Posted August 1st, 2000

Life-changing Experience Fuels Gift Planner’s Passion

In this “Gift Planner Profile,” we talk with Jacqueline McLeod, executive vice president for the revenue group at the American Lung Association. Ms. McLeod shares how her personal encounter with lung disease as a child led her to a career dedicated to lung health.

Give & Take: How did you become involved in the field of philanthropy?

McLeod: Prior to coming on to the ALA staff two years ago, I had served on the ALA board for 13 years and was the Volunteer National President from 1995- 1996. When I rotated off the board, I became a media spokesperson for the organization and continued my involvement as a volunteer.

Give & Take: Why did you decide to commit your time and energy to further the mission of the Lung Association?

McLeod: My passion for the organization stems from the fact that my mother died of tuberculosis when I was eight years old. One of my most early and most vivid memories is a visit to her prior to her death when she was in a sanitarium in South Carolina. We were not able to go into the building, but she could come to the screened porch and we could wave to her. I remember when I was a child my grandmother who raised me would give for Christmas seals. One of my favorite activities was putting those Christmas seals on the cards that she sent to family and friends during the holidays. That has always been something that has been very important to me.

So I have had a long history of awareness of the mission and the work of the American Lung Association in fighting lung disease, which was originally a fight against tuberculosis. Now in addition to continuing to suppress TB worldwide, we focus on asthma, tobacco control, and the environment. Our motto is “If you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

Give & Take: As a former volunteer for ALA, what do you feel is the role of volunteers in the gift planning process?

McLeod: I think their primary role is really to make connections for the organization. They need to help lay the foundation for relationships not only among the people they know, but also assist in the process of identifying people who we should get to know and help strategize the creation of those relationships as well. Where a staff member has a contact with a person and wishes to maintain a relationship over a period of time, I believe this is an area where volunteers can also be very helpful. With the right training and support from the staff, volunteers can help develop and maintain relationships with planned givers and those who are contemplating such gifts.

Give & Take: What are some of the biggest challenges facing gift planners today?

McLeod: As more and more organizations are now recognizing effective gift planning and the potential in doing a better job in this area, there is much more competition for the planned gift dollar. In this environment, I also see maintaining our staff as a major challenge. We have excellent staff, and we strive to minimize turnover. I hope to be able to foster a belief in our mission so that this is not only a job, but it is something that is an important part of our gift planners’ lives. We want them to first and foremost feel they are making a contribution toward accomplishing a mission that is vital to the health and well-being of our society.

Give & Take: What has been some of the best advice you have received during your fundraising career?

McLeod: Some of the best advice has come from Robert Sharpe, Jr. He told me to focus on developing relationships with our donors because people give to people they trust to assure their gifts are used in the best possible ways.

Give & Take: What do you think it takes to be a successful gift planner?

McLeod: When I was hired for this job, John Garrison, our CEO, told me that I was the right person for development work because I had passion for the organization, I understood the organization, and I was a people person. When you think about the nature of development, those are very important criteria. A gift planner must really be able to connect with people because fund raising is all about being able to develop relationships with donors.

Give & Take: Do you have any words of wisdom you could offer to development professionals?

McLeod: My advice is that we need to continue to invest in building relationships. The other advice I have is that we need to look for funds in new places. We tend to look for money from people who look like us. We have not factored in the growing communities of color. I think that is a very important resource that we need to explore. Once we work to increase the awareness of our causes in these communities, then we need to bring our programs into these communities and work with them. And then we can give them the opportunity to support our work. We need to understand why minority communities give, and develop an understanding of their long history of philanthropy.

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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