Posted January 1st, 2000

Respecting Donors’ Needs Comes First With Gift Planner

This month we bring you a conversation with Aviva Shiff Boedecker, director of gift planning for the Marin Community Foundation in California. As an attorney who has worked in fund development in both the arts and higher education, Ms. Boedecker has a unique professional background and brings special insights to this “Gift Planner Profile.”

Give & Take: I understand you bring a legal background to your gift planning role. Tell us why you attended law school and how you came to be involved in gift planning.

Boedecker: I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. At that time going to law school was the way to save the world or at least make it a better place. I had always been involved in philanthropy and community service and I thought that I would work in the arts somehow with my legal background. I ended up, however, practicing law with a specialty in litigation. My father was a fundraiser. So I always knew firsthand about the profession. It was part of my fiber and it was natural. After about five years, I decided to pursue my vision of using my legal background in some way in the arts. A friend pointed out that there was a job opening at the San Francisco Ballet for a planned giving director.

Give & Take: So you started the planned giving program there?

Boedecker: Yes. I remember my first day at work my boss sat me down and gave me Arthur Andersen’s Tax Economics of Charitable Giving as well as some other reading material about planned giving. He told me to read those. Shortly thereafter I took some fund-raising courses and then I created the program from scratch. I started by trying to write brochures, but they were really boring and written in very legal language. I was so glad to learn that I didn’t have to write my own marketing materials—I could outsource them. People starting planned giving programs don’t always know what services are out there for them.

Give & Take: What other planned giving positions have you held?

Boedecker: I worked at the Ballet from 1984 to 1987. Then a position became available at my alma mater, UC Berkeley. The Berkeley planned giving program was already 20 years old at the time. This was very different from my first position in a start-up program. I served as director of planned giving at Berkeley from 1987 to 1996 and have been at the Community Foundation since 1996. I have been fortunate to work in both new and mature programs and each has unique opportunities and challenges.

Give & Take: What do you think will be the biggest challenge gift planners will face in the near future?

Boedecker: I’m concerned about the baby boomers, who have not known hard times for the most part. I have seen gifts from people who lived through the Depression who found opportunities in their hardship and want to give back to others. The baby boomers haven’t seen a depression, or widespread unemployment, or a time when you were among the lucky few if you got a college education. At the same time, the baby boomers are really stretched financially to maintain the standard of living that their parents had and don’t have as much disposable income. I’m not sure that boomers have been taught philanthropy in their communities and families and are not aware of the difference it makes. So I think it is going to take a lot more education and proactive efforts on the part of nonprofits to get them into the habit of giving and to educate them about why it is an important part of life.

Give & Take: How do you balance serving both your organization and the donor?

Boedecker: I am serving my organization by working with the donor to facilitate the gift. If I am not aware of and respectful of the donor’s needs and interests, not only am I doing a disservice to the donor, but I am also doing a disservice to the institution. We are supposed to be serving the community, not just by raising money, but by encouraging philanthropy. I consider helping the donor make a gift that meets his or her personal and financial needs, in addition to their philanthropic goals, an essential part of community service and of representing my institution well.

Give & Take: Do you think it takes a certain type of person to be a good gift planner?

Boedecker: Yes. You have to be able to listen to people and be sensitive to them. You have to be able to figure out what their needs are. I think one of the worst mistakes that gift planners make is rattling off everything that they know without stopping to understand what the donor wants and needs to know. It is like going to shoe store and having the salesperson show you every shoe in the store, regardless of size or whether it is men’s, women’s, or children’s. You expect to go in and tell the salesperson, “I am looking for athletic shoes for my son.” And then the salesperson can tailor what they show you to what you say you need. Gift planning is the same in that you can’t bombard people with all the information at the outset. You have to figure out where they are coming from, what they really want, and what they need to know.

You also have to be patient. Gift planning is not like working in the annual fund where you are going to get your returns in a couple of weeks. Sometimes it takes years because you have to develop a relationship of trust with people. Gift planning takes a long-term commitment.

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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