Posted September 1st, 1999

Retired PBS Gift Planner Reflects on 30-Year Career

In this month’s Give & Take, we talk with Ed Moreno, who recently retired as Senior Gift Planning Officer for KCET public television in Los Angeles. After beginning his media career in 1939 and working his way around the world, Mr. Moreno found his true home in California in the late ’40s. He joined KCET in 1967. It was there that his role gradually shifted over time from program producer to gift planner. With over 30 years experience at one organization, Mr. Moreno brings sage advice and keen insight to this “Gift Planner Profile.”

Give & Take: How did you get started in your long career with KCET?

Moreno: I was the news and public relations director for a Los Angeles radio station. In 1967, about 2 years after KCET went on the air, the station invited me to host and produce a program in East Los Angeles. I did the program and about a year later KCET invited me to become a permanent staff member to produce programming and assume responsibility for community relations.

In a way, I’ve been in fund raising from the beginning. From day one it was not just a question of hosting and producing, but also of seeking funding for programs. When you work in public television, if you are not alert to the funding needs, and opportunities, you may have the greatest ideas but may never be able to produce them.

Give & Take: Why did you happen to gravitate to fund raising?

Moreno: After several years in producing, I decided to focus exclusively on community work, which included fund raising both on and off the air. And then I was invited to join Senior Management where one of my main duties was to encourage government funding. That gave me another view of public television economics. I also enjoyed trying to balance the voices and agendas of the various supporters of public television, such as universities and school districts and arts groups.

Give & Take: So at first your development experiences were not with individual gifts?

Moreno: While we depended heavily on government funds early on, we also had to obtain matching funds from the community. That meant we had to be prepared to determine exactly what sources were most appropriate for funding certain programs, whether that source was a corporation, a foundation, or an individual. This was the early years in fund raising where we could wear many hats. We were doing everything and therefore, we learned many aspects of fund raising.

Give & Take: What would you say were the advantages of staying at one organization for so long?

Moreno: To be able to explore all the corners of the organization inside and out. It is not just a question of how you position your mission, but also how the public views your organization. I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn from the public, constantly consulting public opinion. However far you want to go, you have to remember that you are serving, that your organization is a community enterprise. You cannot get too far out in front of your constituency. Fortunately for KCET, there has always been a good community sounding board. So, I think the greatest benefit of a long tenure is simply gaining a very strong knowledge of both the institution and the community it serves.

Give & Take: What has been your biggest challenge as a gift planning officer?

Moreno: I think the gift planner for public television has an added challenge because of the varied constituency. We serve many different groups with a variety of programming. We offer science programs, business programs, news, music, and other entertainment of all types. I think the challenge of defining your mission becomes a little more complicated in public TV than in a single purpose organization. Essentially, public television provides information, and information is the most intangible of all the community services you can offer.

Give & Take: Did it take a long time to establish the gift planning effort at KCET?

Moreno: Ironically, I was fortunate that the station only toyed with the idea of planned giving for a long time. For about 14 or 15 years my supervisor and I constantly pleaded for the opportunity to do planned giving. But it wasn’t until 1990 that we were given the opportunity. We were initially very limited in what we could do. One administrative assistant and I were only working part time. We had to be sure that our efforts were very focused and efficient due to these constraints.

For five years I worked this way and it proved effective. People began to understand the message that we were an institution, not just an entertainment facility. Despite the fact that we were rich in music and art and science programs, people understood that KCET was uniquely rich in other things, such as community service. If you give people the right message, I think that you will succeed over time.

Give & Take: How have you been helped by the fact that you were a senior during your gift planning career?

Moreno: I think that age is quite a benefit for the person who goes into gift planning — especially if you have grown up as part of the institution. You understand the element of finality that is present in the mind of the person you are talking to. Younger people may feel that they are immortal, hence they are less likely to understand the issue of finality. Dealing with an older person like myself, donors can often joke about death. I might say, “My goodness I feel so bad today I could die—but not really!” My older friends of KCET and I could relate on this level.

Give & Take: What inspired you most about your work at KCET?

Moreno: The generosity of people. If you did something right, people lauded it, they applauded, they gave you pats on the back. People told me how wonderful KCET was. For many older people, this station was the only television they watched and they wouldn’t watch anything else for all the money in the world. Even when we made mistakes, our friends were so tolerant. This wonderful loyalty and affection kept me going.

Give & Take: What personal qualities do you think a gift planning officer should possess?

Moreno: Patience. Patience is the most significant virtue you can have. You also need to become as knowledgeable about your institution as you can. Know all the triumphs of your organization, and know all the failures—you will be called upon to address them both.

Gift planning is not like sticking your arm out with a tin cup. It is an intense process of cultivating friends. And if you don’t think of it that way, and you feel like you can bamboozle someone into giving up some of his or her life savings, then you are going to fail—and you probably should. You have to understand very intimately the psychology of the giver. Unfortunately there aren’t many organizations or institutions that work this way. Understand the many reasons that motivate a person to give to an institution that gives them pleasure or meets a societal need and be ready to help these persons decide which needs they are compelled to meet and, finally, how to plan a gift.

Once you have learned the virtue of patience, learn the virtue of suffering.You cultivate a donor, and make friends; they may share intimate things that they wouldn’t share even with some relatives. But you must remember that there is an invisible barrier that you cannot cross. Suppose you secure a gift from a donor after much discussion and cultivation. Six months later, you lose this donor. How bad it feels inside your heart! You think to yourself, “Was I sufficiently kind to this person to merit the kind of gift that elevates my institution to the level of a family member? Did my organization really deserve this gift?”

Some people say gift planners shouldn’t worry like this and that it is just a rule of the game. Well, not in my book. You are dealing with fellow human beings, not a book of rules and procedures. And each individual donor has to be known in his or her own terms. Even though some donors can demand so much from you, you should always stick there with them. Remember what you are asking of them. You are not asking them to give $30 or $40; you are asking them to give a portion of what they cherish, what they treasure, what they feel they cannot live without. This requires much diplomacy and a constant review of ethics.

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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