Posted October 1st, 2002

Starting From Scratch

In this month’s “Gift Planner Profile,” Give & Take talks with Anthony Martignetti, Esq, of St. John’s University in New York. A graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, Mr. Martignetti earned his law degree from Temple University in Philadelphia. After practicing law in New York for several years, he served as the first Director of Planned Giving at Iona College before taking on the role of implementing this important element of the development efforts at St.John’s University.

Give & Take: How did you become interested in development?

Martignetti: I’ve always been personally supportive of my own group of nonprofits, and I felt that helping to secure funds for institutions I believe in was a way to make a contribution while encouraging other people to discover the rewards of making their charitable gifts more effectively. I love the academic environment, so the idea of working on a university campus really appealed to me.

Give & Take: What led you to St.John’s?

Martignetti: I found myself strongly attracted by the mission of St.John’s. The University has a strong commitment to diversity and to the education of a largely immigrant student body, three-quarters of whom are among the first generation in their families to attend college. The University has had that mission since it opened in 1870. The faces and the nationalities of the student body have changed, but the mission has remained constant. The campus of St.John’s is also unusual in that it is divided among several campuses that span the boroughs of New York. The main campus is in Queens, but there are also campuses in Manhattan, Staten Island, Long Island, and even in Rome, Italy, where an MBA program is housed. The various locations and individual atmospheres of the campuses add to the broad appeal of the University and help to keep our student body diverse.

Give & Take: I understand that you were the first Director of Planned Giving at Iona College and then again at St.John’s. How did you go about developing strong planned giving programs from scratch?

Martignetti: A university has a built-in constituency among its graduates, so I had a natural place to start. I initiated contact with a group of alumni by sending a series of brochures on the subject of wills and bequests prepared with the assistance of the Sharpe creative services staff. We sent the materials to everyone in our files age 55 and older, based on the year of graduation. The material was accompanied by a reply card that could be used to request more information, express interest in a seminar, or indicate that they had already included St.John’s in their estate plan, or would consider doing so. Every response was recorded, and, over time, I saw that some had responded more often than others. Those alumni became planned giving prospects. I then started sending that select group a planned giving newsletter, which contains more in-depth gift planning ideas.

Give & Take: So you used brochures to sweep the file and to narrow your pool to a smaller, more focused group, who then received a newsletter.

Martignetti: That’s correct. In addition, I sent the newsletter to people who fit certain age criteria and had made a gift to St. John’s University in recent years, regardless of the size of the gift.

Give & Take: How has your response been to these mailings?

Martignetti: The response rate has increased considerably during the four years since I started the mailings. We now typically receive 1.5%-2% response, which I understand is very high for this type of communication.

Give & Take: What type of further contact do you have with people who have responded to your mailings?

Martignetti: Unlike some, I don’t necessarily call respondents right away. I like people to know that they can comfortably, and without obligation, request more information without being bombarded by phone calls. Before initiating contact, I generally wait until someone has responded more than once.

I find that in this way, the most interested people naturally sift to the top of the pile, and initiating contact with them then becomes a natural extension of the relationship that began with the interest they expressed via our direct mail efforts. As a result, I am able to deal with a manageable number of interested prospects in the most professional manner possible.

Give & Take: Do you have a special group to recognize your planned giving donors?

Martignetti: We do. The McCallen Society is the recognition society that I created. I think it ’s important to recognize planned giving donors just the way you recognize major current donors, annual fund donors, and donors to your athletic programs. I don’t ask for any substantiation. Their word is enough. If my grandmother told me that she had put me in her will, I wouldn’t ask for a copy of the bequest paragraph, nor would I ask her how much. I think when people include St. John’s in their estate plans, they have elevated St. John’s to the level of family. I try to treat them like family and do not ask for substantiation.

We also have a recognition society called the Sister Helen Flynn Legacy Society for alumnae of Notre Dame College, which was merged with St.John’s University in the mid-1970s.

Give & Take: How do you create a sense of loyalty and commitment to St.John’s among the graduates of Notre Dame College?

Martignetti: I created a newsletter specifically for the Notre Dame College alumnae called The Legacy Letter. It is a Sharpe newsletter with different artwork and a different masthead designed specifically for Notre Dame alumnae. I learned about this group’s needs and interests by spending time with them and listening. They have a separate identity in their minds, so I believe it is important to follow their lead and continue to recognize them as a separate entity.

Give & Take: The past decade has been a boom time for fundraising. In the current economic environment, have you seen a change in the types or the number of gifts that you are receiving?

Martignetti: I’m seeing more interest in charitable gift annuities because they are simple and provide a predictable, fixed income for life. They also offer a generous payment rate, especially when compared to current interest rates. And alumni are comforted knowing their payments are guaranteed by all of the assets of the University.

Give & Take: Are you foreseeing having to change your marketing strategies if the economy fails to rally?

Martignetti: Not really. I have always emphasized bequests and life income gifts, and there are variations of these types of gifts that are to a large extent immune to market volatility. Because one never knows the direction the economy may take, gifts that generate reliable forms of income are always popular. I also find the pooled income fund to be a good entry-level gift for discussion purposes. We had a small pooled income fund program when I started here, and I kept it because I thought it might be a way for a donor to make a small, initial gift that would later lead to a larger gift in the form of a trust or a gift annuity. That has proven to be the case, as some donors are initially interested in the minimum pooled income gift of just $2,500 (versus $25,000 for a gift annuity). However, when I mention that the pooled income fund payments are variable, donors then often show more interest in establishing a charitable gift annuity to get a fixed, reliable income. Some gift annuitants were initially going to put $5,000 or $10,000 into a pooled income fund but instead made a $25,000 gift to establish a gift annuity.

Give & Take: What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

Martignetti: Working with people. This is a great people profession. It’s a pleasure to go to work every day and a privilege to raise money for a mission that I believe in.

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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