re-create the wheel. Surround yourself with really good people. Surround yourself with excellent resources, like The Sharpe Group. I think you are destined to succeed if you believe in the organization you are representing.

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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